Written & Photographed by A Wild Dove
Helen Reavey and Colm Mackin are a pair that stands out in the wellness and beauty space. Two striking, platinum-headed creatives who’ve turned a personal partnership into a professional pairing that’s already reimagining the once-toxic haircare category into a mindful addition to the current wave of natural skincare.
Instead of the chemical-rich recipes and wasteful packaging that defined decades of above-the-neck beauty products, the two created Act+Acre as a forward-thinking alternative to the cycle of stripping, irritating shampoo and conditioner formulations that once reigned. Instead, their cold processing method uses less energy to produce, and infuses more nutrients into the products for better scalp health—which is the way of the future.
Read on for AWD’s interview with the team that’s given personal ritual, respect for the planet, and community-based creative projects a new platform.
At this point, the Cold Process Method that you created for Act+Acre has gained a bit of a cult reputation in the industry for its novel approach to hair and scalp care. Can you break down the science behind the formulation that’s causing such a stir?
Until now, no one really challenged the science behind the process of making shampoo and conditioner itself. The industry had just accepted that in order to make these products we must use very high levels of heat, sulfates, parabens. This was something we completely disagreed with and thus (with the help of many very intelligent chemists and botanists) created the Cold Process Method™.
Our Cold Process Method™ uses ice cold water at high pressure to combine our essential oils and ingredients. By not using heat we save 90% energy. This ensures the active ingredients remain fresh and highly potent, just as nature intended.
As a couple that’s now rooted in business after years working separately in careers from corporate finance to Paris couture, how did each of your paths merge to bring you together in the modern haircare space?
Helen: After studying business in college, I made a complete career change and became a hairstylist, followed by an art director for a Dublin based salon. As hard as it was leaving my family and friends, I always knew I wanted to work and live in New York. I was fortunate enough to start my New York career with hair legend Sam McKnight and under his direction, I styled Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris. From there I signed with an agency and went on to direct my own shows at Couture and Ready to Wear in Paris and London, as well as, collaborating with the industry’s top photographers on magazine editorials and advertising campaigns. It was in 2016 when I was doing one of my first Couture shows in Paris, Colm flew out to surprise me really saw me in action, dealing with the models, stylists etc., and knew there was something special here. Next (+500 sleepless nights)—Act+Acre was born!
Colm: We decided very early in the process we wanted Act+Acre to be a role model in the category, so its promise must reflect the role it wants to play. It must disrupt the conventions of the category. Coming from a corporate finance background I needed to really immerse myself in this world, so I left my job and traveled across Asia for three months studying trends in beauty and skincare, so we could trigger thoughts on how we could re-invent the haircare category. From this, many things changed, including the development of cold process method and the relentless focus on treating your hair like you treat your skin.
How does the concept of personal ritual play into your shared vision for the brand?
When we started this journey, we had a realization of the role we could play in the lives of our community. The shower is the only time of the day that we are truly alone, no distractions, just with yourself. We love this, we wanted to make it a time for mindfulness, for selfcare, to encourage using it as a daily ritual of consciousness.
The act of consciousness and self care.
Your one-two-punch of recyclable packaging and energy-efficiency really predated a lot of the green standards that brands are just starting to adopt. What inspired your mindful practices?
We wanted the brand to stand for something that would out-last us as founders, to look at how we treat the world and raise the bar, ask more questions and be kinder to the world.
Our packaging is fully recyclable, our products are environmentally friendly and chemical free and we use 90% less energy during our production process. So, it’s always thinking and caring about land and nature, about the Acre. It takes longer to create our products, but the result is worth the wait.
The global plastic crisis and its effects on the health and balance of our planet has finally reached a point of mass concern this year. The eco packaging you designed is so original—can you break down why the bamboo and corn-based materials are particularly environmentally friendly?
Our bottles are made from the most recyclable form of plastic, PETG1. The industry standard is an average of only 3% of bottles being recycled, you will notice that our bottles are a little more delicate than most competitor on the market, this is because squeeze plastic bottles are made from silicone, which will never be recycled. We want to be the new industry benchmark.
We try to be sustainable from the inside out, you will notice all our packaging is made from sustainable sources, our tote bags are made from bamboo. Our (new) Corn foam package, is entirely natural, uses 70% less energy and produces 80% less greenhouse gases. It’s biodegradable, backyard compostable, edible, and dissolves in water (seriously, try it). Also, coming soon, customers who subscribe or repeat order will receive pouch refills to pour into their old packaging, by doing this we will cut down Act+Acre’s plastic use by 40%.
You’re at the forefront of a movement that’s educating consumers on the idea that our scalps should be treated as delicately as the skin on our faces. When you think about their proximity, it makes sense—what have you discovered on the topic in your research?
Once we started researching into scalp health we were shocked at the amount of research there was online backing up what we had suspected, yet no one in the industry was creating products to fill this void.
101 haircare states that the scalp ages six times faster than facial skin, but then during my research this week I found another brand, Follizin, stating that the scalp ages almost 20 times faster.
We loved our tour of your new gallery space—what’s your vision for blending creativity and artistic freedom into the brand identity?
We believe that we are a collaborative body and we want to inject new life, design and inclusion at every touchpoint. Surrounding ourselves with alliances in all creative fields, art, music, beauty, etc. can only lead to overall enhanced creativity.
This year, we moved into a gallery space in the Lower East Side, since then we partnered with Uprise Art and have had two very successful art exhibitions in our upstairs space. First was San Francisco based Adrian Wong, and then just recently we had a Scandinavian artist Tony Ruben. The exhibitions are a great opportunity for our communities, wellness and art, to mix.
Detox for body, mind—and now, hair—is top of mind after generations of chemical-rich pesticides, water sources, and, of course, beauty products have taken their toll. The detox step in your system is one-of-a-kind—is it something that can actually be left on the hair as a styler (the wet look is alive and well!) or does it need to be washed away?
HELEN: Yes definitely, our products are 100% natural. We recommend on the bottle the you rinse the detox after 20 minutes, but truth be told, I often go to bed with my detox on and wash and blow dry my hair in the morning.
People find different uses for the product and we tell them to use the product as they see fit, I have used it for styling on a number of shoots, actually, I used it on the Act+Acre Ireland shoot for styling.
After this many months of using your own product formulations, have you personally noticed a difference in your own hair and scalp health?
HELEN: Having worked in the hair industry for years, I became increasingly conscious of the health of others scalps, which really led me on a journey striving to create products that were not only better for you but also better for the world. I have been using the products for over a year now and I have noticed an incredible difference in my hair. My hair by nature is particularly thin and previously very lifeless. Since using Act+Acre my scalp has never felt as clean, which then in tandem benefits of the hair shaft itself, promoting new healthy hair growth, and overall giving my hair a new lease of life. Plus, it has a great shine that I’ve never had before! (But don’t just take my word for it, Elite Daily recently went under our scalp camera, have a look here at their results!)
The scent is amazing! Like, look-forward-to-the-next-excuse-to-wash-your-hair good. Some of us are even washing our hair in the evening so the fragrance is the last thing we smell as we unwind for the evening. It’s a ritual in itself. How do you describe it?
Scent evokes our most powerful memories and in turn motivates our decision making. With this and environmental wellbeing in mind, we crafted a subtly luxurious blend of iris blossom, violet leaf, patchouli, soft leather, cedar, creamy sandalwood, papyrus and golden amber to invite you along our unique scent journey.
We know that you have to keep your celebrity clients close to your chest—but as our final note, are you able to share any exciting new fans of the products?
We got Lady O’s seal of approval recently... so that’s our bragging rights for the next few years!!