The Everything Guide to Brooklyn Beauty: The Best Salons, Shops, Experts and Brooklyn-Made Products


There was a time, not so long ago, when treating oneself with a blowout, sniffing around for the perfect perfume or stocking up on high-quality skincare products meant a trip over the East River, where the history of high-rise salons and big box beauty stores was an expensive and time-consuming, albeit dependable source for a weekend indulgence.

But no longer. The wealth of locally made product lines and indie salons that have sprouted in Brooklyn within the last decade or so provide an alternative for both beauty junkies and the beauty product-averse, thanks to a nearly across-the-board commitment to fewer and more natural ingredients, personal customer service, environmentally friendly practices, collaboration with local artists and exceptionally beautiful design.

Here, we present the best of these welcome additions to our borough, including fragrance studios, skincare, makeup, hair and nail salons and independent shops, plus interviews with selected founders, including Jessa Blades of Blades Natural Beauty, punk rocker and lip gloss creator Theo Kogan, nail art expert Fleury Rose, Shen Beauty owner Jessica Richards, the creators of S.W. Basics, Meow Meow Tweet, D.S. & Durga and many more of the people who make Brooklyn beautiful.

Photos by Austin McAllister, Aubrey Smith and Brooke Goldman



Most Beautiful Packaging:
Just a block from the Navy Yard, founder Frederick Bouchardy’s fragrance house bustles with the crafting of candles, perfumes and soaps—all by hand—as well as the business savvy required to manufacture bespoke products for such international mega-brands as Opening Ceremony, Rodarte and Alexis Bittar. Locally, however, Joya recruits nearby help for collaborative projects, such as the porcelain perfume bottles and Prism candles ($25) designed by Brooklyn ceramic artist Sarah Cihat. Also notable: the Composition No. 1 roll-on perfume ($28), a scent that’s both musky and feminine. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Splurge-Worthy Perfumes:
CB I Hate Perfume
In a familiar twist of fate, after a ten-year run on Wythe Ave, the cult fragrance studio moved its retail gallery and corporate headquarters to Bushwick this spring, which only opens its doors for personal shopping appointments during the week (you can still walk in on Fridays and Saturdays, though “scheduling an appointment is still highly suggested.”) Got $10K lying around? Founder Christopher Brosius, who only “hates” the mass-marketed stuff you’ll find at department stores, will work with you to craft a customized fragrance. If not, look for his newest, the Rare Flowers collection ($325-$500), each made with “one single floral absolute”: Night Blooming Jasmine, Neroli, Tuberose, Champaca, Jonquil and Narcissus. 318 Maujer St, 3rd Floor, Bushwick.


Best Cologne:
MCMC Fragrances
From a studio in Greenpoint comes a lifetime of memories—those of Anne McClain, co-founder of MCMC Fragrances (the other is her sister, Katie, who runs the business side of things). After studying natural perfumery and aromatherapy in Grasse, the perfume capital of France, Anne began making small-batch, hand-bottled scents like Dude No. 1 ($75) in 2009, the delightfully peppery cologne blended with Virginia cedarwood, sustainable sandalwood, Moroccan Rose, ginger and pink pepper, which gives it its most noticeable notes. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.

Q&A with Anne McClain, co-founder of MCMC Fragrances:

Are fragrances like fashion, in that certain scents are sometimes popular and at other times not?
There are certainly trends in fragrance. Normally, these trends are led by ingredients. In the 70’s, rose and patchouli was a popular combination. More recently, Oud, a dark wood resin native to Southeast Asia, has been a popular ingredient to highlight in fragrance compositions. You’ll find too, that taste in fragrance differs from country to country.

Do you see any changes happening from within the fragrance industry?
The fragrance industry is quite traditional and so change happens slowly. In America especially though, independent perfumers are on the rise with a lot of people taking a strong interest in making their own fragrances and becoming self-taught. I think it’s quite an exciting time for perfume.

What’s the most offensive—yet inexplicably common—scent, in your opinion? (e.g. Axe Body Spray, Halal carts in summer, Chanel No. 5)
Actually, I hate the smell of seafood. It’s quite gross, no? I like eating seafood, but I can’t be around a seafood restaurant or in that area of the grocery store.

Are there any scents that work on everyone—male or female, regardless of season or body chemistry?
Musks, which are contained in most fragrances, work really nicely on people. Alone, they don’t have much of a scent. Musks are kind of soft and pillowy, and smell almost like skin, but have the ability to enhance your natural body scent too.


Most Unexpectedly Necessary Accompanying Poetry:
D.S. & Durga
If anyone understands the poetry of fragrance, it’s David Seth Moltz of the husband-and-wife duo D.S. & Durga. Drawing inspiration from literature, lyrics, music or places, each perfume tells a story through raw materials that evoke imagined memories of someone else’s life, even if that person is fictional—the description for the dewy, floral Silent Grove ($98) says “Phillips beach air is not far,” referencing an actual beach in Moltz’s native Massachusetts, while the 2013 HYLNDS collection (available exclusively at Barney’s) was created after Moltz delved into the W.B. Yeats poem “The Wanderings of Oisin” and traveled to Ireland and Scotland to do further research on the “pseudo-historical world of Iron Age Europe.” HYLNDS’ tagline, “Aromatic epics” refers not only to Yeats but also the poems included with each perfume, like Bitter Rose, Broken Spear’s Bon Iver-esque mini-epic:

From Ulster fort to Argyll’s holy top
Red Branch nights, proud chiefs in wool,
faded dyes – rowan berry, bitter rose,
hunt in wood-of-wonders, melancholy thistle,
for feasts, water-of-life,
Caeawg’s amber wreath,
smelted iron, wine-in-horn,
now broken spear and empty hills

Available at various Brooklyn retailers.

Q&A with David Seth Moltz (D.S.), co-founder of D.S. & Durga:

What’s the most offensive—yet inexplicably common—scent, in your opinion?
Bum on the train in NYC.

