Carol Sondesky Of Nyl Skincare On Vegan, Gluten-Free, and "Perishable" Products

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So you cut gluten, meat, or dairy (or all three!) out of your diet, and you’re increasing the real estate of veggies on your plate. But what about your skin care? Shouldn’t the products you put on your face be as clean as what you’re eating? All-natural skin care has been on our minds for a while now (we just launched rms beauty in our boutique!), so we spoke to Carol Sondesky, founder of the new vegan, gluten-free, all-natural brand nyl skincare, to find out the truth behind what those terms really mean.

B: How did nyl come about?

Many years ago I started having food sensitivities. Because of that, I became very aware when reading labels and ingredients. One of my sensitivities is to gluten—for a while I thought I had Celiac disease—so I had to be really careful about not ingesting the stuff. And all of a sudden, I became aware that there were gluten-free skin products out there, and the bell went off. I drew that analogy to skin care: what you put on your skin you actually ingest as well.

It began because I saw a show on PBS where this woman demonstrated how to make your own skin care products. And I thought, “I can do that! I’m going to go get some beeswax and try it!” And it’s not that easy. It’s actually quite difficult; I kind of got obsessed with it. After two years of practice, I finally cracked the formula. So I started making it and giving it to friends, and then the lotion started getting really good and people started really liking it —and then they started requesting it!

So your friends and family use the products?

Some of my friends do! But my parents? No, never! They don’t understand: “What’s vegan? Who cares?” They think there’s voodoo in it or something [laughs]. But even if they don’t get it, they’re very supportive. When I was first starting out, they would help me with big orders and stuff. Kind of living vicariously through me!

How’d you get serious about nyl?

I started reading every book I could find on natural skin care. And then I got more serious about it, started working on other products. I went to France for a yoga retreat, and thought it would be the perfect audience, so why don’t I take these products and hand them out to people and see what they think? And of course the response was just amazing. And I came back and quickly put a website together and that’s how I got serious and launched it as a business.

How much involvement did you have in the pretty, clean branding?

My background is in design—I’m an art director and creative director—so really every aspect of the line has come from me. I personally did all the branding, the logo, and the website, in addition to developing the products. So nyl is really my baby.

Where does the name "nyl" come from?

The all-natural market is exploding, so when I was trying to name the company, every good name that I could come up with was taken. Either the URL wasn’t available or it was already trademarked, and I was literally going crazy! So I came to nyl, which is actually my middle name, Lyn, spelled backwards. I was working with a friend who’s a copywriter, and as soon we said it out loud, the lightbulb went off… the word “nil!” We went back and forth on whether we should spell it with an “i” or a “y,” and it just looked prettier with the “y.” She wrote some copy to show how it could work in marketing, the whole idea of no toxins, nothing bad, no harsh or irritating ingredients: nil! It just worked. It’s funny—some people don’t get it and I have to explain it, and some people get it right away.

What do you want to do next with the line? Do you have designs on selling in stores?

I don’t want to say I don’t know, because I kind of do. But here’s the problem with putting it into a lot of stores: because it’s so natural and I use only natural preservatives, the shelf life is much shorter than most products. That becomes an issue when you’re starting to talk about getting a distributor and shipping. Your products will have to sit in a warehouse for a while. But I do want to be in a few really select stores, spas, and salons. I want a visible place where people can go and buy nyl products, but I kind of like the idea of keeping the company online, where I can control the timing issue much better. It’s kind of a different way to think about skin care. Eventually my goal is to have a lot more education on my website.

What kind of education do you want to focus on?

When I got into this, what I learned was that there really isn’t any regulation in the cosmetics and skin care industry as to what’s “all-natural” or organic. It’s kind of up to the producers of the products to determine what they want to consider all-natural. You can buy something labeled “all-natural organic,” thinking it’s pure, even though it might still contain toxins and irritants. There’s a lot of legislation trying to get passed right now on regulating labels and such, but as it is right now, there really isn’t much official in place. So that’s what I’d like to focus on—educating people on how to read labels. An ingredient could start out as a plant, but the process for creating the product might be so full of chemicals that the end result is full of toxins. There’s such an awareness building up about all this, and as people become more aware, they’re gonna start demanding better quality and more transparency.

This kind of thing certainly isn’t common knowledge, even within the beauty industry.

Ten years ago, we didn’t really know that frozen dinners were bad for us, either. I always draw the analogy with food. The beauty industry is about ten years behind. If you think about food—something heavily processed that can sit in your kitchen cabinet for a year—it’s probably not the best for you and you’re probably not going to get a lot of nutrition from it. In theory, with skin care, you’re feeding your skin nutrients to make it healthier. It’s the same idea.

I wish there were a different category for skin care, something I call “perishable skin care.” What that means is: these are products made with perishable ingredients that are fresh and really good for your skin. I’d love for people to think about buying it fresh and buying smaller quantities, more often. Again, the same way that we all buy fresh fruits and vegetables now.

What are some of those toxins that are best to stay away from?

If a product has the word "natural" in its name or uses "natural" in its description, it’s only required to contain one natural ingredient. The best thing a consumer can do, if they really care about what they're putting on their skin, is to read their labels and do their homework. Find out what those long words really mean. A great resource isEWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. They rate brand name products as well as individual ingredients according to how hazardous they are to both humans and the environment.

You’ve only been up-and-running since late last year. How have you been building your following?

Yes, since October. It’s been slow starting, and I’d say we’re shipping between 15–30 orders a week on average. But if I were to plot sales on a bar chart, it’s a straight line going up since I started. It’s growing steadily. We just did a Fab.com sale to help build awareness of the brand, and now we’re on OpenSky.com, a social shopping site. My product line doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think there’s an audience out there that’s specifically looking for it. I’ve been really focusing on how I get to that audience, and I really think some people will be looking for the all-natural, even vegan products.

Natural beauty is becoming a much bigger market. We see comments in our articles all the time asking “Where’s the all-natural stuff? Is this vegan? We need more green beauty!”

It’s a huge shift, and it’s happening really quickly. It’s very exciting to be in it. There’s a big shift overall in the way we look for and buy our beauty products. For instance, there isn’t a destination like Beautylish for the beauty industry that I’ve seen before.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out with just a product?

Be true to what you started out doing. If you’re really passionate about a vegan product, do your homework. Because again, there are a lot of ingredients that you might assume are vegan. For example: in a sugar scrub, you might assume that sugar is vegan. But not always. Regular white table sugaris processed with bone char, which is composed of animal bones.

And follow your passion. It’s a very cliché thing to say, but I do believe that in life, it has served me really well. Do the stuff you’re passionate about and the money will come. If it feels like a job or a way of making extra money, I don’t know. But if it’s something you really feel strongly about and like to talk about with other people, and it makes you feel good, then go for it.

That's something a lot of beauty entrepreneurs say: just follow your passion and the rest will come. I love that.

It’s true, though, you just send out that good energy. And it doesn’t really feel like work—well, of course it does sometimes [laughs], but it’ll feed your soul. I believe that what you put out there comes back to you.

What are some of your favorite vegan, gluten-free, or natural products? Let us know below!