meet the maker: may lindstrom

May Lindstrom is at once otherworldly and wonderfully down to earth. Her eponymous skin care range is a natural extension of these qualities. Each formula is an exquisite sensory experience, while delivering real results. Merrady Wickes sat down with May at The Detox Market in Santa Monica to learn more about the journey from her rustic roots in Minnesota to creating her beloved skin care collection.

Thanks so much for being here!

Thanks for having me. I’m so excited about the new location.

We’re here in Santa Monica at The Detox Market, and yeah, it’s May’s first time here. We’re so happy to have you here. How are you doing today?

I’m great!

Yeah?

Yeah. it’s been a fun day actually, creating a lot of fun stuff ourselves in studio so it feels good to take a break, and drive across the city, and explore your new store. And look around at all the brands, and get to see you again.

It’s nice to see you, too! How nice. So, I really want to get to know you a little better, and talk about your background, and how you got to be the May Lindstrom. Tell me a little bit about how you grew up. I know you grew up in Minnesota—can you tell me a little more about that?

Yeah, I’m from a really, really small town. About 800 people. An hour outside of—well, anything [laughs] in northern Minnesota. I was raised on 80 acres in the forest. Daisies…no running water…no electricity. I was Laura Ingalls way back.

That was my dream!

That was my reality—which made for an interesting childhood, but an important one and definitely foundational in how I grew up. I grew up definitely very connected to the earth, and what feeds us really from the ground up. We grew a lot of our own food, and traded with our neighbors, and had a very rustic way of approaching life. It really became the building blocks for a lot of things.

How that affects me as a formulator—you know a lot of girls grow up and they play with dolls or whatever comes from the store. I grew up playing with plants and the river, pulling clay out of the ground and coming up with potions.

I love that.

So there were no dolls. [laughs]

Just nature.

Just nature. There were a lot of plants. A lot of mashing of plants and making of special potions. That was my magic.

That sounds quite idyllic. So your family grew up in this rustic sort of way—are you the creative one? Are you kind of like this wild free spirit or are there more “Mays” somewhere?

Yeah…I’ll have to bring my mother. I definitely come from my parents. My mom is a healer. Her background is in self-care really, in the healing sense. She does massage therapy and physical therapy and reiki, and she’s an incredible person in that sense. My father is an electrician who does strictly solar now—very earth-focused everything. So those two worlds collided, and out came me. My foundation is very much in the values that I was raised in. I’m different from my parents in a lot of ways. They’re both very small town people, and I somehow managed to find my way into Los Angeles.

How did that happen? How did you get from a tiny town in Minnesota to Los Angeles?

Well that’s how you get from a tiny town in Minnesota to Los Angeles. You grow up in the smallest town there is! And you either stay, or you go. And for me it was go. I wanted to see what the world held. Being raised by my parents gave me a “You can do anything, go get the world” kind of attitude. So I had no fear. It was just a couple of days after I turned 18. I got in my car and took off and drove until I hit the coast and ran out of money, and here I am.

Just a few years later…

Just a few.

That was just last week! [laughs] So you made your way to LA, and now you’re in the big city, but you have really cultivated, funnily enough, a small town life for yourself.

Yeah. I still have the pig and the chickens and all the country parts of me still exist. We were talking about that on the drive over here. I live on the east side of the city, you’re on the west side of the city. Therefore I’ve never been to this beautiful space! I have a 12 minute commute to our studio, and a 12 minute commute to my daughter’s school, and that’s how I choose to live my life. In this big city I’ve found my little pocket of people who fuel me. My family is really about my children, and my work, and my team. I can do what I do from anywhere, it just happens to be right here.

So you drove all the way to California, and then you ran out of money, and then somehow you started an amazing, gorgeous, exquisite, delicious skincare range. How did that happen?

Well, the potion making has been going on since I was this big [gestures a height close to the ground], so there was just a transition that happened where it moved from childhood play into a teenage desire to connect with my friends. I have incredibly, incredibly sensitive, highly reactive, allergic skin. So as a teenager when girls were bonding by going to Target, and buying whatever mask was on the shelf, and having slumber parties and connecting with each other in that way, I couldn’t participate. Any of those products would give me rashes and blisters, and my skin would just literally fall off. So I started bringing these potions that I’d made since childhood to these gatherings, and really incorporating that. That was such a fun way to bond and play and discover, and I could participate which felt really good. So it went from that. A series of evolutions of play into my adult years as my skin got worse and worse. Especially when I moved out here. When I was 18 and I had just moved to Los Angeles my entire body from head to toe erupted in blisters. The whole thing.

Do you find that’s a challenge of living in a more urban environment for you?