Why are some scents more masculine and others feminine?
This is complex and probably the effect of how something is marketed.  We learn that florals are for girls (not true 100 years ago when men wore all sorts of florals) and fougeres are for men (not true 80 years ago). Our gender associations are quite free these days in this part of the world and people are wearing whatever they want.

The names of your perfumes are so great. Do you come up with the idea for them first, or do you find the perfect name after you’ve already created the scent?
Usually I start with the concept and work it out and finally name it.  Sometimes I work with the raw materials and it evokes a concept and I flesh it out and name it as I work. I explain this in depth in the news section of our website.

Where do you source your materials?
Either from distributors that have access to the best materials in the world, or from the companies that make the synthetics or own their own fields for extraction of a natural product (and also produce “natural specialties”).

Are fragrances like fashion, in that certain scents are sometimes popular and at other times not?
I think there is some correlation whether natural or learned. I for one love wearing a heavy floral—chypre in hot, humid weather as everything feels so damp and overhung. But there is something nice about lighter scents in the summer and rich ones in the winter. But it’s all taste. Perhaps you want remember the spring in October, so you wear a lily-of-the-valley scent.

Certain ubiquitous fragrances come to define eras just as pieces of clothing.  The 90’s smelled like water and melons. I do think when you get deeper into the niche fragrances there are many that have stood the test of time, recall earlier times before massive fragrances of the 80’s ‘til present, and some that are exciting and new (though even mass fragrances can be quite progressive).
helvetica;”>Do you see any changes happening from within the fragrance industry?
The fragrance industry is quite progressive.  Perfumers owe much to the chemists who are creating molecules that have never been isolated or smelled before! That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. You may smell something next year that no one has ever smelled. It’s like discovering a new color or semi-tone. I think the industry is opening up and people are excited about the nuts and bolts that make fragrances such a big part of our life. The sense of smell will have its day in the arts.



Least Ingredients:
S.W. Basics

Of all the small-batch, all-natural skincare lines currently being crafted in Brooklyn kitchens, S.W. Basics has paved the way for responsible growth. Now manufactured in various small and organic factories throughout the U.S. (some products are still made in their Greenpoint kitchen), S.W. Basics products were the dream of holistic nutritionist, personal trainer and proud owner of extremely sensitive skin Adina Grigore, who searched fruitlessly for cleansers that were free of harmful ingredients, both to her skin and the environment. Most products contain only three ingredients, including the organic cleanser ($24, mini size $12), made with rosewater, tea tree oil and vegetable glycerin. Grigore’s best work, however, may be the apple cider vinegar toner ($24, mini size $12), which will turn even people who either don’t know what toner is or think it’s a waste of time into total toner evangelists. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.

Q&A with Adina Grigore, founder of S.W. Basics:

What’s so bad about unnatural products?
It’s not that synthetic ingredients are inherently bad, most of the world is synthetic at this point. The issue is how much of what we are using is synthetic, and how much of it has been connected to negative health consequences (ranging from itchy skin and rashes to hormone disruption and cancer). In beauty, it happens to be particularly bad because the industry is virtually un-regulated. That’s great for Etsy sellers, but not so great for your health and safety. You can find plenty of research that tells you that in small quantities, un-natural products are not that bad for you. The problem is no woman uses small quantities of beauty products, so we’re getting way higher dosages of these chemicals than is safe. Oh, if that’s not enough, they’re also terrible for the environment and wild animals. But there are so, so, so many natural alternatives these days!

What’s one thing everyone should be doing for their skin? 
Use less products in general. Give your skin a break. Try going makeup-free, try skipping your face wash for a day, try washing with water only once or twice. It sounds terrifying to a lot of people but it will change your skin instantly, and it will reset you in a way that makes your products work more effectively!What are some of the biggest beauty mistakes you see people making?
Not taking their makeup off at night, over-cleansing their skin, eating a horrible diet while spending a lot of money on products, and by far, hating their skin even when it’s gorgeous and perfectly flawed just as it should be.


Best-Smelling Products:
Like many other products of its kind (all-natural, small-batch goods), Soapwalla was born out of its founder’s sensitive skin, causing Rachel Winard, former classical violinist at Juilliard and Columbia Law grad, to forgo high art and corporate life and focus on creating Soapwalla, her line of products that nourishes even the most irritable of skin—Winard herself has systemic lupus, which, at its worst, can make her skin sensitive even to water. A four-month trip to India in 2006 to study Ayurvedic treatments and ashtanga yoga resulted in Soapwalla’s all-encompassing philosophy of treating the skin the same way one treats the stomach: “If I refuse to put something in my body, I don’t want to put it on my body, either,” Winard declares.The all-natural deodorant cream ($14) is a favorite alternative to the potentially harmful additives found in most drug store brands like sodium laureth sulfate, parabens, petroleum, aluminum zirconium and other harsh chemicals, which means that while it isn’t an antiperspirant, it’ll make your smellier bits much less so, with the pleasant addition of lavender, peppermint, orange and sunflower. But as for scent, Soapwalla’s highly concentrated Luxurious Body Oil ($28), which smells of potent ginger and lemongrass, might just be the best skincare product we’ve ever sniffed. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Cleanser:
Meow Meow Tweet
Oddly enough, the impetus behind Meow Meow Tweet was not, as its name might suggest, a cat or a bird. Instead, it was a goat—or more specifically, a bar of soap made at a goat farm, a family friend’s gift for founders Tara Pelletier and Jeff Kurosaki in 2009. Since then, the duo have expanded their line to include candles, exfoliants, deodorant, insect repellent, tonics, oils and lip balms in their Bushwick apothecary, none of which are made with any animal products whatsoever (even beeswax), as both Tara and Jeff are both vegan. All products arrive in glass bottles with biodegradable labels, but what stands out are Jeff Kurosaki’s adorable illustrations. The oil-rich, low-soap face cleanser ($25) also works as a makeup remover and leaves skin feeling deliciously moisturized. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.

