For decades, “cool girls” everywhere have mixed their own signature scents from a secret blend of essential oils… or something like that. You know the trope. French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld famously wore an orange blossom fragrance she concocted herself until she launched her own line; celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess turned her love of scent layering into a cult-favorite perfume; Kerry Washington, Jenna Dewan, and Miranda Kerr all DIY with essential oils. The next iteration of effortlessly cool customization — the “oh, I just whipped this up myself” beauty product of 2020? The DIY beauty oil.
Vogue Business predicted the trend a few months back, reporting that “41 percent of global beauty consumers use a DIY product monthly.” The rise in DIYs can be traced back to a few main factors: more people interested in natural ingredients, more people questioning the chemicals in traditional formulations, more people presenting with sensitive skin. All of the above inspired me to start making my own products a couple years back; these days, I barely use anything else. A homemade rose water cleanser, tea tree oil toner, and rosebud and jojoba face oil are all I need — and honestly? My skin is so much healthier than it was when I was using store-bought skincare. (And trust me, as a beauty editor, I had access to the "good" stuff.)
The DIY face oil boom is disrupting the industry in more ways than one. Not only are individual beauty enthusiasts making their own products — when they see results, they’re starting their own brands. Ahead, meet five indie beauty founders that got their start with a DIY face oil (including one who’d rather you DIY your own than buy hers, thanks).
Dena Smith, founder of Leo Oil
“When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, nobody told me I was going to break out like a teenager,” Dena Smith, creator of the Insta-famous Leo Oil, tells The Zoe Report. “Between hormones being messed with and a suppressed immune system, it was brutal.” She experimented with conventional skincare, but wasn’t comfortable with the sometimes-sketchy formulations. She switched to natural skincare, but that was too expensive. Finally, she decided to make her own.
“[A] big resource for me was the NIH website — they publish all the trials and I was looking for ‘acne essential oil’ and ‘antibacterial essential oil’ times a thousand,” Smith says. “Once I settled on blue tansy, which has some powerful research behind it, the trial and error for me was pretty magical. The day I mixed the batch, I knew I had something — the oils didn't separate out, they just merged together and mmm, it smelled like heaven.”
She wasn’t planning on selling the product — a blend of blue tansy, meadowfoam seed, and rosehip seed oils — but when her Instagram followers noticed the changes in her skin, they pretty much begged for it. “I really wanted everyone to make their own, and it's still something I struggle with as a conservationist,” Smith says. “I tell people to get a bottle, and then refill it with their own. Once you know how it looks and smells, it makes it easier to [DIY].” The recipe for the now cult-favorite Leo Oil is available on Smith’s site. (And cult-favorite is not an exaggeration, by the way: Leo Oil was voted one of the best products of 2019 in the Into The Gloss Reader’s Choice Awards.)
Heather Ciprani, founder of Flower & Bone Supply
Heather Ciprani, nutritionist and founder of Flower & Bone Supply, started making her own skincare after falling in love with a hunk of cocoa butter. “I would slather that on and my obsession really grew from there,” she tells The Zoe Report. Ciprani says she's been a DIYer “from the moment I came out of the womb,” basically, so figuring out formulations was almost second nature. It started with cocoa butter, of course, “but I fell down this rabbit hole of herbs as supplements during that process, which lead me to ‘well, why not herbs on skin, why not herbs infused in oils?’”
“The face oil was birthed out of trying to make a multivitamin face oil,” she says. That’s the Miracle Skin Facial Oil, and the name does not lie. (I’ve written about it before — I swear it’s a more affordable, more effective version of Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum). “It's wonderful to help make such an impact, but it's all in the herbs, they do all the work,” Ciprani says.
The founder encourages hopeful DIYers to just go for it — after adequate research, of course. “Nadine Artemis’s book Renegade Beauty is a must for anyone who wants to DIY; she is magical on the page and offers tons of incredible recipes. Watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts on skincare, and treat formulas like you treat your food ingredients. If you won’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin.”
