Creating Ritual (Not Routine) in Your Skincare
Grammy Winner Alicia Keys’ Recipe for her Soulcare Beauty Collection Will Have You Hooked
Keys, thankfully, launched Keys Soulcare with Dr. Renée Snyder through e.l.f. Beauty in December 2020, during the dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic, with three products, or “offerings,” as Keys’ calls them. Today, Keys Soulcare boasts a wide range of face- and body-care products, and recently launched sheer lip and cheek balms, a sheer highlighting balm, and a new sunscreen. The collection includes accessories such as an obsidian stone gua sha body massage tool, a makeup brush, and a candle. Each item is packaged with its own affirmation that can also be found online narrated by Keys herself.
My meltdown was the result of a series of frustrating circumstances, the most insidious of which was a manager at an Le Pain Quotidien on Fifth Avenue who barred me from sitting down in the cafe after ordering from the take-out counter, despite my explaining my severe back pain and even after I said I would do a duplicate order. After dinner with my son and his friends, my trip home was greatly delayed thanks to a missed train followed by an onboard altercation on the next train. I arrived at my suburban station where there were no taxis, and the nearest Uber was 25 minutes away. Finally, when I got home, I saw a beautiful black carton on the doorstep. I knew right away it was the Keys Soulcare box of goodies I won at a giveaway during Alicia Keys’ segment of Adweek’s 2022 Challenger Brands Conference a few weeks prior.
I opened the black box, grabbed the deep purple bottle of Golden Cleanser with Manuka Honey, ran up to my bathroom, and began to gently wash the grime and stress away from my face and neck. Like the true rule follower I am, I kept repeating “Ritual, not routine; ritual, not routine,” to myself, a mantra that I took away from Keys’ Adweek interview. Sounds a little woo-woo — offerings, rituals, and affirmations — but maybe there was something to it, and I was desperate that wretched night. Soon, the unbelievably beautiful and soothing fragrance in the cleanser (containing Manuka honey, sage, and oat milk, along with detoxifying turmeric and calming chamomile) enveloped me. My skin was delicately and thoroughly cleansed and the scent of the gel washed my frustrations down the drain. The cleanser’s affirmation is “I’m devoted to this moment” and yes, getting to the present helped me get my head out of the messy day I had.
The Origins of Keys Soulcare
Rooted in Keys’ passion for creating Soulcare and her own personal quest for clear, healthy skin, Soulcare doesn’t appear to be a vanity project, nor is it about a celebrity stamping her name on a bottle. It’s way more than a side-hustle, as publicly-traded parent company e.l.f. acknowledged that all of its skin care and cosmetic brands, including Keys Soulcare and Well People (created by Dr. Snyder), contributed to a 26 percent rise in first quarter sales for fiscal 2023 (ended June 30) to roughly $123 million. It’s hard to imagine that Keys, the 15-time Grammy Award–winning singer songwriter, actress, New York Times best-selling author, producer, and activist, who is married to music producer Swizz Beatz and with whom she has two boys, has time to devote herself as fully as she apparently does to Keys Soulcare. Yet, she is very dedicated to Keys Soulcare, as shown by her surprise visit in late June to a Douglas beauty store in Berlin the day after playing in that city’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, delighting sales staff and customers. On top of everything else, Keys partnered with activewear brand Athleta last spring to create a collection of inclusive sports and leisure apparel. She’s busy.
Soulcare emerged from Keys’ frustration with the stress-related skin problems, especially acne, that have plagued the artist since she got her first recording contract when she was 15 years old. Her poor skin, hard to handle in an industry that focuses on appearances in addition to artistic endeavors, hurt her self-confidence. After years of using heavy makeup, often to mask imperfections, Keys decided to go makeup-free in 2016. It was also a move to demonstrate how beauty standards are warped by heavily edited photos of women in fashion editorials and advertisements, general portraits in the media, and public expectations about a woman’s appearance. With Keys Soulcare, Keys wanted to create a collection of clean beauty products that could greatly help and nourish skin, and to make the actual application of such goods part of self-care and mindfulness.
“We believe in the power of serious skincare and soul-nurturing rituals,” reads a statement on Keys Soulcare’s website. Like many clean skin care brands, Keys Soulcare products do not contain the more than 1600 ingredients banned mainly by the European Union Cosmetics Regulation Guidelines, and the comparatively few banned by the US Federal Department of Agriculture. The “offerings” instead use effective and safe substances. For example, the Protect Your Light Daily Moisturizer Sunscreen with SPF 30 includes squalane, a plant-based lipid-rich moisturizer, and niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that helps brighten and balance skin tone. The Mind Clearing Body Polish has lactic and glycolic acid exfoliants balanced with coconut and sunflower seed oils (for their moisturizing properties), among other ingredients.
Though Keys eschewed cosmetics a number of years ago, she’s relaxed her approach a bit. She advocates for people to express themselves freely, as opposed to feeling bound to meet others’ expectations. To that end, Keys Soulcare’s new MAKE YOU sheer tinted color lip and face balms are formulated to be a subtle or even bold enhancement to your natural look, instead of tools to cover up your so-called “flaws.” The colors are all blendable, making them suitable for all complexions. The Comforting Tinted Lip Balms have avocado and camellia oils, both rich emollients, while the Sheer Flush cheek tints contain sunflower seed oil, and the Gleam On highlighting balm mixes amethyst and mica powder with sunflower seed oil and other substances to create a subtle shimmer.
How Soulcare and Music Relate
The Adweek conference included question and answer periods at the conclusion of many sessions. My question for Keys, asking if there is a difference in the creative process used for developing skin care and for writing a song, was one chosen for the Keys Soulcare discussion, and I nearly fell off my home office chair when Keys said my name out loud.
“I find that it’s actually quite similar,” Keys explained. “You have a vision of what you want to say, what you want to create, and what you want it to mean to you. The Soulcare journey is part of my journey with my skin, which has been difficult. I started in the industry at such a young age, and there was a high level of stress. I internalized a lot of it, and on the outside, it revealed itself [on my skin]. I said to myself that I was going to create something that was great for me, that was going to be clean, that I would work with a dermatologist, so it would work.
It’s kind of the same with music. If I’m going through something and have a crazy experience, I’ll sit down at the piano and write a song about it because it affects me that deeply.”
In the end, Alicia Keys’ Soulcare collection makes sense, even with its emphasis on self-care and well-being. The ingredients are dermatologically proven to be effective. Mindfulness and the use of affirmations have been scientifically explored and shown to be positive inputs into one’s own psychology. Meanwhile, scent, like the glorious fragrance of the Keys Soulcare facial cleanser that calmed me down, has a direct path to the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotional response.
And if all that makes you want to throw a spirit-aligning crystal at me, there’s an added bonus: the dark purple transparent bottles and purple packaging look ab-fab on the bathroom counter.
Alicia Keys Soulcare is available in the US and internationally online at Keyssoulcare.com and at select stores including Ulta in the US, Sephora in Canada, Nocibé in France, Harrod’s Beauty in the UK, and Douglas in seven European countries.
Prices range from $12 for the Comforting Balm with Camellia Seed Oil or a headband to $39 for the Sage & Oat Milk Candle.