Skin in the game

New Orleans-crafted self-care line inspires natural beauty

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At a Glance

HOMETOWN Mt. Vernon, Illinois
AGE 38
OCCUPATION Skincare creator, founder, Oxalis Apothecary
WEB Oxalisapothecary.com

Through the wild woods around her home in rural southern Illinois, Erin Wexstten used to run as a child, and that adventurous spark is still in her step as she makes her way past the Mexican petunias that wilt every night and bloom fresh every morning and the platter-sized holy monstera leaves bowing to her footpath. She arrives at the studio, standing tall in the very back of her New Orleans yard with its furry jasmine wall and arching, emerald stalks of banana plants.

“My husband is in gardening and landscaping — we’re just plant people,” Wexstten says, stepping up into the workshop of Oxalis Apothecary, the natural skincare line of cleansers, serums, masks and deodorants she launched while working as a designer for Gap from her tiny Brooklyn kitchen in 2015. “Flowers are a language.”

Inside is white, well-organized and pretty chilly — crucial for keeping her ingredients fresh. The air still draped with the scent of the palo santo wood she burned earlier. A wide-eyed cat mug and vintage photo of her mother as a teenager look on.

Today sees the arrival of a test sample of her new toner, and Wexstten already checked the driver cam on her delivery app a few times this morning.

“I really hope it smells like it’s supposed to,” she says. “Oooh, I’m excited about my brand again. It feels like this little passion project still. Even though it’s not, it’s a full-blown business I have to keep afloat. It’s the same feeling of excitement as when I started.”

After her father was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in 2012, Wexstten began questioning every product she used. Realizing she enjoyed a long shower and taking care of her skin more than designing dresses for toddlers, she studied to become a certified herbalist and aromatherapist and experimented with her own products.

Pop-ups in New York wine bars and tradeshows followed, with her Feel Good Potion, a bright but calming roller infused with peppermint, lavender and black pepper, an early hit. It remains a big-seller at dozens of small boutiques and at multiple locations of Whole Foods, a deal that has ramped up Oxalis’ sales considerably.

“I didn’t see skincare brands that were between the super high-end, possibly chemical-filled stuff, and the farmer’s market essential oils,” she says. “I wanted to make something that was healthy for your skin, but a little less ‘crunchy granola.’”

Anthropologie placing her mineral mists and clay masks in its online shop was enough to push Wexstten into Oxalis full-time, and she and her now-husband Yuri relocated to New Orleans for a fresh start.

“New Orleans is such a warmer community for support than New York,” she says. “I feel like this is where Oxalis belonged.”

Committed to supporting local charities as well as keeping her plant-based business Earth-friendly, she has swiftly discontinued products if the sustainability takes a hit. The amount of waste she witnessed in the fashion industry still troubles her.

A favorite of bees and butterflies for its prodigious nectar, oxalis is a small wood sorrel that can grow just about anywhere — in shade or sun, in eclectic garden plots or through cracks in old, root-busted pavement. Because it can flower in many different color petals, leaf shapes and sizes, it is often misidentified. Appearing dormant in harsh winters, they are, in fact, more resilient than many other wild ornamentals.

“They’re common, but so, so cute,” Wexstten says, the tips of her fingers finding a tri-cornered leaf near her doorstep. “They’re so approachable, and no matter where they are, they thrive.”

Wexstten chose “oxalis” to headline her brand because it shares an “x” with her last name and looked slick on her packaging concepts. A cross-country move, a growing brand, a marriage and two children later, the meaning behind that choice resonates with her on a different level.

“The name is about more than it sounding cool and looking good,” Wexstten says. “And I didn’t know all that would matter so much to me seven years later, but it does.”

It’s this beyond skin-deep purpose that underscores everything she and her small team makes — still with their own hands, still in careful batches in her studio.

For Wexstten, Oxalis isn’t just about what products we choose to put on our skin, but how we think and feel about our skin daily.

Like wild oxalis, we can look different or common, or even be misunderstood, and yet grow many places — in well-tended gardens or forgotten cracks, and in all shapes, sizes and colors. We can appear dormant in bad weather but bloom bright again in our time. And the right bees and butterflies will still love us, because our nectar will be prodigious.

“What if we looked in the mirror and instead of being outrageously hypercritical of every little flaw, we looked at our skin and said ‘Thank you,’” Wexstten says. “Our skin just needs to be loved on a little more. It needs to be appreciated. That’s why I just want people to feel good.”

 

Q+A

What’s a common misconception about skincare? That it takes a lot of time and a lot of products. I think the skin is very intuitive, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to make things work.

Is there a product of yours that is particularly inspired by New Orleans? The organic Coconut Milk Bath with jasmine is something that feels like the French Quarter meets the Caribbean. I love it, and it feels very New Orleans, because you feel like you’re on vacation here.

How has becoming a mother impacted your brand? Conscious parenting has helped me realize things, like I almost have to go back to my first child, my brand, and say, ‘I’m sorry, I was really hard on you.’ Managing my own expectations about Oxalis has been so helpful and actually brought a lot of joy. Working with The Chloe hotel. Working with Whole Foods. Growing slowly has been the best thing for us, but in 2023 I think I’m ready to grow a little faster.