If you glance over the label on any skincare product sitting on your shelves, you'll most likely find a long list of chemical or synthetic ingredients. Resolutely taking the opposite approach is Brooklyn-based S.W. Basics. To simply label them "all natural" seems inaccurate, since the phrase is tossed around so freely in the unregulated cosmetics industry. Instead, S.W. Basics can be described as a line of pure, "no-frills" skincare products that include five ingredients, at the most. Plus, these ingredients are familiar products easily found at the grocery store, such as oat flour, coconut oil and sea salt.
Founder Adina Grigore's less-is-more philosophy comes from her own experience with products wreaking havoc on her extremely sensitive skin and her realization that "fewer ingredients means more potent skincare." S.W. Basics not only shuns chemicals, but they also eschew exotic or luxury ingredients often touted as miraculous discoveries or technological advances. For example, the exfoliant bottle cheekily reads, "Sorry, no plastic micro-bead technology inside, oops."
Grigore studied anthropology and international studies at Fordham University while simultaneously doing a dance program at The Ailey School. "I did what every dancer does when they quit—I went to nutrition school. I was also a personal trainer at Equinox. And I think combined with my personality, I just got really fired up about nutrition, how inaccessible, expensive and exclusive it is. It makes you feel like you're always doing something wrong or you're not perfect enough," Grigore recalls. "So I started DIY workshops about everything I had learned as a way to empower people so that you no longer need your personal trainer [or nutritionist]." This was the beginning of Sprout Wellness in 2007, and once Grigore started adding DIY skincare workshops, she realized that the demand for ready-made products was higher than people interested in making their own. She and her then-boyfriend, now fiancé and business partner, made up small batches, designed the packaging and shipped it out of their Brooklyn apartment.
With the products receiving growing recognition, Grigore wanted the brand and business to be taken seriously, rather than be labeled "hippie" and potentially limiting a more widespread audience. Last year, she shortened the name to S.W. and added "Basics" to imply the overall concept of her skincare philosophy, and gave the packaging a major face-lift. To keep up with demand, S.W. Basics splits its production 50/50 between their Greenpoint, Brooklyn studio and manufacturing facilities in New Jersey, Iowa and Missouri. Grigore is firm on sourcing the highest-quality ingredients in the most responsible way possible. We learned that the US isn't always the ideal place for ingredients: "Shea only grows in Africa, and no organic sugar grows in the US. When it's from abroad, it's fair trade or organic—but we're always looking, same as with the manufacturers."
Since S.W. Basics products are free of preservatives, we were curious to know if the products would go bad or expire sooner. "The average shelf life is commonly three years [in the cosmetics industry]. Ours is one. We want people to think of it more like food—would you save a tomato for three years? You shouldn't even save it for one," Grigore explains.
The comparison to food is one that can't be overlooked. From afar, S.W. Basics products, which are all bottled in glass jars and use ingredients in their whole, raw state, can easily be mistaken for an item from the pantry. Testing out the products, we initially balked at the smells and textures of familiar foods. The olive oil in the makeup remover and the raw apple cider vinegar in the toner can be overpowering, and applying them to the face felt strange at first.
Grigore argues, "I understand that, and I have two points: First, when you choose a green tea mask with red wine extracts, for example, it's because you're choosing the benefits of the green tea and red wine. But you're not buying the real thing that provides the benefits; they've been turned into byproducts. So you can opt for olive extract, where they have removed that texture and fragrance but the compromise is, it removes most of the benefits. That ties into the second point which is: A Twinkie feels like food, but it's not. What you think is 'normal' for your skincare is just what you've been told and are used to. Only a brief time ago in our history, our [S.W. Basics'] ingredients were standard. We've actually just been marketed to so much that we think a cream with plastic in it feels right."
The transition from your drugstore purchases to truly all-natural skincare can be tough. "It's all about starting slow. Don't throw out everything in your cabinet," advises Grigore. "The only product I use every single day is our toner because I swear it fixes everything. It's about finding small ways—if one of our products is one of the products in your cabinet, we've succeeded."
S.W. Basics' newest product for the summer is an upgraded version of their Body Oil—now blended with organic lemongrass essential oil, adding a fresh summer aroma. It dried instantly into our skin and we found it to be a lighter yet more potent alternative to lotion.
Grigore's next step is tackling hair products and sunscreen, which are much more tricky to formulate using natural ingredients. "I've been working on shampoo for almost a year. I found the perfect soap-free shampoo formula—it's seriously life-changing. But then I realize it'll never fly because it's dry and you have to mix it yourself. No self-respecting non-hippie will do that and I refuse to be a hippie brand. And so, I start over. We don't want to change people. We want to work with them and figure out what they're willing to do."
Top image by Shaun Boyte, product images by Nara Shin, all other images courtesy of Minnow Park.