Yeah. It’s hard for me. I’m really responsive to what’s in the environment both internally— stressors and hormones and everything else—but primarily for me it’s contact. It’s dermatitis and psoriasis and eczema and that kind of thing. In my late teen years as that got worse, my playing with potions turned a lot more serious. I started to really research the different ingredients and what they could do to actually heal different skin conditions. Through my late teens and early twenties I focused in on that plant medicine and worked to address serious skin concerns. Both my own—which are genetic and go all the way back to my mother and her father, and as far back as I know—and other people who I had met through having the skin conditions that I had. It was extreme. I’d be in the grocery store, and people would comment, and little children would grab onto their mothers.

It’s so hard to imagine that looking at you now, because you’re so radiant and glowing.

I’ve come a long way baby!

 

“I WANTED TO CREATE THESE BOOKENDS MORNING AND NIGHT THAT WOULD CHANGE HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE DURING THE DAY.”

 

I’m so close to your face, and you’re not wearing any foundation that I can tell. I mean, that’s an incredible journey to hear about.

It was intense. And it was an incredibly painful period of time, but it was really pivotal because as a formulator it forced me to learn to address those conditions. And it did. I did change my skin, and I changed the skin of many people around me. For years that was something that I focused on, and it wasn’t something I was trying to make a career out of. It was something that I believed really passionately in, and I held so much pain in my own skin that I wanted to help that wherever I could. For years I just did bespoke formulas for people with extreme conditions—psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, severe acne—all through the gamut. That was just a side thing that I did out of passion while I meandered my way through a series of other careers. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I just knew that I wasn’t really satisfied with where my life was going. So I went searching. I knew that this was something that really fueled me. That felt really good. That checked all the boxes of who I am as a human being, and what I can offer. The obstacle that I had to get over was how to share that. How to enter retail, and what that meant for me as a woman. So when I came into designing the collection, I had spent so many years focusing on efficacy and healing traumatized skin. As a formulator my foundation is solid in that space. But as a woman, I was so tired of feeling so sad all the time about my skin, and so scared all the time of touching everything else and operating from a place of fear. I wanted to bring something beautiful. I wanted to bring something that made you feel good. That felt celebratory. That you wanted to reach for. That could create these bookends morning and night that would change how you live your life during the day. I think that that’s something that’s been missing for so long. Beauty has become so much about fixing something that’s broken. And I don’t believe in that! I’m not broken. Even when my skin is at my worst, I’m not broken. But everything was telling me that I was. So when I started to design the packaging and think about how I could share this story, I wanted to create the most beautiful thing there was.

It is so beautiful.

So you couldn’t help but pick it up and feel joy, and feel deserving, and feel worthy, and feel good in your skin. That’s what I longed for more than anything else. And I wanted it to be playful. When you experience the collection there are all these great sensory moments—the colors, the textures, and the scents. They touch something. It’s touching on all the pieces of nostalgia. For me I get to pull out my Willy Wonka card and have it be a little bit magical.

You were talking about the bookends to the day. And I know a big focus for you is the ritual of skincare, and like you said, that sensory experience. Is that something that was passed down to you, or something you discovered for yourself?

It’s the part that makes it fun! I’m not that interested in washing my face at the end of the day.

But did you learn it? Was it something your grandmother taught your mother, and your mother taught you, or something you discovered for yourself?

Both. It was something that I shared with my mom. I had forgotten about that a little bit. And then I started thinking back on when holidays would come around how we would gift each other. We would go to little shops, and we would discover little soaps and oils and different things. So that was a part of something that we did together. But then there was a lapse in years where we didn’t do that because I was so sensitive that it became this terrible thing where I was just scared of touching everything all the time. And then we lost that. But I remember that that had existed. And my mom was who introduced me to the idea that I could go to the river and pull out the red clay and put it on my skin, and that in itself is this beautiful magical thing, and totally healing, and free, and right there, and the earth gave it to us in its perfect, perfect form. And going back to that. So yeah, I can bring my mom into that for sure.

I recently learned a little bit about your process. About how you source ingredients and how you test them. I had the pleasure of visiting the studio, which actually looks like an incredible, enchanting, massive industrial kitchen. It’s an amazing space.

It’s our bakery.

Bakery! Yes, that’s a much better way to say it. Tell me about how you do that, your process, and why it’s so important to you.

It’s super important. And it’s rare in this time. Most brands are made by a few factories throughout the planet. And all the brands are made under the same house and have different names. I have always made my own formulas. And that’s the piece that lights me up. That’s what’s exciting to me. I don’t know anything about marketing. I’m not a sales person. I didn’t grow up in this world at all. It’s had to come to me because I’m a formulator. Because I had these things that I wanted to share. Just a few years ago—early 2014—it was just me. It was me and my husband.

That’s crazy.

Not that long ago. Working out of a bedroom in our house. I had a newborn baby girl. I would run to the post office every day. The mailman would show up with all of the ingredients, and they’d come through my front door. Every single bottle was blended, and filled, and poured, and shipped 100% by me and my husband in January 2014.

