We fell in love with the story behind Clark's Botanicals even before we tried the products — so when they arrived for us to test, we had especially high expectations. Thankfully, they exceeded them all (especially Invisible Hero SPF 30, whose perfection we still don't quite understand but might be one of those little miracles that one simply cannot question). Here are the other things we love about Clark’s Botanicals:
1. They’ve been around even longer than we have. Clark’s Botanicals got its start in 2002, when founder Francesco Clark’s first kitchen concoction was unexpectedly given to the editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar. Now, they not only work with major labs and manufacturers, but also clinically test their formulas.
2. These products are tailor-made for skin that’s prone to redness, sensitivity, and eczema. (We’ve noticed there are many of us out there who are, perhaps increasingly so. As Francesco said to us, “Everybody’s stressed out, and it’s showing up on our skin.”)
3. As we mentioned, the story behind this results-focused brand is one that will blow your mind. Get a taste of it our interview with Francesco below, which starts off with a video where he explains how a near-fatal spinal cord injury started his journey 21 years ago.
Ayla: Well, you've come a long way since you started making products in your kitchen! We’ve been very impressed by your commitment to proprietary ingredients, clinical testing, and formulation that can only be done by the best labs. Can you tell us more about your approach to these three things?
FRANCESCO: It’s funny to think back and realize that Clarks Botanicals started from a hospital bed. There was not a product on the market that worked for my overly reactive skin and my rosacea and eczema. At the same time, I was also experiencing a deep depression. In 2002, I sustained a spinal cord injury from a pool diving accident that made me wheelchair-bound.
Afterwards, I developed a sense of survivor’s guilt. I did not even really understand what that meant until recently, but it can be most easily explained as this overwhelming feeling of sadness and remorse for seeing what happened to myself through the sadness I saw in my mother’s eyes. It was less about me actually experiencing paralysis, and more about the effect that it had on others. As such, I never wanted to leave the house. I shaved my head bald every week. I wore the same T-shirt every day. I wore the same hospital pants every day. I felt like I had become such a worry to my family that I wanted to become the opposite of a worry — which ironically, in turn, meant not acknowledging my sense of self.
But the power of beauty pulled me out of this state of mind. The day that Christopher Reeve passed away, I realized I needed to be my own advocate, and own my voice. I had been asked to be part of an advocacy group for the elderly and disabled, and while getting ready for the meeting the next day, I looked in the mirror for the first time in three years. By this point, I felt happy, and I felt confident, but all I would see in that reflection were the side effects of my spinal cord injury. The eczema and rosacea made my skin look 10 years older, and having tried the $500 creams and the prescriptions to no avail, I turned to my father (an MD) and ultimately used a completely empirical approach that focused only on science to bring my skin to match the strength I now felt.
It is not lost on me that my father being the first well known NY medical doctor and homeopathic practitioner meant that I grew up with a different type of mentality. I intrinsically think about the balance between traditional medicine and science, and how to incorporate as many naturals and homeopathic therapies as possible to achieve your best health. That’s exactly how we created Clark’s Botanicals. In the end, nothing worked on my skin, so we invented something that did. In doing so, we made sure that only the safest ingredients would be part of our formulations. Who knew that would become part of an innovative conversation that is known as clean beauty?! But still, no matter what thesis you take, in formulating a product it needs to be empirically proven from my point of view, so it is vitally important that we clinically test all of our products, and that they over-perform to give you the most beautiful complexion.
Ayla: Many brands these days seem to blur the line between “clinical testing” and “consumer testing.” You don’t, and we love that. Can you outline the differences between these two types of tests for our readers?
FRANCESCO: Yes, and I find this so frustrating and misleading! Consumer testing just means that 20 people try a product and gave their opinion, and many times many brands will ask more than 20 people and not include the people that did not agree with what they wanted.
What I love about clinical testing is that machines are reading the actual change in human skin and recording improvements in so many different outcomes like: hydration, redness, wrinkle depth. There is no debate or interpretation.
Ayla: You have also long been committed to clean / healthy formulations while at the same time not demonizing anything. Tell us more about your philosophy around “clean.”
FRANCESCO: I don’t like to demonize anything, because at some point, there was a reason for certain ingredients to be created. We were one of the first brands to stop using parabens, as an example, and parabens are quite demonized. You have to understand that they were created because they did a fantastic job at preventing bacteria and fungus from growing in skin care. The possible side effects of that ingredient were discovered later on, but the reason for its discovery was actually from a good place. I like to come from an intention of always innovating for the best, but knowing that you will be able to improve in the future.
Ayla: Why do you think your products — especially the Jasmine Vital Cream, Deep Moisture Mask, and Invisible Hero SPF 30 — are so effective on skin types that tend to experience rosacea, eczema, and hypersensitivity to ingredients?
FRANCESCO: One of the things that I spend a lot of time doing is formulating, researching ingredients, and reading about ways to push natural ingredients so they perform better than traditional, medical grade ingredients. The synergy in a formulation is very important. You can’t just see that competing products are using a certain type of ingredient and add it to yours, thinking that it’s going to work well. You have to understand the dynamic nature of the other ingredients and how they interact with each other. The Deep Moisture Mask is a perfect example of this because it’s combining an activated Japanese green tea with a specific type of Arnica Montana that work together to calm sensitive skin types, helping to reduce the look of redness. And I didn’t want to make a mask that was green or blue or white clay where you had to read the jar to leave it on 3 to 5 minutes. Why couldn’t we make a clear mask where you could actually see the ingredients working on your skin? Because of that, it started to morph from customers using our deep moisture mask as a treatment to now be using it as a leave on moisturizer.
Ayla: One of the things we love about you is the fact that you have such a deep appreciation of the power that caring for oneself can have on one’s state of mind. Can you share some of this — the story behind it, your philosophy — with our readers?
FRANCESCO: I briefly mentioned that first time that I looked in the mirror the day after Christopher Reeve passed away and the effect that it had on me. I came to realize that each one of us has these moments every day, and at Clark’s Botanicals we call them “mirror moments.” These are those three minutes that we have after we shower, before we open the bathroom door and we start our day.
This is the time that you truly have to yourself, and you are having the most important conversation of the day — thinking about what you want to get done, and manifesting who you want to be. And what is so beautiful about skin care is that it allows for you to take this brief time of applying our Jasmine Vital Cream and Deep Moisture Mask onto your face and recognizing what it means to be living with intention.
You are applying products that will make your skin look better, and you are applying Invisible Hero SPF 30, as an anti-pollutant, blue light protectant, giving you SPF coverage, which protects your body. It is a form of self-respect. In fact, and I can speak to this from personal experience: one of the first signs of depression is not caring about the way you look, because you lose that sense of self-respect. Beauty is not only about your skin, but more so the confidence in sharing your best, true self in the way that you want.
Ayla: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Clark’s Botanicals?
FRANCESCO: Clark’s Botanicals has given me a sense of hope and a voice, after I was told by the best medical doctors that I would never be able to breathe on my own, or move my arms, and that I would not be able to speak, as one of my vocal cords had become paralyzed. With the strongest sense of community from my family and friends, I have been able to build a life back together piece by piece, so that now when I look in the mirror, I am only proud of what my life has brought to me. Today is the 21st anniversary of my spinal cord injury and it is an incredible honor to be carried in Ayla. Thank you for believing in me.
We love this gem of a brand and its thoughtful founder. Check out the Clark's Botanicals collection at Ayla here.