Q&A with Tara Pelletier, co-founder of Meow Meow Tweet:

What’s so bad about unnatural beauty products, anyway?
I’m a big believer in eating and cooking with whole foods and ingredients that I understand and that you don’t have to be an expert to recognize. I like to know where something comes from, how it was made and exactly what it is. The same goes for beauty products. When I look at an ingredients panel, I like to know that there were only a few steps to get the plant to the bottle. There is a blind trust that is developed between producers and consumers with products that are not understandable to non-experts. I think unnatural beauty products create a barrier between the user and the producer. If ingredients are understandable and processes transparent, then consumers are more empowered about their safety and health and we as producers have a greater responsibility to uphold wholesome standards.

What’s one thing everyone should be doing for their skin?
Exfoliate regularly. All of those fancy moisturizers aren’t going anywhere if there’s a layer of dead skin hanging out and blocking up the situation.

What are some of the biggest beauty or self-care mistakes you see people make?
Thinking that what you put on your body is the cure-all solution. I’m a true believer that our beauty and well-being comes from our spirit and the way we live in the world. Ever hear that cheesy (but true) saying that a smile makes you look younger? My skin is never worst than when I’m stressed, eating crap, hardly exercising and not sleeping enough. Doesn’t matter how many products I use. Also, smiling is great exercise for those face muscles!


Best Lotion:
Thank the Brooklyn Flea for the popularity of this old-fashioned soap, lotion and candle studio run by husband-and-wife team Chrissy Fichtl and Sebastian Picasso. After Fichtl’s soapmaking hobby turned into a farmer’s market gig in the Hamptons, the couple moved back to Brooklyn, where the BK Flea awaited as the logical next step. Since 2012, Apotheke has expanded its 2,000-sq-ft factory in Red Hook to churn out 15 products in 30 scents, including our ever-favorite hand and body lotion ($22), which comes in Rosemary Mint, Lavender and Jasmine Clementine, all still hand-wrapped and stickered. Available at the Brooklyn Flea and various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Lip Cream:
MSC Skin Care + Home
The company formerly known as Metropolis Soap Company can no longer be defined by such limitations—earlier this year, owner Megan Brame-Finkelstein decided to overhaul the entire brand to reflect the new creams, exfoliants and candles since 2009, then launched the Bourbon Vanilla and Oak five-year anniversary collection. In the near future, Brame-Finkelstein will expand her home fragrance offerings and a new “private reserve” line. As for MSC’s current selection, the nourishing lip cream ($7) is tough to beat, and the oval-shaped applicator works far better on a well-endowed pout than your standard Chapstick. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Face Cream:
McBride Beauty
Ten years in, founder Winifred Burkeman is still the only employee at McBride Beauty, which still only sells eight products—products that are cultishly adored by the fashion elite, owing much of their popularity to a single Vogue article in June 2005, which Burkeman says is responsible for the transformation from a hobby in her brownstone’s kitchen into a small business. Most of her creams (Repair in a Jar, Hydrate in a Jar, Balm in a Stick) are unscented and made with 99% natural ingredients, although our personal favorite is the collagen-stimulating Vitamins in a Jar ($45), packed with C, A, B5 and E vitamins that can be used day and night. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Dry Shampoo:
Skinnyskinny founder Clara Williams’ childhood days on a Tennessee farm have since turned her into a vegan soap, candle, and skincare product guru (the beeswax lip balm contains the only animal ingredients), none of which contain any synthetics, sulfates, preservatives or unnatural scents. Her line includes some surprising additions to the usual trio of soap-skincare-and-candles, including the all-natural bath soaks and a collection of dry shampoos that not only work extraordinarily well on oily roots or bangs, but smell lovely—scents include rose and black pepper, lavender and rosemary, jasmine, and grapefruit and cardamom ($32, mini-size $9).  Available at various Brooklyn retailers and at skinnyskinny, 268 Grand St, Williamsburg.

Q&A with Clara Williams, founder of skinnyskinny:

What’s so bad about un-natural beauty products, anyway?
Most everyone would agree that eating processed foods is bad for you. Using a lot of chemically-laden and processed beauty products are the same, really. Often, those products don’t do anything for you except as a very temporary sort of “fix”, but usually there’s a side-effect to using those products that will develop over time. It could be in the form of a contact allergy or some other skin sensitivity.

What’s one thing everyone should be doing for their skin?
People should be using moisturizers every day. Even people with oily skin should be using moisturizers because skin can become too parched and the skin will just keep producing oil, which will lead to clogged pores and blackheads. Moisturizers help to keep oil production in check.

What are some of the biggest beauty or self-care mistakes you see people make?
People think that products need to be harsh in order to be effective. Many people want absolutely immediate results, but skin renews itself every 28 days so some solutions just take more time. Patience is really important when trying new skin care products.

Where do you source your materials?
We source from many different places. We try to source locally as much as possible, but regardless of where our materials come from, we make sure that our suppliers are USDA Certified to handle organic ingredients.

What’s special about being a business owner in Brooklyn specifically?
Brooklyn is absolutely amazing. We get so much support from our neighbors and we give that back, as well. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to start somewhere else. Running a small business is incredibly difficult but our community is strong and stubborn and vibrant. What more could we want?


