They’re under the radar—and some were whipped up on a stove. But these products inspire real devotion among beauty mavens.
Before a bottle of Benefit Benetint was sold every minute, before Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker were fans, before every woman looking for a natural flush had heard of the red liquid, it was a local favorite in San Francisco. A favorite, that is, among exotic dancers—who wanted pinker nipples.
When twin sisters Jean and Jane Ford stayed up late one night in 1977, steaming rose petals to create a waterproof stain for a stripper who was looking to enhance her act, they had no idea how that one bottle of cherry-colored syrup would take off. But Benefit Benetint moved on up both literally (making its way from chests to cheeks) and figuratively (from one small shop in San Francisco to more than 1,500 stores around the world).
Besides the stripper part, this story isn’t unique—plenty of other beauty products are quietly building cult status in cities around the country. We’ve uncovered local favorites that are poised to become the next big things.
Rodin Olio Lusso Luxury Face Oil
Most women wouldn’t think of smearing oil all over their face—unless, of course, it had caught the attention of some of New York City’s most beautiful people, as this pricey blend of 11 essential oils (it costs a whopping $135 an ounce) has. Linda Rodin, a fashion stylist, created the elixir in her Chelsea apartment more than two years ago, mixing oils she’d learned about during her trips around the world (argan from Morocco, calendula from South Africa, arnica and sunflower oils from Italy).
But it wasn’t until she started selling it in 2007 that Rodin realized exactly what she’d created. “It sells faster than Linda can make it. We are now back-ordered,” says David Colbert, a New York City dermatologist (Rodin is his patient). “I have one patient who started ordering bottles by the dozen because she claims it calms her rosacea, and several celebrities buy up to six at a time.” Makeup artist Brigitte Reiss-Andersen uses it “to take makeup off, to moisturize, as a massage oil. I’ll even add a couple drops to my clients’ foundation if I want a dewy finish. It’s marvelous how fast it sinks in.” And Robin Coe-Hutshing, founder and creative director of Studio at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, sums it up simply: “It takes the place of everything.”
Where to find it: nydg.us; oliolusso.com
McBride Beauty Soy & Coconut Cleansing Bar
When former fashion executive Wini Burkeman wanted to honor her ailing mother, she didn’t send her an arrangement from 1-800-FLOWERS. She blended her a line of beauty products. “My mother had the most amazing skin,” Burkeman says. “She grew up on a farm in Ireland and was a big believer in natural remedies and no-fuss products.” She also happened to swear by simple bar soap, so Burkeman included one in her skin-care line. “So many soaps either have scents or ingredients that are too strong and can sting, but health-food-store soaps are too granola for me,” she says. Her own delicately sweet soap, on the other hand, has the lathering abilities of coconut oil and the moisturizing properties of soy.
“My mother was awestruck when she saw the products,” says Burkeman, who still hand-delivers shipments of the soap to beauty boutiques, toting 30-pound bags on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan. At Clyde’s on Madison, many customers buy more than ten bars at a time, and according to Rick Friedland, the store’s general manager, it’s pretty easy to explain why: “Not all natural soaps lather. This one creates an extraordinary amount of foam—and it smells like milk and honey.”
Where to find it: clydesonline.com; mcbridebeauty.com
Hair Rules Curly Whip
Hairstylist Anthony Dickey was always a whiz at cutting curly hair; the trouble started once he began applying the styling products. Dismayed by how sticky and flat they left his clients’ curls, he concocted Curly Whip, a protein-rich leave-in conditioner that could both smooth coarse curls and keep fine ones buoyant.
“Curly girls are flooded with hard-drying gels, and Curly Whip is the opposite—it leaves curls touchable and defined, but not feeling stiff or crunchy,” says Keneesha Hudson, owner of Urbanbella, a beauty boutique and salon in Atlanta that was the first to carry the product. “It’s like finding the perfect little black dress you’ve been looking for all your life.” Until Dickey visited Urbanbella last year, he had no inkling of the enthusiasm such a simple product could engender (think of a Jonas Brothers appearance at Disney World). People were double-parking, says Hudson, just to get to meet him.
Where to find it: urbanbella.com; hairrules.com
Lotions & Potions Rosemary Mint Foaming Handsoap
“If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin”—that’s what led Victoria Slone, a former jewelry designer in Chicago, to create the Lotions & Potions line of vegan bath and body products. Slone had a longtime fascination with beauty (“I was always in my mom’s makeup drawer and playing with her lotions and perfumes as a child”), but it was pregnancy that led her to learn about the herbs and aromatherapy oils she uses in her concoctions, which are free of mineral oil, artificial colors, and artificial fragrances.
