Dara Kennedy may be just as infatuated with beauty as I am—except she beat me to it. For her, the fascination started at eight years old. Mine came slightly later (at 9, when I beheld a hot pink Tickle antiperspirant on a teenager’s vanity and knew I had to have it). Dara’s other credentials are no less impressive.
This ivy league grad spent more than 10 years working in retail and beauty marketing, product development, and branding before launching Ayla*.
Ayla, which means “bearer of light,” strives to be a go-to resource to navigate the often confusing beauty space. Experts—among them MDs, licensed estheticians, brand founders, and makeup artists—dole advice on topics from hair to hyperpigmentation. Plus the Ayla team offers online consultations to guide customers in discovering their optimum skincare protocol.
You will not find a one-size-fits-all approach here, but rather targeted, condition-specific and age-specific beauty recs.
The products are not the usual fare that can be found on most green beauty sites either. Many come from scouring international markets for reputable and efficacious finds.
While Dara has a “clean ingredient” list that she follows diligently, she’s also clear on one thing: she won’t compromise effective skincare in exchange for an organic label. Her reasoning is sound. If it’s clean but doesn’t work, she has seen customers swing back to conventional brands that work better.
Instead, she hopes Ayla will serve the discerning beauty buff with results-driven products that are enjoyable to use, avoid ingredients widely recognized as unsafe, and are worth every penny. I value the research that goes into selecting every product, as well as her studied approach to skincare.
Now a brick-and-mortar store, Ayla has been around for over 5 years with Dara at the helm, continuing to push sophisticated, eco-minded beauty in new directions.
Given her share of experience, I asked Dara to debunk some common beauty myths.
Myth #1 Retinol is bad for you
I’m not sure exactly where this came from, but I suspect it has to do with:
a) the discovery that retinyl palmitate generates free radicals when paired with UV exposure, and
b) the report that it could accelerate the growth of skin tumors with UV exposure as well.
Sometimes these discoveries morph and take on lives of their own as they’re interpreted and written about and discussed. Now, I agree entirely that there is no place for vitamin A derivatives in skincare products that are applied during the day. It makes no sense on a number of levels. But used at night, I think retinol is a fabulous thing. It’s been proven to reverse sun damage and reverse signs of aging. You really can’t say that about many ingredients at the end of the day.
We have been carrying Peter Thomas Roth’s Retinol Fusion PM because it’s a really simple formula, and it’s a better choice than most others out there, but we just found some fabulous alternatives to it that will be on the site soon. One of them is from Luzern, and I’m particularly excited about that one. It will be available by the last week of March, so stay tuned.
Myth #2 Oils work for everyone
I love oils. I use oils every day (I’m addicted to MyHavtorn’s Facial Oil and Vintner’s Daughter) and my skin loves them. But they’re actually not for everyone, despite what some might have you believe. I’ve met several women who have really felt pushed into using oils because it’s the thing to do, but their skin is a congested mess as a result. It’s totally OK to not use an oil on your skin if you’re not feeling it. There are so many other things to discover.
Myth #3 Sunscreen is bad for you
I think this is another case of discovery-morphing-into-something-very-different. Here’s an unavoidable truth: skin cancer rates have doubled in the past 30 years and they’re continuing to rise. Unless you hide in a cave for the rest of the life, you should use it, and there are lots of good, healthy ones to choose from. I could go on for pages about this one, but I’ll stop.
Myth #4 You should be able to eat your beauty products.
All of these myths drive me bonkers, but this one, like #3, is actually dangerous. For context: I adore good food. I cook all the time and I’m crazy about feeding my kids organic produce, pastured eggs, grass-fed butter, etc. I’m nuts. I also recognize that most of these things I’ve mentioned are stored in the refrigerator for a very short period of time before they’re consumed.
My skincare products, on the other hand, are stored in a medicine cabinet or perched on the side of my sink, and they’re subjected to steamy showers, grubby hands (my own, my kids’, my husband’s), air travel, and other things that my food would never have to withstand. I also expect them to feel nice and creamy and help me look younger. There’s a reason why your beauty products contain preservatives.
If your beauty products actually are edible, that’s lovely; we carry a number of products at Ayla that could be eaten, if you were lost at sea and had to make a choice between, say, eating another human and eating the contents of your toiletry kit. And I am a steadfast believer in avoiding questionable ingredients, including many preservative systems that have been shown to be endocrine-disrupting or worse. But not all preservatives in beauty products are bad.
There are natural preservatives that do the job well in certain formulations, and there are synthetic ones that are more suitable in tougher situations (creams containing a significant amount of water, for instance) that are really not so bad in the grand scheme of things. They’re certainly better than the alternative: I’ve worked in product development, and I have seen nasty things grow in products that aren’t adequately preserved. Those nasty things can do really nasty things to you.
A note from Dara on all of the above myths: There are so many situations like these in the beauty world, and in life really, where in an effort to simplify things and be safe, we end up going to an extreme — or drawing hard and fast rules that don’t really need to be there. But there are critical pieces of context and shades of gray that you need to consider.
I wish life could be simpler, too, but I also think there’s fun to be had in digging into the details.