Best Multipurpose Wash:
“Facial comedian” Talima Davis doesn’t take products too seriously, and she hopes you won’t either. All of Limegreen’s offerings—soap, spray, oil and candles—are created with the fewest amount of ingredients and meant to be used in the most amount of ways; for instance, sprays ($16) are for freshly washed fabrics, the body or the room, while oils ($20) can be used as moisturizers for the face and body, as well as makeup removers. Our favorite, however, comes in the form of the liquid wash ($16) that works as a body, hand and even hair cleanser. Most products come in baby variations and in any one of five scents: lavandula, lotus, poppy, lemongrass and zinnia. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Lip Gloss:
Amour Beauty
The name Theo Kogan might be familiar for reasons outside the lip gloss industry—if you live in Park Slope, she might just another face on the street. But more likely, you’re recalling the girl-punk band, The Lunachicks, for whom Kogan sang lead vocals in the 90’s while modeling for Calvin Klein, Burberry and Kenneth Cole. Now she’s defying the stereotype of the Park Slope mom with a badass lip gloss line in tow, where each color is named after a rock song or band—Nirvana, Purple Rain, Barracuda (pictured)—and is super long-lasting, shiny and heavily pigmented. Most recently, Kogan has launched Amour V, an entirely vegan lip gloss that honors animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot with a frosty pink iteration that pairs perfectly with a French tan ($21). Available at various Brooklyn retailers.

Q&A with Theo Kogan, founder of Amour Beauty:

What fashion and beauty trends do you see popping up in Brooklyn right now?
I have been seeing lots of bright lips and flowing/ loose dresses and tunics. Very good choices for the heat.

Who’s the ideal wearer of Armour lip products?
Every woman who cares about fashion, she likes to wear a pop of color and also cares about what she puts on her skin.

As a part of the 90’s punk scene, do you see any elements of that coming back in style?
Yes, I sure do. I even saw two squatter punks in Park Slope early this morning—not that squatter punks have ever stopped, but I don’t usually see them in my ‘hood. Also, lots of Nirvana t-shirts and girls in cute glasses and baby doll dresses. The smart punk girl.

How did you go from rocker, actress and model to developing beauty products?
I have always been passionate about beauty products, since I was quite young and I always hoped to start a line of some sort. Coming from these areas of entertainment and wearing so many different kinds of cosmetics throughout, I was the most frustrated with the lip gloss on the market. I looked around at my family and friends and realized that all the women, even if they didn’t wear anything else on their face, they were wearing lip gloss. So it just seemed like they right choice. I wanted to make the best possible lip gloss with the sickest colors possible. Now I can’t wear anything else. Nothing compares.

What are your favorite products of all time?
I love MV Skincare from Australia, the Rose Booster is my #1, Jao hand sanitizer, Fresh Soy face cleanser, Benefit’s They’re Real mascara, YSL’s Touche Eclat and Mario Badescu facial spray with aloe, herbs and rosewater.

What’s your go-to beauty regimen?
I cleanse my face at night and instead of washing in the a.m., I use a facial spray to moisten my skin and then apply my oils and creams and sunscreen under my makeup. I think too much washing can be much too drying, especially in the winter months.

What’s something all women should be doing in terms of their beauty habits?
I think we should all wear sunscreen every day, even in winter. And moisturize everything, especially if you tend to be dry and especially in the winter. Don’t fear the moisture. My big sister two cents: Don’t rub your eyes! Don’t over-exfoliate and don’t use anti-aging products or get any fillers or procedures if you’re in your 20’s. Try not to touch your face too much and don’t pick at pimples. (Duh).


Best Beauty Expert:
Jessa Blades
Stylist, herbalist, product guru, tea-blender, wellness expert, living embodiment of the “Brooklyn Beauty”—whatever you want to call Jessa Blades, she’ll likely fit the bill in one way or another. Having spent the past decade studying holistic approaches to beauty, acting as a makeup artist to the stars and leading wellness workshops around the country, the Fort Greener is now often associated with her successful online shop, Blades Natural Beauty, where she sells both a curated selection of natural products and her own line, including her Magic Powder, which, when mixed with water, can heal an itchy bug bite, unclog pores and even turn into toothpaste. In our interview, Jessa discusses the importance of herbs in our diets, the problem with an unregulated personal care industry, and that time in the mid-2000s when everybody wanted to look like J Lo.

How are you?
I’m good! I went to get a hug from Amma last night. She’s a hugging guru, and she’s an englightened being who travels the world helping people in need. She’s in New York, and I had a friend who was like, “You should just come and get a hug!” We got there at 5 and I left at like, 5 a.m. But I got a hug and a mantra; it was amazing. I had no idea what I was getting into. It was at the Javits Center, and it took so long because thousands of people are waiting to see her. Some people follow her all over the world. I mean, I’m not the expert, I’m just learning, but it was really wild.

So what was your journey to becoming a natural beauty specialist?
What I ended up calling myself is a makeup artist, natural beauty expert and an herbalist; I feel like that encompasses a lot of what I do. I’ve been a makeup artist for over ten years, but I’ve always been interested in that really powerful connection that makeup has to make a woman feel good as well as look good. The psychology of it has always been something that I’ve been fascinated by. I studied psychology and art in college. About six years ago, I started to realize that there were really nasty chemicals in makeup and skincare and those chemicals were what I was reacting to and what were making me break out, so I was on a personal mission, but also on a mission to start educating women about what was in their beauty products and making healthy selections. And then from there, it was really like, you can focus on all the toxins and the nasty ingredients or you can look at the beautiful ingredients that are in these products, like the rosemary essential oils or the local beeswax, these things that nature gives us to heal ourselves. So I started to study plants and herbs and the medicine that they offer.

