A Hippie-Turned-Model-Turned-Esthetician's Take On Natural Skincare

I interviewed Bree Neumann, an all-natural esthetician and former model who spent years trying all sorts of products.
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I interviewed Bree Neumann, an all-natural esthetician and former model who spent years trying all sorts of products.

Last week, I went way, way uptown to visit Bree Neumann. She’s my... well, I’m never quite sure what to call her. When I was a kid, I called her my “godsister” because her mother, Joan, is my godmother. Teenage Bree was the only person in the room with my mom when she found out she was pregnant with me, so we're close.

Bree seemed like the perfect person to interview about natural skincare because, not only does she work as an esthetician at the swanky Langham Place Spa, where she uses only the highest-quality all-natural products, she spent years working as a model in New York, where she was exposed to all sorts of products.

Authentic 90's babe.

Authentic 90's babe.

I grew up idolizing her and her sister, Lotte, both beautiful and effortlessly cool. They were Generation X babes that would put all manic pixie dream girls that came after them to shame. They were into ripped jeans, short hair, and a no-makeup earthy look that made my teenage years decidedly more confusing when I thought Rosebud Salve was the only thing I needed to counteract my infinitely more awkward genes.

Bree grew up in the woods in the small town of Putney, Vermont, a very artistic and progressive community where people built their own homes, had gardens, and hung out together doing saunas and probably smoking a ton of weed. What do I know? I was a baby.

That's Bree on the right playing Ring Around the Rosie with her dad and other farm children.

That's Bree on the right playing Ring Around the Rosie with her dad and other farm children.

When Bree was 13, she was scouted by Elite Model Management. After leaving the modeling industry behind, she has somewhat returned to her all-natural roots by sticking to a healthy lifestyle and high-end, all-natural products. Something must be working for her because she is over 40, recently pushed out a kid, and still looks like the amazing Generation X babe I remember after all these years.

Here's what she told me...

How did you get scouted?

When I was 13, a family friend thought that I should get into modeling, so I came down to New York and started doing commercial auditions. Then I got scouted on the street by a photographer from Elite Model Management for an OxyClean ad. I ended up getting signed with Elite, and every summer I’d come down, pound the pavement, go to go-sees with photographers and different magazines. I was in YM, Seventeen, Sassy

Tell me about Sassy!

They had us at this nightclub, and they set up this picture--I have it in Vermont, I have these pictures stored in the attic--and I’m looking in the camera, putting on lipstick; I’m sitting in the bathroom, and you see my reflection and then there’s one of us standing around a table of food and we’re all dressed up like a nightclub scene, and they threw this napkin at us so that we would laugh. It’s kind of stupid. I was 14.

I got to go to this contest, “The Look of the Year” with John Casablancas in Sicily. Then, I don’t know; I just stopped doing it because I got more into school.

Do all models in the industry have good skin?

No, a lot of models smoked. In fact, the agencies encouraged smoking. They thought it was cool, and so I did smoke for a while. It kept you skinny. It’s gross. It gives dark circles under the eyes. I quit my junior year of college.

It’s extremely dehydrating, and so is alcohol, but a lot of models drank, smoked, did drugs. Cocaine is the worst thing for your skin; it makes you break out horribly. I never got into that.

What happened as you were exposed to all of these new products?

One time I had a rash around my lips from some sort of lipstick they used on me. That was disgusting, and I had to see a doctor to get rid of it. But I’ve always pretty much had good skin.

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Did you get more interested in skincare and makeup because of modeling?

I think it was just a long progression from reading Fit for Life in college. That’s the book that started my interest in health. I got into the ideas of raw foods and food combining.

After college, I signed with Wilhelmina and tried to model again cause I thought it was easy money. It’s not that easy, though.

I did go through a phase where I was drinking too much, partying, going out. In New York, it’s just part of the lifestyle here-- going out with friends, parties--and I actually had a problem for while. I had to go to rehab.

Then at a certain point in my thirties I said, “I think I want to reevaluate.” I was working in restaurants; I didn’t know what to do. And then I decided I do love skincare and I always realized the connection between skin and what we consume.

Did you notice your skin change when you got sober?

Yeah, my skin was less dehydrated. The appearance of fine lines around my eyes diminished; but you still have the effects of the alcohol. I’m 41 now, and I still see the effects of that time. If I had never done any of that, I’d probably have fewer lines and less pigmentation.

Bree with baby Lucas eating healthy. She cooked up some amaranth and brocolli for our lunch. Yum.

Bree with baby Lucas eating healthy. She cooked up some amaranth and brocolli for our lunch. Yum.

The most important thing for your skin is internal health. Drinking green juice and eating whole foods, especially full-fat foods. It’s important having the right balance of fats like coconut oil, flaxseed oil, full-fat butter, cream and yogurt. I stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and any preservatives or ingredient names I don’t recognize.

I do drink coffee, but I try to just drink one cup. It is dehydrating--I’m very aware of that--but I also like the stimulant. I’m moderate; I don’t want to be dogmatic with anything. I did go through a period of trying to be a raw foodist, 100%. And I went to these meetings and everything at Caravan of Dreams.

