BRANDS I 🖤 AND BELIEVE IN : Kiehl's Since 1851
Kiehl's holds a very special place in my heart. Sixteen years ago this month, I flew to New York City from Los Angeles, where I'd escaped to after college, to interview for a copywriting job. I had been copywriting in LA for eight years at that point, most of that time spent writing for breast cancer and AIDS fundraising events that raised huge amounts of money for charity organizations around the country. I had put my heart into it, and it was truly gratifying work. It wouldn't be easy to replace with another writing gig that had so much meaning. But I couldn't pass up the chance to finally live in NYC, and this wasn't just any job. Not only would I be moving to New York (a childhood dream) but I'd be working for an iconic, 150-year-old beauty company with a soul. Prior to the start of my copywriting career, I had worked in retail as (shhh!) a cosmetics department manager.
Barneys New York was my last retail hurrah — and Kiehl's was my #1 business. It was there, on the day the new Barneys Beverly Hills store opened, that I'd met an intriguing, gentle man by the name of Aaron Morse on my sales floor. He had piloted his private jet into the Van Nuys airport and dropped by the Kiehl's counter in his trademark leather bomber jacket to say hello. I was two parts terrified, one part thrilled. The man was a powerful force, a legend after all. Mr. Morse had inherited the New York apothecary from his father, who had been Mr. John Kiehl's apprentice in the early 20s. Morse transformed Kiehl's into one of the great skincare companies in the world. A brand like no other, imbued with his own passions, interests, hobbies and loves — all the Harleys and skeletons (have you met Mr. Bones?) were his thing, his imprint on the iconic company.
Fast forward eight years or so after that fateful encounter with Mr. Morse. I flew to New York to interview with the newly installed L'Oreal team (Kiehl's had been acquired by L'Oreal the year prior). I was motivated, excited and ready for the rewarding work ahead, but I had to get the job first. There I was in the front reception area of the Kiehl's Home Office and unbeknownst to me at the time, Mr. Morse, who had passed away in 1995, was speaking to me from beyond. A copy of the company mission statement, penned by Morse himself, was sitting framed on the coffee table in front of me. I read it over and over, maybe a dozen times, before the president of Kiehl's was ready to see me. Mr. Morse's words lit a fire under me that day — one that powered me, inspired me, each and every day of the eight or so years I wrote for the brand. (Of course, I got the job!)
Those years were like magic. Many of the people I met in that time remain great friends who continue to inspire me. And many of the products I collaborated on — from their very inception — have become skincare icons today, among them Facial Fuel, Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, Ultra Facial Cream and Midnight Recovery Concentrate. I wouldn't trade that time for anything. It was everything I imagined it could be — and everything I never imagined.
But really, we're here for the skin care.
I always wondered which Kiehl's products I would continue to use after I left to start my own creative agency. I had gotten them for free all those years, and was always well stocked with product. But what if I had to buy Kiehl's products on my own? Well, one of the formulas that I've stuck with and continued to love is Ultra Facial Cream. Over my time on the brand, UFC was perhaps the most creative and inspiring projects. We had been sponsoring a team of athletes and mountain climbers (sadly, I'll never be a mountain climber) on their adventures around the world. Why not give them lab samples of this new moisturizer to torture test on their climb of Greenland's icy peaks? When they returned, they reported that the formula had kept their skin from drying out in the coldest, harshest conditions they'd faced. We even dedicated the product to them — and to this day, there is a tiny map of Greenland on the back of the jar in honor of their achievement.
So what makes Ultra Facial Cream such an outstanding formula? Well, one of its stand out ingredients is squalane — considered a Kiehl's core ingredient found in many of the company's formulas. Squalane is a natural component of human skin, an outstanding moisturizing ingredient, and a source of protective antioxidants and skin-replenishing fatty acids. UFC is a near-perfect formula, devoid of irritating fragrant plant oils found in so many skincare products, and rich in several non-fragrant plant oils like sweet almond oil and avocado oil that are both skin-compatible and deeply nourishing.
And then there's perhaps the most iconic of all Kiehls formulas, Lip Balm #1. I have tubes of it everywhere. In the nightstand. In my lion backpack. In every coat — winter coats, spring jackets, summer windbreakers. I have tubes of Lip Balm #1 in three or four hoodies. I even have one attached to a long silver chain that I often string from my belt loop to my pocket. Where one's keys would normally be. It has a limited-edition New York Adorned solid silver cap engraved with the Kiehl's apothecary logo. It won't open any secret doors, but do I maybe think my Lip Balm #1 can get me into Narnia? To say I'm obsessed with this little $9 lip treatment is an understatement.
But there's more to it than that. The formula is also pure perfection. Lip Balm #1 was formulated and first introduced in the early 1960s to discerning New Yorkers — patrons and visitors of Kiehl's original flagship store downtown. Its star ingredient? Petrolatum. And while petrolatum gets a bad rap, it happens to be one of the most effective emollients and skin protectants of any kind approved for use in skin care. The Skincare G.O.A.T. Paul Begoun herself states, "although derived from crude oil (thus making petrolatum a natural ingredient), it is highly purified prior to being used in cosmetics, so there’s no risk of exposure to unwanted chemicals. For some unknown and unsubstantiated reason and despite solid research to the contrary, petrolatum has attained a negative image in regard to skin. Topical application of petrolatum can help replenish, soothe and beautifully moisturize skin’s outer layer. It’s widely considered safe and highly effective. Extensive clinical data has shown petrolatum to be a gentle ingredient."
I don't leave home without my Lip Balm #1. Privy to many insider secrets during my time at Kiehl's, one of my favorite anecdotes was that there was actually once a Lip Balm #2! The formula was purportedly similar to that of the classic #1, but with a slight silver tint to it. Lip Balm #1 has saved my delicate lip area skin from the cold, dry New York winters for 16 years now. And, perhaps, from November to March, it's one of the few things that brings me joy. Along with Orpheus the Snarky Cat who only wishes he had lips.
While my copywriting career began in writing with all my heart for causes that mattered to people's lives, Kiehl's taught me that I can put my soul into my work in skin care, too. As Mr. Aaron Morse said, “Love what you do. And that’s the trick of life. Love what you do, put your heart into it and you will be rewarded.”