Where do herbs fit in with beauty?
It’s a really logical connection the way I see it, but I can understand when people are like, “Huh?” Basically as a makeup artist and talking to women, most of the issues I see people dealing with are stress, digestion or nervous system fatigue, and herbs have been our medicine and are used all over the world as preventative, home remedies and back-garden medicine. In New York, they grow through the sidewalk, literally trying to help us. We’re more familiar with some plants as medicine, like a white willow bark is in aspirin, but also a plant that grows locally like nettle, for instance, and it’s a totally medicinal plant that helps your whole body feel better. Plants are just a really gentle way that we can start adding health and nutrition into our lives. I mean, you can go the pharmaceutical route, but then a lot of people come to me and don’t feel that well or are seeing side effects that they’re not comfortable with. Plants are gentle on the body, they taste good, and there are wonderful stories about them—the folklore and the cultural stories, whether it’s if your grandmother was Greek and made you sage tea as a child. People remember that and it’s simple, true, time-tested healing. If I see a person covered in pimples, with acid reflux and totally stressed out, it’s like, I could cover their pimples with a great nontoxic concealer, but how do you help people make good changes? Their bodies are communicating that they’re out of balance, and our bodies want to be in balance. That’s the greatest thing. They don’t want to be expressing these issues that they’re expressing. For instance, basil is calming to the nervous system and can help with headaches and anxiety. And cilantro is cooling and detoxifying to the body. All these culinary herbs are our medicine as well.

What’s one beauty regimen everyone should be doing?
I’d say incorporating healthy organic oils into your life, whether that’s adding raw coconut oil into your diet, and using it to moisturize your body and your face. That’s the number one thing you can do to make your skin improve and glow. Oil is in lotion, but when it’s with water, there’s going to have to be a way to preserve it, and preservatives are some of the more toxic ingredients that we want to avoid. When you just use straight oil, your skin knows to absorb it and knows to balance itself out, even if you have oily skin. Sesame oil is great, too. For your face, anything from argan oil to a serum that has essential oils in it. There are so many lovely products out there that have beautiful, well-harvested oils that you can put on your skin. I’ve seen oils change and heal my clients’ skin in quick and wonderful ways.

What are your most common requests you get from Brooklynites when you do their makeup?
Honestly, the trends that I’m always seeing are like, “I want to look really good, but I don’t want to look like I’m wearing any makeup.” And everybody says the same thing, that they want to look bright, fresh, dewy and luminous, and that they want to wear a little bit of color but that they’re afraid. It always ends up being like, “Can you give me a really bright, fresh, effortless makeup look with a little pop of color or something fun?” That’s pretty much across-the-board, what everybody’s asking for.

What’s the biggest beauty mistake you see women make?
I think one of the biggest mistakes is being afraid of makeup and being afraid of playing. Women sort of lose their intuition when it comes to makeup. A lot of them are like, “What do I do? I don’t know how to do it!” And I’m like, “Well, what do you think?” It’s not this scary drawer of products that you don’t know how to use. It’s a lot simpler and intuitive than people let themselves believe. I think our beauty culture inspires that intimidation. There are these experts at the makeup counter who are the only ones that can help you and you feel terrible due to advertising. You think you don’t know how to do it and there’s something so wrong with you. I think we’re set up to feel like we’re going to fail. But it’s fun! We’ve always been adorning ourselves with color, with our clothes and on our faces. It’s just a fun ritual. I think bringing the fun back to it all is exciting.

Other than that, I see a lot of people who just don’t blend. And that’s something that makeup artists do really well. Whenever they put something on, they’ll be sure to blend it. People are afraid of bronzer because they put it on too strong. If you put it on softer and blend all around it, it’ll look really natural. Same with eyeshadow. I always see that dark eyeliner line on the top and a darker shadow and you can see that they’re different. You just want to go over it with a clean brush and blend them.

What’s the most common question you get from women?
How to do a smoky eye. Everybody wants to do it, and nobody knows how. It’s this elusive thing. Everybody wants to be able to have that nighttime version of a day look, and I often tell them that it’s not really that traditional, mid-2000s smoky eye that they’re looking for, it’s just drama in the eyes. And that can look super sexy.

There’s this dark brown neutral eyeliner that can do all of that. You can get a really great smokey eye by gliding it all over the top and bottom and blending it with your finger. That smoky, sexy thing is usually just well-placed eyeliner. It’ll totally change your look. I never leave the house without it. Always keep the pencil really close to the lashline and make sure to blend. Then you can add a darker shadow to that, too, but it’s always nice to balance it out with a light highlighter in the inner corner, which will open your eye. Everybody’s afraid of eyeliner because they’ve been told that it’s going to make their eye look smaller. And sure, it might make your eye look a little bit smaller, but it also looks really sexy.

What’s so bad about unnatural beauty products?
That’s a really important, long answer. Basically, the deal is that personal care, whether that’s mascara, lotion, deodorant, shampoo, blush, or nail polish is completely unregulated by the FDA. Companies can put anything they want into these products, and there aren’t really any labeling laws, and they don’t have to be third-party tested or certified. So what companies do is they put in a lot of cheap ingredients that help these products last a really long time and help them perform. Like waterproof mascara, it works, it does its job, it doesn’t run when you cry. A lot of these conventional beauty products perform really well. But a lot of the chemicals that help these products perform are super cheap and allow products to sit on shelves for five years without separating, and have been shown to be carcinogenic, and some of them mimic estrogen or have been found in breast tumors, and some are considered neurotoxins. A lot of these ingredients have been banned in Europe, where they have stronger regulation. So it just means that if you are using these products once of twice a day, as we do with our toothpaste and our lipstick, you want to make sure that they’re safe as they can be. It’s not to say that using your waterproof mascara for the two weddings you go to a year is the problem. It’s the buildup of these chemicals in our bodies over a lifetime, and also how the chemicals interact. We need more science, more testing, more proof, but we know enough to know that these ingredients don’t belong on our bodies. We’re smart enough to know that if we’re eating organic food and making other healthy lifestyle choices that since your skin is your largest organ, you want to be really careful what you’re putting on it multiple times a day and what’s building up in your system. And you can control it, whereas it’s hard to control the ocean water and the air you breathe, but you can control what you’re putting on your largest organ daily. It’s kind of overwhelming, but I also think it’s kind of empowering, because you can be like, “this isn’t good, and I don’t want this on my body.” And the industry will change; it’s going to take awhile. It’s already changed a lot in Europe, but as consumers, if we shop differently, then we change the market. So I think having this information is at first a real bummer and really overwhelming but then it’s really exciting. It’s like, “I’m going to make a change in this $60 billion industry, and I’m going to do it with where I spend my money.”

