Jessica Richards is a clean beauty queen. As the founder of Brooklyn’s natural beauty emporium, Shen, and senior beauty merchant for Free People, where she oversees the brand’s new wellness collection, she’s tried it all, from steaming her yoni (on the advice of Gwyneth Paltrow – Google it) to having her blood drawn for a customized face cream. We stopped by Shen and chatted with Jessica about the whacky ingredients found in new generation beauty products (hyaluronic acid and purslane, anyone?), the best beauty boost (hint: exercise), got tips for cleaning out our makeup bag, and had our most pressing question answered, that is: do the products with the cutest packaging really work??
What turned you on to exploring “clean” and natural beauty products?
I grew up with a mother that was always into everything organic and natural and has never really worn any makeup at all. Even in the gaudy 80s I look back and there was no makeup! I think that the way she raised me seemed to set the tone. I generally eat really healthy and workout and I think that led me to this clean beauty idea that good skin is your makeup. And the only way to truly achieve that is through a clean beauty routine that doesn’t contain chemicals. I have become more obsessed since finding out I have vitiligo which is an auto immune disease caused by stress. All of my recent research and the information from the incredible specialists I have seen has also been really inspiring. What you put on your body and inside your body is really important to our overall health.
There is so much hype around natural and organic cosmetics and skincare these days. How do we tell the goodies from the marketing?
I think I can tell the goodies from marketing by doing some research and seeing who the people behind the brand are; it’s very telling. I want to use a brand that has amazing ingredients but also stands up to what it says it’s going to do. I also am a mad woman for EWG.org which is a great place to tell the toxicity of your beauty products.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of beauty?
The weirdest thing I have done was the V-steam. I went to the same place that Gwyneth Paltrow went to in LA and it was so odd but yet so awesome! I’ve never felt so clean and relaxed at the same time. Something else I love to do is to get a vitamin injection with acupuncture. I try and go once a month to Dr. Merrill but it’s hard to get all the way uptown. I have also gotten my blood drawn for Dr. Sturm’s incredible cream and I am now addicted to that miracle product.
If we wanted to start cleaning up our makeup bags and beauty cabinets and switching to more natural alternatives, where’s a good place to start?
I think the easiest place to start for skincare is with your cleanser. There are a million great ones that give you the same results as the toxic ones. As for makeup I think the easiest place to start here is with lipstick, the new organic and natural formulas are amazing from RMS to Kjaer Weis, Kosas, Ilia, Ritual de Fille, Vapour, Axiology and Love + Sage. Do one thing at a time that you know will be an easy switch so it isn’t so shocking and you can stick to it.
What are some of your favorite recent beauty discoveries?
In terms of high end products, I would say 001 and Dr. Barbara Sturm. I think the concept of Dr. Sturm is incredible, pulling blood to mix into a cream specialized for you is incredible! I have been using it the last few months and absolutely love it. From 001, I love the Active Marine Collagen,
And fail-proof /desert island products?
Coconut oil and mascara. Coconut oil can be used as a moisturizer, soother, hair mask and you can also cook with it – it’s a great healthy fat. And mascara because I feel lost when I don’t have it on.
What are the main ingredients we should look to avoid in our products?
I typically say anything you can’t pronounce is probably a good place to start and from there:
Oxybenzone which has been proven to be a hormone disruptor.
Hydroquinone has been linked to cancer and is processed through your liver.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
BHA and BHT are hormone disruptors and carcinogens.
Paragons with yl at the end. These are also hormone disruptors. I think this one is important to be knowledgeable on as there are some paragons made out of plants.
PEG which is also a carcinogen.
The list goes on and on, the best place is to go to EWG.org as that will give you all the answers on your products.
There is so much going into skincare these days — hyaluronic acid, purslane, alum crustal, chia…(!) What are some hero ingredients that are worth the hype?
The great thing about hyaluronic acid is that it binds moisture to the skin and helps to plump the area. I use the one by Dr. Sturm everyday and I love it, its not tacky and my skin definitely is incredibly more moisturized than just from an oil or cream.
Purslane has been around for a long time but was forgotten until it was rediscovered by scientists and proven to fight aging skin. It contains omega 3 which is so important for youthful skin.
Retinol appears to be a star ingredient in most dermatologist products. What does it do and does it actually work?
Retinol enhances collagen production, evens out the pigmentation and of course helps to soothe fine lines and wrinkles. It does work and I have seen incredible results. I however do not use it because I can’t seem to get through the initial period of dry itchy skin that’s red. This can last 6-24 weeks, I haven’t ever been able to get past a week.
Aside from what you put on your skin, how else do you like to look after your health and wellbeing?
I think that working out is one of the most important things! It releases endorphins and makes you feel good. I absolutely love the way I feel after soulcycle. I find it resets my brain and my outlook on the day if I start out that way. I also read a lot, this is my form of meditation.
Any beauty routine that’s overlooked ? For example, who actually uses a toner ?
I don’t! I use toner in the summer occasionally on my chest and back. I really hate stripping my skin of the oils that it needs. I think exfoliating is completely over looked. It is important to turn the cells over.
Are there any gestures or tools that really make a difference? Skin massage, Clarisonic… ?
A facial massage is very effective. Recently a woman named Candice Forness came on board at Shen and does incredible facial massages that lift you up. Similar to a Ziip or Nuface but in the most organic and relaxing way, it is a peaceful hour of taking care of yourself and the results are awesome.
Do you have any personal or beauty rituals you stand by?
A facial every month and always making sure to wash my face before bed. Those are my absolute fail proof ways to having good skin.
How do you discover new products –- what catches your eye?
The thing that always catches my eye is the packaging, I am a sucker for pretty packaging…afterward I call it in to try it and then if I like it I have some people at Shen test it and we collectively decide if it’s a good fit for the store. I used to discover brands by traveling but now it’s between trade shows and Instagram. It’s amazing how quickly you can find brands from a hashtag.
Do you believe there are products out there that can transform the skin / “turn back the clock”?
I don’t think you can actually turn back the clock. I think you can buy yourself some time if you really take care of your skin from your youth. You only get one face so make sure it is always moisturized and has sun screen on.
What products do you turn to if you have five minutes to make yourself presentable before running out the door?
Amanda Lacey Oils of Provence to moisturize my skin as its always dry, Vapour foundation stick in 120, RMS blending brush to mix it, Kjaer Weis highlighter and RMS volumizing mascara.
What are your thoughts on cosmetic surgery?
Do whatever makes you happy. I’m not going to judge — as long as you love it, who cares?
Do you have a signature scent?
Byredo’s Gypsy Water