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This is just a fraction of what’s actually available at the Vitality Bar, a New Age-y addition in Naturopathica’s new Chelsea flagship. Upon walking into the sleek, white space, you’re greeted by this juice-shop-on-all-natural-steroids. It’s tucked between walls adorned with the brand’s natural skincare products — the usual suspects, like moisturizers, oils, sunscreens.
And if you walk all the way down the darkened hallway, past several treatment rooms and a small waiting lounge, you enter the meditation room. A projection of tree-covered mountains lights up an entire wall, and there are lounge chairs lined up, each with a blanket artfully thrown across it.
This is all part of 21st-century wellness, as Naturopathica founder Barbara Close calls it. What makes it new isn’t that it’s happening (after all, you can’t swing a yoga mat in New York City without hitting a very toned woman clutching her açaí bowl), it’s where it’s happening — and that’s in the beauty world.
Unlike traditional beauty staples like red lipstick and hyaluronic acid, these wellness products go above and beyond the superficial, working from the inside out (an ingestible powder that brightens skin) or the outside in (a clay body mask that supposedly removes toxins). At their core is health. "Wellness is a philosophy of life that views health as something more than the absence of disease," writes Harriet Hall, M.D., a retired family physician and editor at Science-Based Medicine, a blog that debunks pseudoscientific theories, in an email to Racked. She further explains that, lately, people want to go beyond the threshold of "normal" to attain a higher level of healthiness, which is where wellness conveniently comes in as a way to achieve that. "While it’s good to try to stay healthy and happy, the ‘wellness’ concept is largely a marketing term with no basis in reality’," adds Dr. Hall. Yet people are buying it — and buying into it.
Even Free People’s new personal care category is entitled "Beauty and Wellness," as if the two are now a celebrity couple.
Take new beauty retailers, like Credo Beauty and CAP Beauty (the tagline on their website says it all: "Beauty is Wellness. Wellness is Beauty."), which stock the shelves with an athleisure-clad, kombucha-toting consumer in mind. Even Free People’s new personal care category is entitled "Beauty and Wellness," as if the two are now a celebrity couple, and includes a meditation spray and smelling salts that aid relaxation — like the 2016 version of essential oils. (Been there, done that.)
Although, really, one could look to aromatherapy as an early example of wellness within the beauty space, what with Tata Harper’s Aromatic Stress Treatment (a cult favorite in the popular skincare line). But even that was introduced just four years ago, when there still didn’t exist either the breadth of wellness products available or the people who wanted to buy them. Even as recently as 2010, when Harper first founded her brand, "people were skeptical of naturals," she writes in an email. "Other forms of wellness, like aromatherapy, supplements, meditation and mindfulness, weren’t as popular or understood as they are now."
On a larger scale, retailers didn’t have many wellness-oriented options to consider when choosing what to carry and what to avoid. "When I first opened Shen [Beauty], it was focused on being only organic and natural, and I honestly had a really hard time [with it]," says Jessica Richards, founder of natural beauty store Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, NY. "I had to change my model and offer a plethora of products." It was one of the biggest challenges facing retailers interested in stocking natural and organic formulas. Kerrilynn Pamer began incorporating these products in her first store, Castor & Pollux, back in 2010 — but that too was slim pickings. "Tata Harper was the first line I carried in the store," says Pamer, who along with Cindy DiPrima founded CAP Beauty. "I added some other lines, but there definitely weren’t tons and tons of options."
Another issue was that consumers didn’t think they’d see the same results as they did with more clinical formulations. "20 years ago, naturals were seen as nice, but not effective," writes Close. "When I opened our first Healing Arts Center & Spa, wellness was not top of mind. It was definitely a time of quick fixes, and people were constantly in search of the latest ‘Fountain of Youth’ without giving much thought to ingredients and personal well-being."
