For Sheena Yaitanes, the little things are the most important.
But perhaps that’s not a surprising perspective from a woman with a degree in biology and chemistry and an enduring passion for painting. Ultimately, she harnessed that expertise, along with a natural, “undone” aesthetic, to found Kosås—a line of universally flattering lip shades that double as antioxidant-rich treatments.
Here, Yaitanes describes why happiness—like depth of color—is found in the details:
Live The Process: From where does your fascination with natural beauty stem?
Sheena Yaitanes: I grew up in a very small town in Orange County. We lived in an area with a lot of hills and a bit of an equestrian vibe. I don't think anyone taught me to embrace nature, but I do think children organically do so. I probably spent 90 percent of my childhood outside. I see my daughter wanting to do the same thing, but it’s a little different living in Los Angeles. You have to search for nature more.
My mother worked in the cosmetic industry as a rep for a couple different brands when I was growing up. Our home was always filled with boxes and boxes of products, and I would spend time every day playing with them, mixing them, learning all the names. I got chicken pox in the fifth grade. After they went away, I decided I would make a product to fade the marks. I mixed a body scrub with a cream cleanser and some body oil and, after one use, I ran to my mom and said, “Look! It’s working!” (It was not.)
For someone working in the beauty industry, my mother actually wore very little makeup. She was always giving me tips that turned out to be quite good: She was a huge proponent of thick brows. She liked when I would wear a dark lip with little other makeup, and she taught me to swipe the color back and forth, and then press my lips together and let it go outside of the lines because “it's more French” that way. I agree with that philosophy and, to take it a step further, it’s more feminine that way. There is something so beautiful and artful about seeing skin, or a little darkness under the eyes, or a smudged eyeliner, or a haphazardly applied lip. Of course, I strayed from this approach at certain times during adolescence (a perfect time to experiment, since you can chalk everything up to hormones). I will always have fond memories of my blue glitter hair gel—and not so fond memories of the pencil thin eyebrow fiasco of 1995. But I appreciate all of it because it’s all been an important part of the journey that brought me to Kosås.
LTP: How did you come to found Kosås?
SY: I came up with the concept about ten years ago, when I had fully committed myself to a more undone beauty approach. I knew that there were great individual products out there, and it was possible to curate a great collection of makeup. I made Kosås for the ton of stylish women I knew, who wore their faces naturally.
I decided to start the brand with lip color because lips are the main place where we wear actual colors rather than tones. I wanted to see if it was possible to make a super tight, universally flattering collection. I have many passions in life, but, if I had to name just one, it would be color.
LTP: How does your background in science and passion for art inform the line?
SY: The magic in cosmetics formulation happens when both the science and the art are considered—kind of like cooking. I had three main objectives in creating the product: First, that the formula would be safe; second, that it would take on the properties of a treatment; and, third, that the color would flatter a variety of skin tones.
The first two objectives were questions of science. What does “safe” mean? Yes, we could make something using only “natural” ingredients, but would the product remain safe after being in your makeup bag for six months? What about a year? Lipstick doesn't contain water, so you're not worried about mold or bacteria. The real concern is oxidation, which is a process that makes oils rancid. Natural oils become rancid quickly; they oxidize and essentially fling off unpaired electrons that wreak havoc on our cells. These bad little electrons are called “free radicals,” which is a term you've probably heard. Parabens, another popular term, have traditionally been used in cosmetics to stop or slow oxidation. But parabens also cause damage, which kind of goes against the objective of creating a safe product. So, we thought, how can we stop oxidation without using harmful chemicals, so that we can fully enjoy the benefits of natural oils? The answer is antioxidants. They exist in abundance in nature and do exactly what their name suggests. Green tea and vitamin E are potent antioxidants. We found that when you combine rosemary extract with rice bran and sunflower extract, you get a powerhouse of antioxidants. That's when we realized that we’d actually satisfied two objectives at once because antioxidants are, by definition, cell healers. So, now our product is safe and also a treatment for damaged lip cells.
The art came in when creating four universally flattering shades. When artists mix colors to paint skin tones, it’s not just a straightforward brown plus white equals tan. There are blues, reds, ochres and other colors in between because they're not trying to make “tan.” They're trying to make “human.” Our skin is so rich and complex, and I wanted to bring that same depth to these lipstick shades. What happens is that the lipstick harmoniously blends into your skin and looks like it belongs there. This is definitely the part of the process that lies in my heart. Color is where I feel at one with my purpose. We are now working on applying these principles to a range of cheek tints, so that's something to look out for in the future.
LTP: What comprises your personal ritual?
SY: I'm a big fan of details—the little things. Because they all add up and create an experience and feelings and just overall magic. I love daily rituals. My morning coffee is an important one. It sets the tone for the day. I start with a little intuition exercise by opening the cupboard with the mugs and choosing the first one I'm drawn to. I also practice yoga twice a week. My practice is very alignment-oriented and gentle. I don't believe in pushing yourself or feeling “the burn” too much. I also don't believe in deprivation when it comes to food. I'm in the habit of eating a fairly clean diet, but I also love chocolate chip cookies. I think it’s important to eat things like that if you really want them, and to do so without guilt. Guilt just takes the fun out of it.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
SY: I love this question. Happiness, to me, is the ability to take the good and the bad and not taint one with the other. It’s not a place where you eventually arrive. It’s not a door you will one day walk through and, poof, you're forever happy. Happiness is a skill, and one that requires practice like any other. This is why I love the little things so much—because that’s what happiness is: the ability to see that the little things are actually monumental.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
SY: To me, to “Live the Process” is to ground yourself with a philosophy and then go into the world, into your daily life, and breathe that philosophy into every moment. It’s living with soul.