Adina Grigore is the founder of the organic skincare brand S.W. Basics and a total genius when it comes to natural and DIY beauty. She is also kind, down-to-earth and quite hilarious. Here are her tips, including how to heal blemishes and the refreshing way she deals with stress…
How did you first get into natural skincare?
My whole life, I’ve been incredibly sensitive to junk foods. As a kid, I would have insane stomachaches and migraines and had to come home from school. Doctors couldn’t find the answer. When I got older, I had terrible skin. After college, I went to nutrition school, where I learned that ingredients are hugely correlated to how you feel. With food it’s so simple: Eat things that are more natural and you’ll feel better. I thought, “That’s so easy! I’m going to apply this to every area of my life.” So I quit using everything to see if my skin would get better, and it did. It was instant.
How do you eat these days?
I feel best when I’m mostly vegan. So if I have a smoothie (instead of eggs), soup (instead of solid food), or a super simple plate of cooked veggies (instead of, you know, the much preferred burger and fries), I feel amazing. This is kind of intense, though, so I ignore it a lot of the time! But every day I’ll take a probiotic, vitamin D, and do my best to have something green at almost every meal.
Do you have any natural cures for breakouts?
People always say, “Don’t use anything on an open blemish.” Like if you’ve picked at your face, you’re supposed to leave it alone. But you can put aloe vera on an open wound and watch it heal in real time. It’s crazy. In my dream world, everyone has an aloe plant in their home! But if you don’t, you can use aloe powder, which is a freeze-dried version of what’s inside the leaf. You just add water. For regular pimples, witch hazel is a really good spot treatment.
What about body blemishes?
Sea salt is great for body breakouts. Just dump a cup of sea salt into your bath, and it will help kill any bacteria on your skin and help heal blemishes.
Do you wear makeup?
Yes, but not every day. I wear makeup if I have a meeting with a stranger, if I have my period (it makes me feel better!) or if I just can’t deal with my appearance that day. Makeup is the one area where I’ve had a hard time going completely natural. Right now I use Neutrogena foundation and MAC powder, which makes my face bright and glowy. They were gifts from my younger sister. She understands makeup — and life — much better than I do; I always joke she’s like my perfected second draft.
What about for special occasions?
I’ve worn red lipstick exactly three times in my life, which felt both bold and terrifying. If I try to wear anything else along with it (eyeshadow, blush, bronzer), I look crazy to myself. I hired someone to do my wedding makeup, and I felt like an alien. I’ve daydreamed about someday reaching the point where someone does my makeup when I need them to, and then, someone gently takes it off. To be fair, I also daydream about people dressing me and choosing/making my food… I guess I want to be a grown-up child?
What’s your daily skincare approach?
My first step is looking in the mirror and really taking note of what’s going on that day. If everything is fine, I’ll just wash my face with water. If I’m dry, I’ll still wash with water but then follow it up with our Cream or Oil Serum, and try to take some time to really massage it in. If I’m oily or breaking out — which is the most common case for me — I’ll cleanse, tone, and hydrate with the cream or serum.
Tell us more about washing your face with water. Does it actually do anything?
Yes. Washing with water is especially good to do in the morning, assuming you removed your makeup the night before. Unless you look in the mirror and you look especially oily, you can wash your face using only water. You want to do around 20 splashes, using your hands to rub the water up and down on your face. When you’re done, your face is clean, and it’s a good way to give your face a break from the harshness of your face wash.
How do you style and care for your hair?
I rotate between Acure volumizing shampoo and Verb shampoo, and I always use Verb leave-in conditioner. I don’t brush it, I just towel dry it, and purposely go to bed with my hair wet so it looks curly and full in the morning. By the end of the day, it gets super flat and straight, and then I throw it up in a bun because I hate the flat/straight look on me!
Do you have any favorite drugstore finds?
My favorites are all the SoapBox products and everything from Aura Cacia. They make super affordable essential oils that are really high quality. Oils can be a shady industry — people can be secretive about their practices — but Aura Cacia is very transparent about everything. They care so much about sustainability and their crops. They’ve been around for so long that I think people tend to not notice them. But their new line is at Target and it’s great.
What did your mom teach you about beauty?
My parents are both Romanian immigrants. When I was growing up, my mom’s entire routine consisted of using what was then simply called Oil of Olay. She would apply it first to remove her makeup and then apply a second round with a cotton ball. She would be super greasy after, but always glowing. Her skin was amazing, from just one product! She was also always very well-hydrated, which makes a huge difference.
Look how cute you and your sister were!