But as with everything, Millennials are changing the game. Earlier this year, market research group NPD found that younger consumers in particular now prefer products with natural or organic ingredients. Wellness is of equal importance now, and the proof is in oral skincare supplements, which are currently having a moment. Over the past two years, sales of beauty ingestibles have increased fivefold. These products — ranging from Moon Juice’s collection of various "dusts" to powders packed with superfoods — embody the connection between beauty and overall health. While they do purportedly give skin a glow and encourage healthier hair growth (among other things) they would be equally at home on the shelf of your local Whole Foods.
In beauty, ingestibles are by far the most prevalent of the wellness products — and the most popular. The Beauty Chef Glow Inner Beauty Powder gets repeat customers at CAP Beauty; in fact, over half of the bestsellers there are ingestible products, while that category makes up only a fraction of the total inventory available. "We came at it from the angle that no topical thing you put on your skin can give you radiant skin," says Pamer. "Meditation, fitness, beauty — these components can’t be separated from each other."
A bonus (and maybe another reason behind their popularity): These ingestibles are cute. Take the Moon Juice line. It has a whimsical, approachable aesthetic that makes it seem more appealing than, say, scooping a muddy-colored whey powder into your morning smoothie. Whether it actually does lead to glowing skin and stronger hair is just a part of a larger equation, one in which good packaging is a variable. Unlike the organic, crunchy products of yore, these new wellness products stand out on the shelf — in a good way.
"It’s really about the ritual, the interaction and taking care of themselves."
Another factor is the sheer accessibility. Sure, a radiance-enhancing powder for your skin might cost you $70, but you presumably have a lit-from-within glow for a month — all for the price of two SoulCycle classes. "With beauty, because the price point is one most people can get into, people can walk away with something and feel good about themselves," says Pamer. "They interact with these products on a day-to-day basis. It’s really about the ritual, the interaction and taking care of themselves." And when you back up and look at the bigger picture, viewing all of these — moisturizers, ingestibles, serums, meditation — as various forms of self-care, this budding relationship makes complete sense.
This sounds well and good, but it’s worth shopping with caution. Not all beauty ingestibles — or wellness products, for that matter — are legitimate, and depending on what you use, your pricy powder might be doing squat for your skin. "The only way to know if a product has an effect is to test it and compare its effect to that of an inert control," writes Dr. Hall. "That kind of testing is seldom done in the wellness industry." That isn’t to say certain products available don’t have some credence to them. "Superfoods, like berries, can help heal the skin from the inside out with antioxidants," says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., who’s a fan of goji berry in particular. "You do see a cellular benefit with some of these."
Some is the key word. Benefits may exist, but they’re hit or miss, since the world of detoxing baths and powders is notoriously unregulated and prone to savvy marketers targeting those who don’t know better. It’s like the Wild West of beauty, says Dr. Engelman. You could examine the ingredient list of a given beauty powder for useful antioxidants, but unless you happen to have a degree in nutrition or an M.D., it’s hard to know if everything (and, sometimes, anything) in it will give you the flawless complexion promised on the bottle.
But these drawbacks don’t seem to be slowing the roll of the health-obsessed public. The next big thing in beauty’s burgeoning wellness business? An educated guess would be healing crystals. Lauren + Vanessa, a salon in downtown New York City that offers hair and makeup services, will be launching a Crystal-Cleanse Ritual for scalp and hair later this year—complete with your own take-home rock. Already, celebrity esthetician Georgia Louise massages skin with a rose quartz stone in the bespoke facial at her NYC atelier, while a number of products at Urban Outfitters include a chunk of something or other. The Crystal Cactus Floral Alchemy Intention Bath, for instance, is a blend of herbs, flower petals and, yes, pieces of crystal quartz. Richards, who’s curating the aforementioned Beauty and Wellness category for Free People, plans to include them there, too.
This New Age, holistic beauty is the new organic, and, clearly, people want it. What’s appealing about it is that you don’t have to scrub your face with an amethyst to get smaller pores (although you can try if you want to). You can instead pick and choose the role wellness plays in your own beauty regimen, whether that’s to sit quietly in a meditation room post-facial or to store your Moon Juice next to your moisturizer, and still reap some benefits — even if they don’t necessarily show on your skin.