I think you took me to one of those when I was 15...

Yeah, it was interesting, and I agree with them that eating raw foods is good for you, but it was not sustainable for me. I need more balance, so I eat plenty of cooked foods; I just make sure it’s healthy.

Have you always used natural skincare products?

I’ve used natural products pretty much all through life. I’ve always known that that’s the way to go. I started using Dr. Hauschka products in college. I still use this Rose Day Cream that I just love.

Then, when I started working at the Setai (now Langham Place), I got excited how clean and natural their products were. They used Organic Pharmacy. I was amazed.

Bohemia meets luxury in this cabinet.

Bohemia meets luxury in this cabinet.

You do a lot of facials. What’s the number-one mistake women are making with their skin?

Dehydration! Most people have really dry skin. Also, too much sun exposure, too many dehydrating foods. Alcohol is so dehydrating, you can see it in someone's skin the next day. So I try to rehydrate people's skin, bring back that plump, juicy look.

I love the Organic Pharmacy Vitamin C Papaya Peel. It removes the dead skin cells on the corneal (surface) layer, speeding up the turnover process.

I don’t see that much acne, but plenty do suffer from it. I think that could be diet-related. It could also be from really harsh ingredients in the face products. A lot of high-end products in America are made with fillers, and we’re putting them on our skin, and it’s so bad for you. It can create major imbalances.

I just believe in simplicity. Keep it simple.

It’s almost impossible for models (and beauty writers) to have simplicity in their routines when every day they’re getting exposed to new products. What would be your advice to them?

Remove the makeup immediately. Every night, try to really cleanse, exfoliate and tone. Use some kind of light moisturizer so your skin can repair and heal at night. Wash your face in the morning but not too much. Sometimes I just use water. Let your skin create its own oils. You don’t want to exfoliate too much. Twice a week for a normal skin type is plenty. The worst thing for your skin is to strip it of it’s natural oils. That’s really not healthy. It creates an imbalance. Your skin either overproduces oil or it dries out so much that you can get flaky skin, dry patches and redness.

A lot of skincare lines, even luxury brands that we all know, can call something “natural” if it has only one natural ingredient. So the rest of the ingredients can be artificially based and still be called “natural.” America has such loose laws in terms of cosmetic ingredients compared to Europe. Certain skincare lines are really bad for you, and you wouldn’t know because it says “natural.”

I’ve heard many people swear by mineral oil and petroleum jelly…

[Name redacted] is so dead wrong. Why would you put that on your face? Side effects don’t show up in everyone, so one person could use it long-term and have no effects.

It’s so important just to read ingredients. The more I learned about what’s in products--not just skincare but all kinds household and food products--the more I realized that they will just sell anything. If you don’t read ingredients, you’re just absorbing all these really unhealthy things, and it does eventually reflect in the skin.

After our interview and several pictures of baby Lucas, Bree showed me her skin care routine.

After our interview and several pictures of baby Lucas, Bree showed me her skin care routine.

BREE'S SKINCARE ROUTINE

First, Bree cleanses with the Carrot Butter cleanser. It has shea butter, evening primrose oil, jojoba oil, carrot oil and it helps balance skin's natural oils. She applies dry, then wipes off with a warm, damp muslin cloth.

If she’s not wearing a lot of makeup, Bree will often just uses the Rose Cleansing Gel, saving the Carrot Butter for when she really needs to break down the grime on her face.

She exfoliates twice a week either with the flower petal exfoliant to draw out grime or the Enzyme Peet Mask with Vitamin C and Papaya, which uses AHA exfoliation from papaya to remove dead skin cells.

After cleansing, to balance the pH of her skin, she uses Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Toner. She says that it’s the first step towards moisturizing; the toner is the water and the moisturizer is the food for your skin.

She uses a serum and gel together at night for repair. The gel helps the serum penetrate the skin better, but they’re sold separately because acne-prone users usually just stick to the gel only.

My favorite product of hers was the Organic Pharmacy Lip & Eye Cream. I always use eye cream on my lips to soften them up at night, and this formula is so rich, the smallest amount is needed to spread all over your eyes and lips. (Definitely picking up a tube when I get a chance.)

I went to photograph her makeup and she poured out a bag of only a few items that looked like they haven't been touched in a while. Bree mostly goes without makeup because she is a Gen X super babe to the core.

I went to photograph her makeup and she poured out a bag of only a few items that looked like they haven't been touched in a while. Bree mostly goes without makeup because she is a Gen X super babe to the core.

Her skincare routine works wonders for her skin, but when I tried it, I broke out a bit the next day. Luckily, my new routine fixed it up in a few days. It’s impossible to know what caused my reaction since I tried 10 new products at the same time (don’t do that, btw), but I’m suspicious of the serum.

When something says "all-natural" or even "for all skin types," that doesn't mean that your skin can handle it. All-natural products are great for keeping your skin healthy; just make sure to add in new products slowly so you know how you'll react. More often than not, the simpler your routine, the better.