"The stuff you buy at the drugstore, the stuff you buy at the spa, all of that stuff, whether it’s natural or not, is saying we have to stop what the body is naturally trying to do."
Emma Graves rarely appears outdoors without her giant water-hyacinth hat. She’s no non-conformist. Her point of view is just a firm dedication to the obvious.
Her hat is ecologically friendly and also looks great on her. And it’s what introduced her to her little boys’ father: She left it at an ashram across the street from a tango studio on the day they met. He saw her wearing a different hat, and he asked her if she lost her hat. He said that if she couldn’t find the hat, he would take her hat-shopping. Little did she know he has “a hat-shopping problem.” Now her whole place is full of hats. And two little boys.
Creator of the holistic skincare line Between You and the Moon, and co-owner of the herbal-based skin salon and retail outlet Brooklyn Herborium, Emma’s hat also protects her from the sun. She doesn’t use conventional sunscreens, considering the so-called “SPF” (sun-protection factor) “a farce.”
“It’s protecting you from getting a sunburn,” she allows, “which I will admit is uncomfortable. But at the same time it’s encouraging you to stay out in the sun longer than you normally would, absorbing more of the harmful rays.”
She prefers to trust her body’s natural defense mechanism whereby the pain and redness is skin-language for “Ouch, you’re hurting me, get out of the sun.”
Between You and The Moon
Both of Emma’s children were born at home, in her little Brooklyn apartment. I wonder: Did she always know that she would give birth at home?
They were both straightforward, easy births, assisted by a midwife. She knew both boys were growing healthy. And it was just what appealed to her. Twice.
“I feel like it’s the most rational thing ever. Like the idea, to me, of going to the hospital on purpose…”
A veteran aesthetician and herbalist, Emma created her product line when she realized she had to develop the product she craved because it didn’t exist except in the back cabinets of little old ladies. She wanted something that would allow the skin to heal itself and that would support it in its healing. In working with her clients, most of whom are New York City women, the same thing kept coming up:
“They were not nourishing themselves. They were not nourishing their skin. They were punishing their skin with all of the crap they were putting on it. And they were not nourishing their bodies.”
That’s what gave Emma the idea for her brand name.
“The idea of Between You and the Moon is that there are certain things in your life that you can keep quiet about. You can keep it ‘between you and the moon.’ You don’t have to use the product and say ‘oh, this is good for me, this is organic, this is sustainable.’ Instead, you mix it in your hand and you go ‘mmm, this is lovely. I like this.'”
You don’t have to justify it?
“And then you eat good food. You don’t eat it because it’s ‘healthy,’ or because it’s ‘sustainable.’ You eat it because it’s delicious. But when people ask you about it – because people, they notice those things – they’re going to say things like ‘I didn’t think you were the type of person to put butter on your bacon.'”
“I don’t for sure like butter on my bacon,” I confess.
“Okay, I’ve never had butter on my bacon,” Emma agrees, “but my child did it the other day, and I took pictures to prove it.”
Nourishing vs. Cleansing
“We don’t want to strip our skin. We don’t want to change the PH of our skin. We don’t want to take all of the good bacteria off of our skin.”
Emma’s cleansing approach focuses on oils and herbs. Massaging a handful of one of Emma’s oils into your face will remove makeup, dirt and impurities and will leave your face feeling fresh and clean. You just gently remove the oil with a warm wet washcloth.
“It’s kind of like when you’re cooking with cast iron and you burn something,” Emma assures me. “That is oxidized oil, which is exactly what you have inside a blackhead. So the way that you clean your cast iron skillet is not soap and water and a scrubby. It’s oil and heat and massage. We have to treat our skin the same way. We want to have that oil bond to the oxidized oil that’s in our skin, warm it up, massage it around and move it out.”
Emma created an assortment of mineralized hydrosol mists to function as the water component. Her Holy Cow mist was recently featured in Vogue. You spray the mist directly into the drops of oil that you’ve deposited in the palm of your hand, and there you stand with a wonderful little handful of fresh face lotion that is totally free of preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Resolve and Release
Emma is not a big fan of the term “holistic”, which these days seems to occupy that same overused and often meaningless category as “natural” or “artisanal.” She prefers to think of her skin care approach as “supportive.” Meaning this: She wants to encourage the body in doing what it’s already trying to do.
“The stuff you buy at the drugstore,” Emma tells me, “the stuff you buy at the spa, from the doctor, all of that stuff, whether it’s natural or not, is saying we have to stop what the body is naturally trying to do. The body is wrong, we need to protect it.”