Jasmine Garnsworthy, founder of The Buff
Jasmine Garnsworthy was working as a beauty and fashion editor in Sydney, Australia, and New York City when she noticed a trend: “I had been watching the growth of customized and monogrammed brands in the fashion space, such as Pop & Suki and The Daily Edited, and felt there was an opportunity to personalize labels on skincare products, too,” she tells TZR. “I decided to deepen my knowledge of natural skincare and the manufacturing process by studying with Formula Botanica.”
After getting a Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation, Garnsworthy began working with a lab and testing out formulas. “I tested various carrier oils, and decided that jojoba oil, maracuja oil, argan oil, and rosehip oil were the most effective,” she says. That’s when she launched The Buff, a beauty brand that customizes face oils for every single customer based on a skincare quiz — and monograms the bottles, too.
DIY is kind of her job, so Garnsworthy is always mixing it up. “I love anything with a jojoba oil base, as I have quite breakout-prone skin and find this is the least likely to trigger a breakout while making my skin look hydrated and glowy when I layer over a hyaluronic acid serum,” she says. “I also use blue tansy oil, which became really buzzy a few years ago for its anti-aging properties and is still an absolute favorite ingredient among The Buff customers — myself included. Geranium oil is my favorite scent, so I'll occasionally add a couple of drops to my bottle.”
Adriel Denae, co-founder of Clary Collection
It was sensitive skin that inspired friends and co-founders Jen Auerbach and Adriel Denae to start Clary Collection, an organic, family-friendly line of balms, serums, and oils. “Neither of us was finding consistent success with natural products we were buying and I had a deepening interest in midwifery recipes and traditional herbalism,” Denae tells The Zoe Report. “The first time I infused olive oil with herbs and then formed a balm, I was hooked. The process felt magical and also deeply rooted and practical, and the oil and balm were wonderful to use and worked better than the things I had been buying.” (I can vouch for that: Clary All Purpose Balm is literally with me wherever I go, in my bag at all times.)
The two continued to make their own balms with one goal in mind: “to create one recipe that was gentle enough to use on our babies and grandmothers and effective enough to satisfy ourselves.” Denae and Auerbach learned the basics from friends and neighbors, but found the greatest inspiration in midwifery manuals and older herbalism texts. “Ultimately, we were reacquainting ourselves with a relationship to plants that most of our ancestors would've been familiar with,” Denae explains. “It took some time to develop our own special formula, recipes, and methods, but we continue to be inspired by this tried-and-true, time-honored craft and we know there will be no end to our learning and understanding of these beautiful traditions.”
The co-founder encourages aspiring DIYers to start locally. “Be curious about your region and the medicinal plants that grow wildly near you,” she suggests. “Pick one plant that resonates with you and learn everything you can about it.”
One of my personal go-tos, Clary All Purpose Balm truly lives up to the name: I use it on my face, lips, elbows, and even my start-of-summer mosquito bites.
Hellen Yuan, founder of HELLEN
For Hellen Yuan, the founder of HELLEN, a combination of skin struggles and aromatherapy paved a path to DIY skincare. “Personally, I've been struggling with milia due to the use of over-the-counter products and have been looking for solutions to reverse it,” she says. “Becoming a NAHA-certified aromatherapist expanded my knowledge and understanding of base oils, extracts, and essential oils, which gave me the confidence to blend.”
Her go-to formulation is a base oil infused with botanicals. “One of my favorites is calendula-infused jojoba oil,” Yuan says. “Calendula is anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial, great for healing wounds, soothing eczema, and preventing acne. Jojoba oil keeps the skin calm and reduces redness caused by excessive dryness. Jojoba oil has an exceptional ability to fight water loss, which is one of the primary causes of skin aging. It's also non comedogenic, so it won't clog your pores.”
Currently, HELLEN offers luxury Bath Brews, but face oils are on the horizon for fall 2020. In the meantime, why not order some organic calendula and organic jojoba oil and try your hand at DIY?