Celestyna Higgins

It’s no secret how much I respect this woman. She is full of SO much information, and has played a key role in helping transform my understanding in certain aspects. It’s always important to do your own research and come to your own conclusions, however it is also very convenient when you have a green beauty figure sharing her own gathered knowledge, as the amount of information on the internet can be quite overwhelming. I highly recommend her blog, as she talks from everything from understanding sunblock ingredients in green beauty, to citrus oils and phototoxicity, to how to use facials oils and exfoliate correctly. Her blog, for instance, is actually a key reason why I made a major in my life and stopped drinking so much coffee, switching to Mommee coffee instead (which I feel so much better with by the way, as it’s low acid and you can control the caffeine- I’m not a mom, this is a great choice for anyone).

Naturally, her knowledge, especially with regards to acne, is what make her products such excellent performers in BOTH of her green skincare lines. Read my review on Moss Skincare here and get more info on AMBAR Beauty here.

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Let’s get to the interview! 🙂


Interview

~ I see that you’re a physicist! As an electrical engineer, it makes me so excited to see women with an amazing standing in science be such successful figures in the green world! Do you feel your understanding as a physicist helped you in any way when formulating products for your skincare company? What began that shift for you?

Yes, in a previous life I studied astrophysics! I am completely self-taught as a formulator and in the beginning there was a lot of research and experimentation. If there was one thing studying astrophysics taught me it was persistence, and knocking on the door of a problem over and over and over again, until finally the answer comes. Some of my formulas took over 50 iterations to perfect. It also taught me logical exploration – tweaking one variable at a time. I keep meticulous notes and logs – also a habit cultivated during my studies.

But I will say one of the most constant themes in my life is the marriage of science and art – both my parents were scientists who were also amazing artists in many media – wood, paper, paint, mosaic, baking, and on and on. I would say the art side is equally as helpful in formulating – I see each product as a composition in my head – I see the ingredients come together like colors, harmonious or inharmonious. Viewing the products as little artworks also gives me the courage to try some pretty out there ingredients since in the art world, nothing is off limits! And with Nature it’s pretty similar – you would be surprised how many botanicals have benefits for the skin….even if no other formulators are using them.


~ Physics, engineering, biology- these are all sciences centered around research and data. Even though there is still a lot of unknown knowledge in these realms, what keeps these fields moving forwards are continuous, tangible research. When you made the shift into green beauty, did you find that looking for reliable data, from clinical trials to ingredient research, was more difficult to come by? For example, some herbs have claims to have a certain effect on the body, but have yet to be thoroughly proven through numbers and data. If you did encounter this problem while creating moss and AMBAR, how did you overcome it while choosing ingredients for your formulations? 

I will say research is so tricky! Even in the best studies, there is usually some bias. However, the internet has changed how easy it is to access research – I have access to literally all the journals I want. When formulating, I use a mix of what I have researched and what ingredients have shown results in trials and I also listen to folk medicine and herbal lore. I don’t think a Western, empirical approach covers all the bases, to be honest, and I often use my intuition and personal experience in addition to alternative modalities. It’s a mix of a little of column A (research and data) and a little of column B (alternative medicine and folk wisdom).

I will say that’s another thing that (I think) differentiates myself and moss. So many green beauty brands are very firmly and dogmatically in one camp – usually the whole plant, botanical, super from-the-earth, Nature-Only, hand-crafted, no preservatives, no chemicals, etc. party line. I see tremendous results from whole plant botanicals but in some cases I think science actually does it a little better! Vitamin C is one example – ascorbic acid is so unstable, but there are many different forms of Vitamin C that are “man-made” that have been beautifully stabilized and do not irritate the skin like ascorbic acid. Another example is an antioxidant I use for AMBAR’s daily antioxidant primer – it’s synthetic, but it is so powerful and stable! Most antioxidants only neutralize free oxygen radicals – this one neutralizes free nitrogen species as well. And as you know, there is approximately 4 times as much N2 as O2 in the air. It also inhibits lipid peroxidation, so even though its not plant-based, I’m going to use it! Of course, its non-toxic – but there are plenty of synthetic, extremely beneficial ingredients that are non-toxic.

Another example is peptides – these really give results in the anti-aging areas, like dermal protein repair and support. I like to keep an open mind and really take the best of both worlds. As a result, I do change my mind. I’ve gone back and forth on lavender oil a few times. Science says it autoxidizes and creates hydroperoxides upon exposure to air (and let’s be clear, ALL lavender oil, no matter the quality or the source has been exposed to air) which are common irritants and cause allergic contact dermatitis. Folklore says it is a cure-all for many common topical ailments like bug bites, irritation, acne, insomnia etc. So who’s right? Both camps actually. Research shows that around 5% of people react to significant levels of limonene and linalool, two of the volatile constituents that autoxidize in lavender. The tests were done for approximate percentages of 2-3% lavender oil. Unfortunately, there are many green beauty brands that use levels of lavender this high or higher, especially for body care. At moss, I like essential oils! I like them for their skin healing and aromatherapeutic benefits. But the highest concentration of EOs we have in a product now is 0.55% – and that is a blend, so the % of any individual EO is lower. Most of our products have much lower concentrations – around 0.1% or 0.2%. We do use lavender! We use it in our Zen Physic spot treatment and we use it because it enhances the efficacy of the overall EO blend. It’s in there at 0.3%. I made that call knowing that including it would alienate about 6% of potential customers BUT it would make a better product for 94%. So there it is.