Instead, Emma is “encouraging it to resolve,” which touches on one of her core principles: “To release the problem, resolve the issue.”
Suppressing is entirely different from resolving. If you suppress the problem, there are two options: The problem goes deeper, or it comes back up.
You’re breaking out, you’re getting a pimple…
“You could go to your dermatologist and get a cortisone shot,” Emma offers. “Then it’s basically suppressing your immune system acting as a steroid. Then your immune system doesn’t create the inflammation and do all the things it wants to do to heal. The inflammation goes away and the ‘pimple’ goes away. But really, it’s just going even deeper. Or it just doesn’t work.”
So if the problem goes away, where does it go?
“A well-known example in western medicine is the problem of eczema. That children with eczema, if the eczema is suppressed, it goes into another body system. It becomes asthma, because it goes into the lungs.”
So then if you try to suppress your asthma, what happens?
“Maybe it’s going into your psyche? Maybe that’s why we’re having so many teenagers or older people with depression issues. Maybe a lot of that brain inflammation is coming from the fact that we just keep on suppressing.”
“There’s a lot of people who come to me,” Emma says, “and they’re so depleted. And they say ‘all I can eat is yogurt and kale. But it’s just not working for me not eating anything. So in fact, I have to eat even less.’ For a lot of my clients what I really just have to do is have them add butter. Add grass-fed, organic butter. Because their skin just doesn’t have enough support in the form of fats. And because of that, they’re not getting the nourishment they need from their vegetables.”
I’m an eager convert, not needing someone to tell me twice to eat butter. It makes sense to Emma that the fats that are good for us would be abundant in the foods that we find delicious.
“It’s not like bingeing on a half-gallon of ice cream?” I wonder.
“If you give yourself the things in the ice cream that you need, such as the fat and the nutrition that’s in there, and you’re getting it regularly, you’re not going to binge on the crap. Instead you’re going to enjoy your meals that you’re eating. If you’re washing your face with the stuff you love constantly, you’re not going to all of a sudden go out and start desiring a three-hundred-dollar ‘magic serum.’ Because you’re not going to need it.”
Spirals of Healing
In western medicine, if there’s a problem, we do something about it. We take a drug or have surgery, and the problem is gone.
“And when does that ever happen?” Emma wants to know. “When is that ever a fact?”
When you stop suppressing your problems, your body starts to heal itself. That healing is cyclical, and suppressed problems love to circle around. But every time a problem comes around again in the cycle, even if the problem’s flared up again, it’s at a better place of healing. With every spiral, it’s a little bit better, until one day you realize you no longer have that problem.
“I had a client refer to her psoriasis, actually, as going through a ‘dark night of the soul.’ Whether it’s your skin, or your organs, or something deeper, you’re going to reach down to the bottom to allow it to release and then resolve. At first it might be just that little bit of something on the surface, on your skin. And then you start to realize, oh, my digestion really needs to heal. And then you start realizing, oh man, for the last ten years I’ve been suppressing my feelings on this. And then you stop suppressing those feelings and they start to come out. By then you’re skin looks great, and you have no excuse to not deal with the rest of you!”
So what supports that process?
“You need to do the building up. Rather than the breaking down.”
“Most people by the time they come to us for their skin care, they have been breaking down and breaking down and breaking down so much that they’ve never been above the line.”
Closer to Fine
Emma partnered with Molly Watman to found Brooklyn Herborium. (More on Molly in a future post!) Molly and Emma met at mama/baby yoga. It was an obvious match, and within two weeks of meeting they were looking for buildings to put a business in.
At one of their early business meetings in Molly’s apartment, the children were running around and there was a guitar nearby. Emma picked it up and began to play “Closer To Fine.” She couldn’t remember one of the chords. Molly took the guitar, and soon the two of them were singing Indigo Girls in harmony.
It just worked. Something clicked. Conducting business without children or guitars just feels irrational to Emma. Is she an iconoclast?
“I don’t want people to put hand-sanitizers on their hands and then touch my child. I’m afraid that they washed the floor with Clorox before my kid crawls on it. I would much rather him go face down in the dirt than in the hand-sanitizer. I would much rather him put his dirty little fingers in his mouth than a chemically-cleansed ‘binky'”
She had me at “hand-sanitizer.” We can’t only cleanse. We also have to nourish. We can’t only break down. We have to also build up. We can’t only strip. We have to also fortify.
So she is a non-conformist.
“I guess so.”
Emma's also a folk singer and songwriter. Check out her site. Emma's concluding her maternity leave, and is available for facial treatments starting in September. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your appointment.