What was the most memorable request you’ve ever gotten?
Not as much lately, but for a while—and this was a long time ago!— everyone wanted to look like J. Lo! And I would be like, “Do you just mean you want bronzer, or do you just want to look like J. Lo?” J. Lo was coming up for so long. I think everybody just wanted more bronzer.

As far as other weird things, I think what’s always so funny—and I say this with all the love in my heart—is people have these things on their face that they think everybody is staring at and keeps other people up at night. Whether it’s “my pores are so big, can you please cover them up!” or, “Oh my God, the shape of my eyes is so wrong!” because they read it in a magazine. I just think no one sees what you see, and people are so beautiful and that we just get in our own way.

You’ve worked with tons of celebrities in the past—who was your favorite?
I really liked doing LL Cool J’s makeup! I didn’t use a lot, but he was awesome, and very inspirational. I think one of my favorite people ever is probably not the celebrity you’re looking for, but it was Dar Williams. I like, grew up with her. She was my total hero. I did her makeup a bunch, and having her play guitar in my presence was just… I just really loved her.

This is also not a glossy celebrity, but Frances Beinecke. She’s a female powerhouse, President of the Natural Resource Defense Council. She’s a total celebrity in my book. She’s fighting this amazing fight to protect our environment, and just a jaw-dropping, inspiring, courageous woman. The Olsen twins were super fun. I grew up watching Full House. I also really enjoyed Demi Lovato. She was wonderful.


What’s your favorite beauty product of all time?
Other than that dark brown eyeliner, I’d say a really good highlighter. Either that or bronzer. They both breathe health back into your face, and a life-giving glow. Yes, we’d all like to be at the beach or on vacation all the time, but we don’t live that life. Highlighter brightens your face and can give you that healthy flush without being in the sun. Whenever I’m around people they’re like, “Where have you been? You look great!” And whether it’s superficial or not, that makes you feel great! Sometimes you just need those simple things in life to just help brighten your mood.

Do you have any favorite neighborhood spots in Fort Greene?
I love Fort Greene Park; I love, love, love it. I love Roman’s, the restaurant on DeKalb for the most beautiful, seasonal, local food. It’s like a little clubhouse. I’m so lucky that I live right near BAM. Oh, I also love Red Lantern Bicycle. They have a coffee shop with the most delicious nut milks every day. And I love Smooch for really good coffee and avocado toast. And it’s not in my neighborhood, but Pioneer Works is an art space and educational center. I just went to a class on the nature of honeybees, and it’s right by the waterfront in Red Hook. I think I’m going to be teaching there in the fall.

Speaking of, what’s next for you? Do you have any plans to expand your product line?
I’ve just been trained in these incredible Ayurvedic massage and facial beauty treatments, so that is something I’m going to be bringing into my practice. It’s pretty special. It’s a great way to help improve your skin and calm your nervous system and quiet the mind. It’s perfect for stressed out New Yorkers. And I’ll be hosting a class on July 16 on fertility awareness and nonhormonal methods of birth control. Whether you want to or don’t want to get pregnant, there’ll be information on your cycles and fertility.

I’m going to be releasing a couple new products soon. There’s a a facial spray that I’m really proud of. And I’m traveling around, teaching classes in Chicago, San Francisco and Maine. The natural beauty workshop includes everything from how to do that elusive smoky eye to how to choose healthy products, to how to bring herbs and plants into your life in a beautiful and fun way, like herbal cocktails.

I’m also working with Sara Moffat at a farm camp called LDBA up in Western Massachusetts, so I’m going up there to teach the kids about herbs and teach them how to choose the best herbs for their dream flow and have them keep it under their bed to help them dream about the things that they want to dream about.


Best Polish:
Cirque Colors
Along with the major nail art boom of the past few years came a flurry of indie nail polish houses, including Annie Pham’s Bed-Stuy studio, where she’s been hand-making custom lacquers since the summer of 2012. Within two years, Pham learned how to source the raw materials herself, transforming from nail art hobbyist to a small-batch cosmetics business owner with over 50 shades and a dozen local stockists. Each of her five current collections are inspired by a different theme; for instance, Object d’Art reflects the opulence of McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” exhibition, while occult mysticism provides the fodder for the Alchemy Collection. Available at various Brooklyn retailers.


Best Over-the-Top Polish:

If you’re not already a devotee of flashy nail art, don’t bother with the brainchild of Coney Island-ite Mawish Ali—but then again, who isn’t, these days? Each glitter-packed bottle of Starrily polish contains a quirky sampling of brightly colored confetti or in some cases, the ability to change color in warm or cold water. If the current 80 options just won’t do, customers can even design their own polish using the handy online tool, where you’ll get your choice of bottle, base color, glitter and naming rights for only around $12. Available online at



Best Nail Salon:
Primp & Polish
If a decadent gel design is what you’re after, any of the three Williamsburg locations of Primp & Polish is your place. The staff are truly up for anything, whether you’re recreating a different Roy Lichtenstein on each finger or a graffiti mural you passed by on your way over—simply bring in a photo and they’ll give each design an almost obsessive amount of attention. Ask for Yuki if you’re looking for an arty hand-painted piece ($45 and up), though all stylists have been trained in complicated techniques. 172 Bedford Ave, 205 N. 9th St, and 189 Grand St, Williamsburg.

Q&A with Lauren Bui, co-founder of Primp & Polish:

What nail trends do you see popping up in Brooklyn lately?
Nail jewelry requests have been increasing these past few months.