~ When it comes to your products, you focus on acne. Even though it seems that so many companies cater products toward this issue, you have so much knowledge in this area and, as I’m sure many people besides me can attest to,  create products that truly deliver. In this way, in the midst of “acne” products, yours are quite the rarity in their efficacy and knowledge behind their formulations. Following this note, I notice that there is also a lack in the skincare industry (green and conventional) to effectively address deep scarring from old acne, or address more severe scarring issues such as keloid scarring. Leading from this, is it a thought for you to begin creating products for other specific issues aside from adult acne, or to continue to perfect the field you’re so well versed in?

I created moss because of my own struggles with acne, and my skin still struggles with acne and scarring at the ripe old age of 35! I often do not like the way I look in photos or in the mirror and my skin, especially as a skincare formulator, is my biggest, by far, source of confidence issues. And I do not like that. I do not like that when I was in my third trimester pregnant I decided I was so over messing with my body hair. I thought it would be so weird to pop a baby out of a hairless vagina. I just grew very tired of the maintenance. A But most of all, I was all of a sudden acutely conscious that some little being would be looking to me to model my worldview and my values. And I did not want to send the message that women alter their bodies, no matter how insignificant and socially acceptable hair removal is. And so I let everything grow back. And I do not like it. And I do not like that I do not like it. That means I’ve been very deeply conditioned to believe hairless is beautiful. I find the juxtaposition of hairy legs and a pencil skirt like super, super uncomfortable and weird! But on the other hand, every day I care a little less about it, and to be honest, every day I become a little less likely to ever wear a pencil skirt again. That’s not the life I want, one where I have to wear pencil skirts.

If you’ve been a follower of moss, from the beginning, you will know that moss is about evolution. I tweak the formulations more than other brands. I tweak the branding, the messaging and the focus. I take breaks for mental health, for maternity, for whatever I want and I make people wait. And at the end of my break, 99% of the time, I’ve been inspired to do things differently. I think this has cost me a lot of followers. moss started out being know for specializing in acne. When I rebranded and redesigned at the beginning of this year, I decided to focus also on aging. And when I conceived of AMBAR, I decided to really emphasize delight. So I hope I am adding more dimension to the brand. All of moss’s products now are exquisite for acne or aging – or both, which is a concern for many women, and hardly addressed. moss is really for any woman, no matter what skin type, that feels drawn to the products. That’s it. Scarring is tricky – it takes time and dedicated effort to see results. It’s a difficult thing to wait for so long and be consistent and faithful for so long. There are quicker ways to address scarring – lasers and needling, and most people choose that route. We want everything asap in this day and age.

I’m not going to lie – if there was no risk, no controversy surrounding laser, I would do it. What’s holding me back is not some noble cause like the truth of my skin, or a beautiful acceptance of myself. It’s fear of a few things – of change, of potential backfires down the road (apparently the new collagen growth is hasty and of subpar quality and will degrade quicker), of judgement. So instead, I sit with my skin day in and day out, and there is no sense in NOT trying to grow into a place of peace and acceptance. So everyday I sit with reality and what that shows me is that there is no time to waste on bemoaning my face. It is what it is. And time is better spent with my baby or working on my business. There are simply bigger things than my vanity here, much more worth the mental investment.


~ AMBAR products are unique and as you have said yourself, filling gaps that are not already saturated in green beauty. Instead of creating yet another balm, you created a multitasking primer, gel, and a liquid/cream moisturizer hybrid. What kind of gaps are you currently still seeing that you see yourself consider to fill with AMBAR?

I definitely want to do a unique mask for AMBAR – not the typical clay ones you see. Maybe a cream cleanser. I did a limited edition white turmeric and cilantro cream cleanser and it was a big hit, so maybe a variation on that. Another area is make-up – but like high performing. I have yet to find a green beauty foundation that doesn’t crease and cake.


~ There is a plethora of foundations out there that are hybridized with moisturizers and serums. With many people doing a full skincare routine before applying foundation- is it possible we’re starting to use too many products with these additional foundation/treatment hybrids? Would you ever consider to formulate a foundation that’s high coverage, doesn’t pile nor cause acne, and has skincare benefits? (I only make this extensive and complicated list because i believe if anyone is capable of it, it’s you!). If so, what’s your own preference- powder, mousse, liquid, cream?  

Yes see my answer to the previous question! I totally want this product! I like liquid – I think it’s the most versatile and buildable.


~ For under eye issues, would you ever consider making a moss/AMBAR treatment for crow’s feet, milia, or dark circles? 

We had a lovely lovely creme with moss 1.0, it was called Behold. I still have the formula and have since done a limited ed. iteration of it that was more gel like and not a balm. But for under eyes, I recommend Daily Antioxidant Primer – the texture is lightweight and the actives are firming and repairing – good for crow’s feet.


~Now that you have a beautiful baby boy, and had to go through finding the right products for him, would you ever consider creating baby products yourself? 

Funnily enough, I use mostly my skincare on the baby! We had some cradle cap crop up with him, and I used Beurre Celeste on it, and it totally resolved it plus my baby’s head smelled yummy.

Since he’s a baby, I am very particular as to what I use on him and to date, he’s been lathered with a body wash exactly once I believe. He gets washed with just water, and the BC is his shampoo which he gets every few days and on his body – only if needed – I’ll use the AMBAR Soothing Moisture Fluid.

I would love to make baby products, but pragmatically, the margin isn’t there for me. I’ve found that unless I’m pricing my products mid to high (ie, in a luxury tier), I am not making enough to sustain the business, and that’s the unfortunate truth. Sometimes the bottom line comes in to be a real Debbie Downer and I have to reel in my hopes, dreams and fantasies of creating a never ending stream of new products (which is what I want to do!)