In the age of the oversaturated skincare market, an acne-prone 20-something like myself is constantly inundated with new commercialized products that claim to be the key to solving all my skin problems. On an extreme day, you can find my shelves cluttered with every drugstore’s new exfoliating wash or spot treatment, but as the years’ go on, I notice my collection has accumulated in size — but the frequency of my breakouts tends to stay the same.
After speaking to Monastery founder Athena Hewett, I can confidently recommend the concept of decluttering your skincare regimen and going back to the basics of what ingredients your skin actually needs. And it may surprise you… it’s not a lot.
Monastery introduces to the American market a curated collection of homemade oils, sprays, balms, and gels. From an early exposure to the versatile nature of her grandmother’s olive orchard, a young Athena spent summers in Greece observing her family picking herbs and flowers. “My grandmother is what you would call a herbalist,” she explains. Her family would sell their olive oil for produce, as well as to a local skincare company on the island — which foreshadowed the creation of Monastery and its revolutionary products.
After becoming an aesthetician, Athena read about oil remedies that most people, including herself, weren’t too familiar with at the time. “When I worked in a medical spa, I was using all these medical grade products and my skin was a total mess,” she recounts.
“Even though my mom and grandma used oil to moisturize, I read about the benefits of oil cleansing and it was the only thing I found that cleared my acne,” Athena explains.
From someone who suffers from an excess of oil myself, the idea of using more oils to cleanse my face seemed, at first, counterproductive. But as Athena explains, once we start understanding how our body absorbs what’s thrown at it, we can trust our skin to balance itself out.
“Everyone’s acid mantle, which is the natural barrier our bodies have, is there to keep our natural oils stabilized and protect us from pollutants,” Athena clarifies. “The majority of current products tamper with that barrier and the only way to not tamper with it is to use oil products.”
Confirming my suspicion, the entrepreneur highlighted the fact that my once beloved cleansers and their laundry list of questionable components were, in fact, harmful. “Not everyone is allergic to all preservatives and ammoniums… but I found that a lot of people are,” Athena explains.
Instead of using those unpronounceable compounds that you would find on an 11th grade chemistry test, Athena sticks to flora. “Every plant has an antiseptic quality to it. Some just have more than others, like ones that include phytonutrients,” she says. “There are plants that are stimulating or calming, so it’s just about finding the scent that speaks to you for your recipe. They’ll either fall into nourishing or uplifting properties.”
Following the “less is more” mentality, Athena believes in not over-washing your face, and, when doing so, only using a handful of hand-picked ingredients sourced from around the world. She and her husband would even go on trips to the depths of India to talk to local farmers, gaining knowledge, and then returning to Crete to pick up essential oils free of the additives you would find from a big company.
“I’m an extremist. I think a good rule is that if you don’t recognize an ingredient and if it doesn’t have a latin name, it’s something you should probably avoid,” she shares.
Adhering to Athena’s rule of thumb, she uses ingredients like Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (sweet almond) and Corylus Avellana (hazelnut) in her Rose Cleansing Oil — which took six years to craft!
“Rose was our first product and it went through 400 different recipes,” she reflects. “I first make a recipe in my studio, use it for a little while, and then start sampling it out in my skincare studio.”
Finding the best crop of guinea pigs to test her new creations, Athena would pass on her oils to clients from her skincare practice and instead of asking for feedback, would wait to put the recipe on the market until the happy customers returned with overwhelming responses.
Familiarizing yourself with the science behind why your skin reacts to certain ingredients isn’t just something a trained aesthetician should know. Athena inspired me to read the lengthy ingredient labels on most of my products, and her rule of sticking to latin names kept ringing in my ears as I winced at the extreme level of alcohol content in my cleansers that may actually have been doing more damage than good.
Though it may be bold to suggest disregarding the skincare collection you’ve built up over the years, it really is worth a try to exclusively practice oil cleansing and see the positive ways in which your body will react.
Sonia Gumuchian is a writer based in Los Angeles. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she received her film degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has been working in the TV industry for several years. Sonia recently worked at ABC Studios and HBO, where she learned the ropes of creative development. Additionally, her work has been showcased at film festivals in the UK, the US, and Canada. Her entertainment articles have also been featured in USC Annenberg Media and Neon Tommy.