Are there any major mistakes women generally make when it comes to their nails?
One thing we’ve noticed is a tendency to pick at chipped gel polish manicure. It’s not the same as regular polish, ladies! Don’t do it! Since gel polish sticks very tight on natural nails, it can cause some damage if removed incorrectly.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever gotten?
The craziest design we’ve done so far were different Dragon Ball characters on separate finger nail for a client. It took us around 3 hours to finish, and our technician practiced for hours beforehand to make sure it was just right.

What’s special about being a stylist in Brooklyn specifically?
Brooklyn, specifically Williamsburg, has so much demand for fun nail art and creative clients; we’ve seen inspiration from worldwide street art, iconic paintings, modern architecture, and historical eras. Many of our clients also come in and get nail art to match with their wardrobes for special functions. You can never get too detailed in our opinion.

What led you to the nail art business?
We’ve always have been providing nail art as part of our overall nail services. However, nail art has really blossomed lately. In the past, the typically design request were French manicures, simple flowers, and were mainly acrylic based enhancements. Lately, nail art has become a separate category itself. Clients are coming in with intricate nail art requests that take hours of planning to execute properly, and which continue to blow our mind. Clients are now treating their nails as a blank piece of canvas that demands self-expression. With such high nail art demand, we had to budget daily training to all our staff to assure that they meet their clients challenging request.


Best Dry Cut:
Self Salon
After ten years in Williamsburg, Ridgewood-born owner Maria Barca added another, equally gorgeous, bright space to Bushwick in March, which also specializes in curly hair, blow outs ($35 and up) and dry cuts ($65 and up)—a vastly underrated technique that, on a recent visit with the wonderful stylist Barbara, was used to give me the best cut I’ve ever had. As of recently, both locations now sell Alchemy Cosmetics, a new high-pigment, long-lasting matte lipstick line developed by Self Salon stylists Barbara Alcazar and Christina Hiatt made of Bushwick-specific colors like Maria Hernandez Red, Knickerbocker Nightmare and Myrtle Avenue Mermaid. 147 Grand St, Williamsburg and 42 Wilson Ave, Bushwick.

Q&A with Maria Barca, founder of Self Salon:

What hair trends do you see around Brooklyn?
I see bobs and bangs and a lot of color—bright colors like purples, pinks and greens.

What’s the worst thing someone can do for their hair?
I had to think about this because there are many, but what I think is the worst is when someone consistently colors their hair back and forth from light blonde to dark.

What’s a hair tip that everyone can use?
Dry shampoo.

What’s the best thing about being a salon owner in Brooklyn?
I get to meet young entrepreneurs and artists here, and I also get the pleasure of working closely with many of them in the salon.


Best Mid-Price Cut:
Tomahawk Salon

While Bushwick’s tiny Tomahawk Salon started as a hair-only empire, it’s since expanded to include nail art by the Tumblr-famous designer Fleury Rose (pictured above) on weekends (price upon request), while still offering reasonably priced cuts ($40, bang trim and face frame $15–$25) with just three stylists, one of whom will be on the upcoming season of Hair Battle Spectacular on Oxygen. 17 Thames St, Bushwick.

Q&A with Fleury Rose, nail artist at Tomahawk Salon:

What nail trends do you see popping up in Brooklyn lately?
My clients love getting nail art which is unique to their own personal styles, so that is the only trend I could say I really follow.

What’s the worst thing someone can do to their nails?
I think the worst thing you can do when it comes to your nails is going to a discount nail salon to get nail enhancements (acrylics or gels). I see clients all the time who have horror stories about being injured or have gotten fungus from these unprofessional places. Cheap nails aren’t good, and good nails aren’t cheap. You get what you pay for.

What’s your go-to manicure?
I love anything that sparkles, loaded with glitter and crystals.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever gotten?
My friend reads tarot, so we wanted to make power crystal nails for her. I hand crushed clear, and smokey quartz crystals, and embedded them with gel into little frames on her nails. Quartz are very balancing and healing so they were not only beautiful, but also beneficial!

Who was your favorite celebrity to work with?
I love working with Anne Hathaway! She is a very smart, and powerful woman. Very inspiring to be around!

What’s special about being a stylist in Bushwick?
I love being a nail stylist in Bushwick, because I get to meet and work with some of the most creative, and inspiring people in the world! Bushwick is home to so many artists, models, photographers, musicians, and small business owners.

What drew you to the nail art business?
Growing up, I always had a great love of fashion, art, and beauty. It was really hard for me to decide on one career path, but then I found nail art, where I get to work in all of those fields. Truly a blessing!


Best Cheap Cut:
Maria’s Hair Salon
Unlike other Brooklyn-born beauty startups, Maria’s Hair Salon, opened by the Polish-born Maria Papadeli in the early aughts, has no fancy website or fabulously contemporary interior. What it does have, however, are $20 women’s cuts and a cult following among local Greenpointers. Though Maria’s does take walk-ins, we recommend doing your best to avoid a potentially three-hour wait and book in advance. 119 Meserole Ave, Greenpoint. 718-389-3324.


Best for Custom Color:
Hello Beautiful Salon

This full-service salon (hair, nails, clothing and accessories) was recommended to us by a manicure scholar, so it comes as no surprise that their Japanese nail art ($85 and up) is top-notch. Hairstyles (and the stylists themselves) skew towards punk and pinup looks, defined by founder Rebecca Faye’s 1999 dream of a salon for “rockstars, models, hipsters and fashionistas.” The salon also specializes in custom unnatural hair colors (prices based upon consultation), ombre ($170 and up), perms ($120 and up) and bold, transformative cuts ($60 and up). 218 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg.



