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The Power of Rituals

When clean-skincare guru/former model May Lindstrom was growing up in Minnesota and discovering to her chagrin that she was severely chemically sensitive, what she missed most was not a particular lip gloss or face mask or body spray, it was bonding with her friends over using them. “That feeling of sharing a beauty secret is so powerful,” she says.

Lindstrom substituted natural remedies she learned from her mother, but whether you learn them from friends, family members, or even the directions on a box of face cream, the transformative power of a beauty ritual can change not just your complexion but your whole way of being. “It’s about taking the time each day to focus and connect to our life force: As women and mothers, we’re constantly putting out energy, we need to nourish ourselves,” says Shiva Rose, founder of her own clean beauty line and an actress, activist, and blogger.

Taking time out for yourself—especially if you’re female—is a radical notion, continues Rose. “It has to do with accepting what’s sacred about being feminine,” she explains. “It’s creating respect for yourself—it’s an approach that absolutely transformed my own life. A beauty ritual helps us connect to our life force, our femininity; I truly think it’s the path to power.”

“I did learn from the geisha that anti-aging skincare is just like eating healthy and sleeping well—it’s preventative, and there are no shortcuts.”

“Slow beauty is really a way of living, though it can start by the way we care for our skin,” concurs Tammy Fender, founder of Tammy Fender Holistic Skincare in Palm Beach, a world-famous spa and clean beauty line. “For me, it’s about taking the time to be, to feel, and to connect, to go within. As so many scientific studies show, this reconnection to life’s natural rhythm has a tremendous effect on the body and the mind, which absolutely radiates through the skin.”

What’s easily dismissed as vanity is an intensely healing—and indeed, significantly anti-aging—force. “My grandmother and mother attributed caring for yourself with getting and keeping a mate,” says Mashell Tabe, who combines medical facials with psychic intuition at her sought-after studio in SoHo. “But I remember my mother taking baths with Calgon—all of a sudden this woman found herself in this magical place. That’s what rituals do: They give you permission to cherish the moment, to leave everything behind and rejuvenate your soul. They’re not vanity, they’re self-love.”

Simply brushing your hair or washing your face can constitute a ritual, says Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha Beauty, a line rooted in the rituals of the geisha tradition in Japan. “It’s not a question of how much time you spend, but the intention you put into it.” Tsai spent years researching the geisha, working with practicing geisha in Japan and studying historical texts as she developed her line. “I did learn from the geisha that anti-aging skincare is just like eating healthy and sleeping well—it’s preventative, and there are no shortcuts,” she says. “It’s the daily practice of taking care of yourself.”

“We are much more than our physical bodies, and more than the constant thoughts that clutter our minds. To reconnect to our true selves, to go within, to see what is going on, provides a moment of truth and openness. And we begin to realign.”

The concept of intention comes up again and again, for every one of these beauty-product formulators: Ingredients are critical, but intention has the power to transform. “The intention behind smoothing on a face cream is self-love,” says Rose. It’s the concept of hope in a jar, except the hope doesn’t actually come from the jar, it’s simply focused by it. “You can take it further by setting an intention as you do the ritual—anything from more energy to healing to love,” she says. Sometimes you’re drawn to the name of a product—it’s got the word calming or brightening or beautifying—for precisely these reasons, and the act of applying it reinforces your focus on that word or emotion.

“It sounds corny, but it goes back to ancient times, when feminine energy was revered,” says Rose. “I’m talking goddesses-in-the-temple time. It’s medicine for your feminine life force: I went through an incredibly difficult period personally, with a divorce and a life-threatening autoimmune disorder, and I know that I healed myself through diet and beauty ritual.” Emotional energetic scars are just as damaging as physical ones, says Tabe, whose rituals with clients are designed to heal both psyche and skin. “We are much more than our physical bodies, and more than the constant thoughts that clutter our minds,” says Fender. “To reconnect to our true selves, to go within, to see what is going on, provides a moment of truth and openness. And we begin to realign.”

Along similar lines, Lindstrom says that ritual helped pull her through a period of homelessness when she first moved to LA as a young adult: “I was seriously living out of a car—it was a rough time,” she says. “But my friend and I would go to the beach and use the public showers there—that moment of self-care, even in all the turmoil of my life at that time, that really made a difference in my whole outlook.” Later, as she began developing beauty products that wouldn’t make her own skin (and others’) erupt, Lindstrom paid an enormous amount of attention to building an experience of self-care into the products themselves. (Her bestselling Honey Mud and Problem Solver masks, for example, are applied by first mixing the product in a bowl, then painting it onto the face with a wide, silky brush.) “I wanted to bottle a catalyst for bringing ritual back into how we care for ourselves,” she says.

“Rituals are commitments, a hands-on approach that passes through the skin. You simply can’t mistake—or recreate—the natural beauty that shines through.”

“The quest for beauty is a spiritual journey,” says Tabe. “When intention is placed behind the desire of daily rituals, it nourishes the soul.” Whether it’s dry brushing and a bath, or lighting a candle while you do a face mask, paying attention to yourself in this way is worth the few moments it takes, says Fender: “Just like everyone else, I spend too much time responding to email,” she adds. “But we can all make a habit of slowing down and tuning in for a few moments a day, allowing ourselves to see beauty and to feel it. Rituals are commitments, a hands-on approach that passes through the skin. You simply can’t mistake—or recreate—the natural beauty that shines through.”

Cleopatra took baths of milk and honey, Helen Gurley Brown got ready for a party by submerging her face in ice water, Mary Queen of Scots soaked in red wine, Aphrodite in seaweed, Marie Antoinette in herbs; Rose’s theory about power may not be far off. “It’s about taking who you really are as a woman seriously,” she says. “I think we can all imagine our inner Cleopatra.”

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