She quietly sold her lip balms, creams, and cleansers at craft fairs and boutiques until last year, when she hit it big with her Rosemary Mint Foaming Handsoap, which is free of parabens and sodium lauryl sulfates. “I’m out of stock again,” says Cassie Green, owner of Green Grocer Chicago. “People like that it doesn’t dry out their skin during the brutal Chicago winters and that the scent is very soft and natural.” Mary Beth Johnson, director of a volunteer organization in Chicago, who’s been using the soap for almost a year now, raves, “I’ve tried other organic soaps, but they don’t clean as well as this one does. And the scent is so refreshing.”
Where to find it: lotsnpots.com
Butter London 3 Free Nail Lacquers
When Sasha Muir moved from London to Seattle in 2003, she never imagined how much a manicure could change her life. But the former management consultant found a new calling when she realized how many chemicals were in the polishes at her local salon. “In Europe, formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP [dibutyl phthalate] have been banned for years, so I was shocked that products in the U.S. still contained them,” Muir says.
She got to work formulating a line of lacquers free of the offending chemicals and enlisted famed London manicurist Nonie Creme to mix 45 shades that would evoke “London’s style and sense of rock and roll.” Since then, many of the big nail companies have stopped using chemicals—but that hasn’t diminished the popularity of this polish with Seattleites like Lisa Gagnon, an administrative assistant who likes that the colors “remain shiny and don’t dull over time” and that the chemical-free formula “comes off easily and doesn’t leave my nails with a dried-out look.”
Where to find it: butterlondon.com
Kō Denmark Jasmine + Neroli Body Lotion
Most of us would be hard-pressed to recall an experiment we performed in high-school chemistry class, but Henriette Holst has made a career out of one. The assignment? Create a soap from vegetable and plant oils like jojoba. Her grade? An 11 out of 13 (the school was in Denmark). Holst continued making the soap for family and friends through college and then, five years ago, turned her hobby into a full-time business. The first product she sold—a jojoba-oil-and-organic-aloe-juice lotion scented with jasmine and neroli—has developed a following around Seattle. “I wanted a moisturizing lotion for my sensitive skin that was free of artificial fragrance and preservatives,” Holst says.
She spent two years researching essential oils, consulted a naturopath and a chemist along the way, and drew on her Danish roots to design the packaging. April Allison, an interior designer, says, “It’s one of the few lotions that doesn’t irritate my eczema. And I like that the scent lingers on my skin.” Evy Cohen, a mother in Seattle, seconds the praise for the scent: “If I apply it at bedtime, I still have the soft jasmine fragrance in the morning.” And Amanda Rosenthal, owner of Seattle’s La Rousse boutique, where the lotion is a best-seller, loves that it’s “more underground and special” than other products she’s encountered and says the scent turns heads. “Men have stopped customers on the street to tell them they smell good. In Seattle, that says a lot, because men don’t really approach women here,” she says. “We’ve become too P.C.”
Where to find it: kodenmark.com; la-rousse.com
Body Time Vitamin A, D and E Moisturizer
“I think people would bathe in drums of this moisturizer if they could,” says Katie Cotterell, manager of the Body Time store in Rockridge, California. This pudding-thick cream debuted in 1973 at the family-run shop and has been a best-seller ever since. The reason? It has absolutely no scent (unless you add it yourself from the more than 60 perfume oils and 30 essential oils in the store), and it leaves behind a moisture barrier that fans say protects skin under the harshest conditions. It happens to be especially popular with nurses, who are prone to chapped skin because of constant hand-washing, Cotterell says. Eileen Tillman, a financial controller in San Francisco, has been using the moisturizer for more than 25 years. “I was hooked after the first try. I have dry skin, and this keeps it hydrated for a full day, and I don’t have to reapply,” she says. “I have five daughters, and they won’t use anything else, either. It’s the perfect lotion.”
Where to find it: bodytime.com
88 Orange Blossom Eau de Parfum
In 2007, Heather Artukovich and Andy Drakeford, both natives of Newport Beach, California, set out to create the perfect T-shirt. It had to be soft. It had to be fitted. And, they decided in one revelatory moment, it had to be scented, so the two developed a fabric softener with the fragrance of the orange groves of their childhood. Eventually they bottled the orange-blossom fragrance to sell as an eau de parfum—and a cult hit was born.
With notes of orange blossom, water lily, lilac, and citronella, “the fragrance was so fresh I fell in love,” says Debra Fenn, the owner of the Trio boutique in Newport Coast, where it was first sold. Stephanie Kwock, a mother in Santa Barbara, first smelled it on the T-shirt she bought, “and I thought, I want more of that. Now it’s the only fragrance I will wear.” And Kelsey Wiegman, a marketing account executive in Newport Beach, praises 88 Orange Blossom’s durability: “It’s lighter and crisper than other citrusy floral scents I’ve worn. But even though it’s light, it lasts—I’ve gotten compliments on it at the end of the day.”