Best Shop:
Shen Beauty
Since 2012, Shen has provided South Brooklyn beauty fanatics with their favorite cult, niche, local, and organic brands, some of which, like Amanda Lacey, aren’t sold anywhere else in the United States. Founders Jessica Richards, a former stylist, and Jules Stringer of the Daily Mail’s beauty section met at a Jay-Z concert before opening their doors in October 2010, specializing in high-quality brands you won’t find at, say, Sephora. “We strive to be nothing like Sephora,” Richards has said, “to be honest, I don’t think we even carry one brand that Sephora carries.” Inviting pink and purple walls line the layers of the somewhat intimidating products, though Shen’s mission isn’t to scare away beauty rookies. In fact, the two bonded over the simple question, “Why can’t I get a decent moisturizer in my neighborhood?”, meaning that has much as Shen Beauty has become a travel-worthy mecca for those in the know, it’s still operates with Brooklyn women in mind. 315 Court St, Cobble Hill.

Q&A with Jessica Richards, co-founder of Shen Beauty:

What’s something all women should be doing in terms of their beauty habits?
Two things all women should be doing: First, cleanse both at night to take the dirt and grime off your face, and in the morning with soap, not just with water, as you are starting the day with a fresh face and getting off all the skin cells you shed overnight. Second thing is every single woman should be using face oils. It is the secret to beautiful skin. Also if you have oily acne-prone skin, you are an even greater candidate for oil for your skin.

What are some of the biggest beauty or self-care mistakes you see people make?
The number one biggest mistake I see people make is when they have acne or zits, they use something to strip the natural oils from the skin. When doing this, your skin reacts by producing more oil, thus causing more breakouts. If you use the proper oil for acne prone skin, it tricks your skin, your body stops producing so much oil and then it receives the fabulous oils that helps to get rid of the acne.

What’s your favorite product (or line/brand) of all time?
de Mamiel…everything about it is perfect in every way.

What’s your most popular product?
It varies by season, but Amanda Lacey is usually a constant top-seller, along with Georgia Louise and de mamiel.

What’s the best (or most interesting or unique!) part of being a Brooklyn shop owner?
The best is that everyone everywhere is lapping up anything in Brooklyn. The other is seeing how the neighborhood has changed. Since we opened almost four years ago, Sephora, Barney’s, Rag & Bone, J. Crew, Intermix and Splendid have come into the neighborhood.

Have you seen any beauty trends popping up in Brooklyn lately?
In Brooklyn I find the trend is really geared towards homemade beauty.  Everyone in Brooklyn makes something, whether it’s beauty products, dream catchers, furniture, fragrance or clothes.


Best Fragrances:
Twisted Lily
This Boerum Hill boutique boasts the best niche fragrance collection in the borough, including local brands like CB I Hate Perfume, Joya and D.S. & Durga. After founding the e-commerce site Parfum1, Stamatis Birsimijoglou and Brooklyn-bred Eric Weiser went brick-and-mortar with Twisted Lily last year. “You can describe a scent to the best of your ability, but you can’t ever have that intimate one-on-one session with somebody to help them find a perfect scent, which is what Twisted Lily is all about,” says Weiser on the move from online to IRL. You’ll also find nail polish, natural skin products from Meow Meow Tweet and Kai, plus old-fashioned beard-beautifiers by Brooklyn Grooming. 360 Atlantic Ave, Boreum Hill.


Best Unisex Shop:
miomia Apothecary

Who said academia isn’t practical? For Katie Chang, who moonlights as a freelance writer and wrote her Master’s thesis on male grooming at Georgetown, it became a path to opening up miomia, a unisex apothecary in Williamsburg. While there’s plenty of Brooklyn-made products, most notably Amour, McBride Beauty and MCMC Fragrances, you can still shop for big brand favorites like Malin + Goetz and Julie Hewitt Los Angeles, plus the U.S. exclusive to the Swedish-made Hakansson makeup. And of course, men will feel just as much at home, what with the wide array of face, body and shaving products from Ursa Major and Baxter of California, with the added bonus of discussing them all with a bonafide scholar on the subject. 318 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg.

Q&A with Katie Chang, owner of miomia Apothecary:

What’s something everyone should be doing in terms of their beauty habits?
In addition to staying out of the sun as much as possible, daily sunscreen (even when it’s not sunny out). I might sound extreme, but sun is poison for the skin. It prematurely ages you, dries you out, exacerbates lines and wrinkles, and causes cancer. Beach culture is completely lost on me.

What are some of the biggest beauty or self-care mistakes you see people make?
Besides the sunscreen issue, we need to listen to our skin more. It’s our body’s largest organ, and really susceptible to internal and external changes. While I don’t believe in going overboard with product, I think it’s important to stock a variety of things to target different issues.

What’s your favorite product (or line/brand) of all time?
Mario Badescu. No contest. It’s affordable, still independently-owned, and also the not-so-secret weapon of our aesthetician extraordinaire, Hillery Sklar.

What’s your most popular product?
Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion, because people of all ages and backgrounds get zits, and this stuff really works.

What’s the most interesting part of being a Brooklyn shop owner?
Having a second family here that I love as much as the Changs. I’ve met some of my best friends, my second family, through my shop. Being a Brooklyn shop owner means getting to be part of a truly special and incredibly tight-knit community, and for that, I’m fucking grateful.

Have you seen any beauty trends popping up in Brooklyn lately?
Men are certainly paying much more attention to grooming their beards. Going feral and out-of-control isn’t a good look on anyone.

You’re a writer as well – how does that influence your career as a shop owner, or vice versa?
For the most part, I keep those two jobs fairly separate. I do write about men’s grooming, but it’s rarely straight up product coverage these days. Because I get bored fast, it’s nice to not have my work life not be so straightforward or predictable. I’ve done the 9 to 5 thing, and it sucks. It’s not for me.

In a couple sentences, can you summarize your Master’s thesis on male grooming?
I argued that men want to take care of themselves, and should. And that taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that you have to go overboard.

What’s so bad about unnatural beauty products?
I’m going to keep fairly mum on the topic, as I offer brands that lean green, and also brands with ingredients that might be controversial for some. I’m all about offering a variety of product that I like, and letting you decide what’s best for you.

Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa.

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