Jessa Blades thought she was doing everything right: raised in a health-conscious household, the makeup artist followed that model, eating organic food, composting and educating herself about sustainable agriculture in her New York City community.
Then, she learned about the toxic ingredients in the beauty products she used on both herself and clients and realized she needed to make some changes. She investigated and identified the most holistic products on the market, and has since brought that organic self-care knowledge to the women with whom she works, helping them heal and feel like their best selves.
Here, Blades describes how learning the truth about the beauty industry shifted her focus for the better:
Live The Process: When did you first become interested in healing, wellness and organic beauty?
Jessa Blades: To some degree, I think I have always been interested in healing and wellness. I was really lucky to have a mother and grandfather who raised us eating whole foods and taught us the importance of bone broths and nutrient rich foods. They also taught us about the ways of the back-to-the-land movement and folks like the Nearings at a very early age; my grandfather used to order organic food in the 1940s—so cool!
There wasn't really one day when I made the switch; it has been a journey for sure. I studied art and psychology in college, then went to makeup artistry school in Canada. My love for the beauty industry and makeup was sparked by the psychology of beauty and how I might be able to help women look good, which in turn helps them feel good. I saw this as really powerful work. About seven years ago, while I was eating really healthy, walking my compost to the farmer's market in Union Square, learning about organic farming and sustainable agriculture, I had no idea that I was potentially compromising my health and my beliefs in my job as a makeup artist, and as a woman. I started hearing snippets on the news like, "there's lead in lipstick," and, “there's mercury in mascara." I started researching and was shocked when I realized there truly were toxic ingredients in my beauty products and in the tools that I used as a makeup artist. Looking back now, I wonder: why did I think I could trust the beauty industry, as I don’t blindly trust any other industry?
This was around the same time when I reached my limit and had kind of given up on my own skin. Since I can remember, I had the most sensitive, dry, irritated skin. The wind would blow and I would get a rash. I thought that there had to be something bigger going on because I couldn’t find any products that worked and the dermatologists and allergists I saw were unable to help. Completely frustrated, I pared down my face washing and moisturizing process to really basic ingredients like coconut and olive oils. I left my skin alone and let it get back into balance. That was when I realized that my skin wasn't sensitive—it was communicating. It was saying: “Hey Jessa, wake up! There is something wrong. Those ingredients don't belong on your body; please stop using them.”
I read, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan, a wonderful book that I strongly recommend, and it just dawned on me that there was a much bigger picture. I learned that a lot of the products I had been using weren't as "beautiful" as I had thought. So, how could they inspire me to help women feel good? Instead of changing my career, I decided it was time to change the beauty industry. I began to teach workshops, created an online beauty and wellness shop with my favorite products that really work, hosted natural beauty events, and handcrafted a line of healing products.
It has been a wild journey. I have learned a lot and continue to learn every day. Women want to make changes, want to be safe and healthy, want to learn how to use makeup, and I am here to help. My mission is to help women look and feel like the best versions of themselves, using the best products available. I feel so lucky that I get to do this work every day.
LTP: From where have you gathered your knowledge of herb- and food-based medicines that can be used to heal and fortify your skin?
JB: I've been lucky enough to learn from a lot of wonderful herbalists, healers and wise women from all over the northeast. I was tired of only focusing on the bad ingredients in products and wanted to focus on the beneficial ones, like pure essential oils, medicinal plants, coconut oil and beeswax. I was into figuring out ways to use these ingredients to encourage and support the body enough to heal itself.
My first classes were with Rosemary Gladstar up in Vermont. My sister and I went up to take a course called, “Herbs for Family Health.” If anyone finds the opportunity to study or meet this woman, make sure to do it. She taught us about plants and herbs for healing, food-based medicine and how to use your pantry and your garden for preventative health and true nutrition.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of studying with Nancy Phillips, Susun Weed, Peeka Trenkle, Robin Rose Bennett, Phyllis Light and Tieraona Low Dog and attend conferences like the New England Women's Herbal Conference and the International Herb Symposium. These teachers have taught me so much, as have the thousands of women with whom I've worked to help support and heal their skin. I love nothing more than providing women with the information and resources to get to the root of the problems, ask the real questions, and empower them to heal themselves. We are the healers. It happens inside. We just need to be open to that truth and support our bodies enough to let them do the real work.
LTP: The overwhelming prevalence of commercial self-care products makes them easy to find—are you ever tempted to use them out of convenience?
JB: Definitely. It can never be all or nothing—at least not until the industry changes and we get more regulation on products. Conventional self-care products do have some benefits. Some of them can last a really long time on the face or they have awesome colors that don't yet exist in natural products. If I want to wear a favorite lipstick, two times a year, I don't stress about it. I am concerned with the products that I am using once or twice every day. Those are the ones that I make sure are healthy and non-toxic. The build up of toxic chemicals over a lifetime, and how they interact with one another, is what we need to be concerned about. The heavy-duty deodorant that I use three times a year, or the waterproof mascara that I wear for a wedding on a hot summer day, is not where I focus my energy.
LTP: What three questions are you most frequently asked by your clients?
JB: The number one question I am always asked is how to do a smokey eye. My answer is always the same: eyeliner. Most women want to learn tricks to do something different with their makeup, how to glam it up a bit for evening. A true smokey eye is intense and takes practice and the right tools/products to perfect. Most women want to be taught how to properly blend their eyeliner, with just the right amount of smudge.
Women also want to know how to do their makeup in two minutes. That’s what I like to call "subway makeup" or, for those not in New York, "car mirror makeup." This involves using a great concealer, black mascara, a highlighter and an all-in-one lip and cheek color. Using your fingers and knowing exactly where to apply these four products is one of my favorite things to teach—it’s so quick and easy. My favorite way to teach this is to start a class with no makeup on and then show the ladies how I do this quick application on myself. The women’s minds are always blown. Living the crazy busy lives that we do, a simple two-minute makeup application can totally transform a woman's day, so that she feels and looks better, more awake, more polished and radiant.
Another question that I hear a lot is about how women can start using herbs and incorporate healing plants into their lives. Living in the city, I know how hard it can be to feel so disconnected from nature. I love helping people to find the right plants with which to start and the simple additions that they can add immediately, whether it is nettle tea, echinacea tincture, garlic avocado toast, making sauerkraut, oatmeal for breakfast or some rosemary in the bath. Getting back in touch with our natural roots is so simple to do and it feels so, so good that it makes changing our habits really easy.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
JB: Happiness is a day spent enjoying nature, surrounded by my friends and family. No shoes. Taking deep breaths. Eating or cooking delicious food. Birds chirping and sun shining. Zero technology around us. Watching the sunset. I love nothing more than watching the sun move slowly across the sky, as it disappears into the ocean. I wish I could witness this everyday.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
JB: To me, living the process means remembering the practice of balance and acceptance every day, acknowledging that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at all times and feeling the strength in admitting that and believing it. I can get really impatient and, because I am so passionate about healing and helping people, I get frustrated with the pace of life or waiting for the change that I really want to see in the world. I'm aware of the flow of life, that it is a process. I work hard to honor it and be at peace with the day-to-day and realize that there is so much more to learn and there is plenty of time for it all.