Where to find it: Fleur d’Lys, 949-548-0810; b-glowing.com
With its deep chocolate color and batter-thick texture, this is no ordinary shampoo. “A lot of people say it looks like mud when they first see it,” admits CTonics cocreator Campbell McAuley, a Los Angeles hairstylist. “This is how our natural, unbleached ingredients appear when they are mixed together.” In spite of its odd look and goopy consistency, this clay-based paste has won women over for its ability to decrease frizz and increase shine in even the most damaged of hair.
It all began nine years ago, when McAuley worked with naturopathic doctor Julian Neil and his aromatherapist wife, Aleksandra, to “create something for dry hair that would treat both the hair and the scalp in a holistic way, allowing organics to do the job of synthetics.” Hundreds of hours and countless formulations later, the trio landed on this all-natural blend of brown and red clays, plus jasmine, camellia, and hibiscus oils. Fan Elizabeth Bachner, a midwife and acupuncturist in Los Angeles, says her long hair has never looked better since she started shampooing with the tonic. “People comment on it all the time—even my hairdressers say, ‘Your hair is so healthy; what are you doing to it?’” And Becky McLucas, a buying coordinator for Whole Foods Market (which sells CTonics Passion at 12 of its stores), says the shampoo’s minimal processing is the key to its success. “That’s the appeal, that the ingredients are in a pure and raw state,” she says. “I use it myself, and it doesn’t leave any residue behind. My hair rarely requires conditioner anymore.”
Where to find it: 800-693-1843; ctonics.com
Diana B. Maple Sugar Lychee Nut Scrub
Body scrubs had long rubbed Diana Barton the wrong way—mainly because they left her feeling slick with oily residue. So the former actress tossed superfine sugar into a bowl in her Los Angeles home, blending in maple syrup instead of oil and adding a drop of fresh lychee-nut fragrance. “Once I made it, I could not stop touching it,” Barton says—and she’s not alone. The scrub, which contains only five ingredients, is a best-seller at Marie Mason Apothecary in Santa Monica. “We have customers buying two or three jars at a time,” says Marie Mason, the store’s owner. Thirty-two-year-old Holly Howland of Santa Monica has an idea of why: “I’ve never, ever liked a body scrub before. They always felt too gritty and harsh on my sensitive skin. But this one is so fine and feels gentle. It softens and moisturizes my skin, leaving behind a faint scent.”
Where to find it: dianabbeauty.com; Marie Mason Apothecary, 310-394-5710; beauty.com
Katresha Scar Oil
William Blake wrote, “To create a little flower is the labor of ages.” Creating this flowery oil took only a few days—and with good reason. “A client of mine who had been bitten in the face by a dog came to me looking to buy a product I make called Face Oil, but I knew she needed something thicker and richer if we were going to keep her skin from scarring permanently,” says creator Katresha Moskios, a Los Angeles skin consultant turned yoga instructor.
Moskios went right to work and quickly arrived at a combination of starflower, thistle, rose hip, chamomile, calendula, and horsetail that would become Scar Oil. In the four years since then, Moskios has mixed up countless batches by hand, only recently passing the task along to an organic lab. “We sell it like crazy. People come in saying their scars have faded,” says Laurie Schireson, buyer and manager of Planet Blue Essentials in Malibu. “They also say it heals sunburns.” Annette McKnight, an interior designer in Laguna Beach, says, “I use it on dry spots and scrapes, and to moisturize my chest and neck because it’s so rich.”
Where to find it: katreshaoils.com
Talulamae Parfum Oil
Los Angeles musician Misty Lawrence was just 15 years old when she created this scent—but it took another 14 years for her to turn it into a business. “I used to buy fragrance oils from the street markets along Melrose and wherever I traveled, and blend scents to match my mood. I stopped at what’s now Talulamae because I loved it so much,” she says of the blend of sandalwood, liquor, and “sweet rain” (a note that “smells like the humidity in the air when rain is starting to come,” Lawrence says). She wore it nearly every day for the next 15 years and received constant accolades: “People stopped me all the time on the street to ask about it, wanting to buy it.” And finally, four years ago, she dropped off a few bottles at Marie Mason Apothecary on her way to yoga class. “It’s a tiny roll-on bottle that people apply, leave the store wearing, and always come back to buy because someone has commented that they smell great,” Mason says.
Where to find it: talulamae.com