We wore a lot of traditional Romanian garb growing up. We had these peasant shirts, and now I crack up when I see them in Urban Outfitters. They were pretty, but they weren’t what the other kids were wearing! I remember once, I was in 4th grade and I had a brown and orange dress with orange socks that matched the dress, and got so made fun of. I was like, “Time to assimilate!” Our parents were Romanian tiger parents — we were expected to get perfect grades, weren’t allowed to go to friend’s houses, no dating until late in high school. It wasn’t fun at the time, but now I appreciate it.
Do you have any tips or advice for de-stressing?
I practice extreme unbalance. My husband Adam and I do a ton of TV marathons, double movie nights, lying around and eating. That’s what really makes me feel capable of going hard the next day. As for things that keep me in the zone — and slightly more healthy than my other indulgences — I meditate, work out, eat a lot of home-cooked food and force myself to socialize, since I always feel great afterward. But relaxation to me is when you can straight up lie there and stare at the wall. So, I try to make time for that.
Do you have any apps or podcasts that help you meditate?
For sleep, Meditation Oasis is 100% the best. The founder, Mary Maddux, has this very sleepy voice, as soon as she starts talking you’re like, “I’m asleep.” Adam and I listen to it before bed and the next morning, we’re like, “How much did you hear? I think I heard the second sentence…” She also has a meditation called Beyond Pain, which I use if I have headaches or around my period. For waking hours, Tara Brach is amazing. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a Buddhist teacher, and it’s an insane combination of “Here’s how your brain works, and here’s how to feel better.” I’m completely different by the end of each one.
Any other sleeping tips?
One thing I found surprising is how much oils can help you sleep. I discovered this blend — lemongrass, helichrysum, and vetiver — that straight up makes me pass out. Research shows if you smell citrus oil, particularly sweet orange oil, it’s such a mood booster.
What’s it like when your husband is also your business partner?
We spend literally a million hours a day together. We’re trying to change that by working from different places once in a while, or taking different meetings. We have to communicate a LOT and be super honest with each other. Luckily, we get along super well and complement each other’s work styles.
Do you guys ever disagree on anything?
Oh, a ton of stuff! He’s very practical and I’m a dreamer. He’s down-to-earth while I’m up in the clouds, going, “What’s possible in life?” He’s like, “Everything is fine.” I’m insanely ambitious, and he’s a happy Buddhist. My ideal vacation is a resort, while his is a tent in the forest. But I’ve realized you have to find the adventures in each other versus the conflict. We want to be more like each other, and we learn from each other constantly. That’s what makes it work.
What are your travel tips?
As far as packing, I’m a big fan of keeping a beauty bag that’s always ready to go. That’s been life-changing for me. I keep mini versions of my regular products in a bag ready at all times. It’s so much better than sitting there going, “Wait, what should I take?” every single time. And when I travel, I use more moisture in general. Travel makes your skin freak out, so spraying a lavender hydrosol throughout the day makes a difference. Your body is already going through so much, so try to eat healthy foods on the days when you’re flying and of course, drink a ton of water. When Adam and I travel for work, we’ll constantly joke, “Which one of us is going to get sick next week?”
You used to be a personal trainer. Do you think exercise plays a big role in skin health?
Absolutely! Exercise directly correlates to firmer, more youthful skin. I love super intense workouts like HIIT and sprints, because I feel almost high after doing them. I’m prone to mood swings, and endorphins really help me. I also love the feeling of getting flushed from exertion. I like imagining my pores getting cleaned out.
What’s your desert island product?
Shea butter. It fixes all the things and is super protective and rich. Not only is it moisturizing, but a lot of people don’t realize that it has an SPF of 6. It’s not meant to be used as a sunscreen of course, but it’s great to use during the summer. It helps heal what the sun’s already done and protects you from making it worse.
Your business is doing amazingly well. Is it a lot of pressure to run a growing company?
It’s actually much scarier now than it was at the beginning! In the beginning, it was really slow and I treated it experimentally. I was like, “If I can have one success today, that’s amazing.” When you’re first starting out, it’s like you’re yelling into the abyss. When more people are watching what you’re doing, it’s more exciting but also scary. This is what I always wanted, but sometimes it’s like, “Hoooooly shit, it’s working.”
Are you psyched that green beauty is catching on?
Green beauty is definitely having a moment. But for the change to be real, big companies need to start making changes, too. When small companies act competitive with each other (which they do), it’s like the sharks are swimming at the top of the tank laughing at the guppies down there. We all have to rise, and we have to grow it together.
Last but certainly not least, do you have an overall beauty philosophy?
One, life is not about being beautiful, and two, everyone is beautiful. Seriously. We need to shift our priorities, we need to start being nicer to each other, and we especially need to start being nicer to women. It’s time.
Thank you so much, Adina!
(Photos courtesy of Adina Grigore. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)