Wow. That sounds so recent.

That was five minutes ago, practically, in the big scheme of things. So even though I’ve been formulating forever, as a company, as a big vision, it is still fresh, but our process is the same. We do have a studio now, which you visited, which is a kitchen. And it’s exactly like it was just a few years ago where still, the ingredients come in through our front door in their whole, raw, beautiful state. We still blend everything ourselves, everything is micro-batched, every bottle is poured and filled with love and care and intention from our space. They’re still 100% my formulas. There’s no outsourcing of that. There’s no factories, there’s no labs, there’s no distribution center. Our hands are on everything.

And you’re really specific about the quality of what goes into your products.

Incredibly specific. To a fault. I was supposed to launch a product a year and a half ago. As you know. [laughs]

I’ve heard of this product.

And it’s still not here! And it won’t be here for another short little chapter because now we’re in the testing phase. It’s because we have to wait on an ingredient. And for me it’s worth it! Because I’m waiting on nature. And I am not in charge of what nature gives me in each season. This is such an important reminder. Every day my inbox is filled with people going, “When is The Pendulum Potion coming?!” All of our retailers and all of our clients, of course, banging on my door. I’m sorry, I can’t speed up nature. If I did things differently, I could go to the lab, and order a pallet of whatever chemical.

Or even a lower quality natural ingredient.

Or even a lower quality natural ingredient. Which you can get this ingredient on the market.

But not the quality you want it?

Not the way I want it! [laughs]

I think that’s what makes your line really special. Not only is every ingredient super specific and super high quality, but I’ve even seen the person in your studio who’s lovingly packaging every box. And I heard you still write every note. Is that true?

Yeah, which is probably a little crazy.

It’s so crazy! I can’t even write one thank you note for like, one person from six months ago.

To be clear, I don’t do that either. I didn’t even send wedding invitations or thank yous. But, yeah, every order that’s directly ordered from our website still goes out with a personal note. And unless I’m out of the country, it’s still my hands on there.

It shows.

It’s important. It’s incredibly important. It’s such a practice of gratitude which I think is really needed. We don’t have investors. I don’t have a board of directors. I don’t have anyone pouring anything into this except for what my husband and I have put into it from our own blood, sweat, and tears, and every member of our team, and what they have brought. It’s so personal. When we sit around at our team meetings and we talk about why we are making things harder for ourselves by waiting for this ingredient, or why we are continuing to write these notes, or why we are doing all the other things that are kind of ridiculous. If I had to answer to anyone they would fire me in a second! The reason is because our investors are every client. They are who we do this for. They fuel every bit of this. And the second that we stop doing what we do, and take away the heart of who we are, and those things that make us different, all that we pour into it, then what’s the point? I’m just not interested.

 

“YOU TAKE THIS ORDINARY MOMENT, AND YOU INFUSE IT WITH LOVE AND GRATITUDE. YOU GET TO HAVE THAT TWICE A DAY, EVERY DAY, FOR THE REST OF TIME.”

 

It really shows. When you unwrap a package from May Lindstrom or open a product, it really feels incredibly special.

It should. Because you’re special! And every person who orders, it should feel special. It should feel like Christmas every day. That first moment that you have when you open it up, it stays in your little brain, and it gets re-triggered every time you go to cleanse. So you take this thing which is this ordinary moment in most people’s day, and you infuse it with this love and this gratitude. They get to have that twice a day, every day, for the rest of time.

Until the jar is finished. [laughs]

Well, then they get to order again, and they get to have Christmas all over! So it’s perfect. [laughs]

So with so much attention to detail in your brand, and I even see you on Instagram responding to every question that everyone writes to you. You’re so incredibly involved, and I know you just had your second child. And a pig, and chickens, and a business. What do you do to stay sane, to find balance, and unplug?

Well I’m not sane. I was reading, actually on Instagram— there’s a woman that I follow and I wish I remembered her name because she has this beautiful little family. She wrote the most beautiful little statement on how we need to stop striving for balance. Because I get asked this in practically every interview that I’ve ever given. And I think it’s because I’m a mom, and because I run this company.

And because you come across very serene. I mean, really.

I’ve been described as a duck on the water. Where up here [gestures with hands]—placid. Down here [gestures lower]—little feet going crazy! [laughs] But she was talking about how, especially as women and as mothers and business owners, we are asked this all the time— how do you find balance? We’re striving for balance. And maybe that’s not the question. Maybe we need to stop beating ourselves up that we don’t have balance. That’s not the point. As long as we’re seeking for balance we feel like a failure. And I’m not a failure. I’m really good at being a mom when I’m being a mom. And I’m really good at being with my team when I’m with my team. And they can’t happen at the same time. And that’s ok. I have to make peace with that, because I will never find balance. That’s just true.

Is there anything you do for yourself for self-care? You talked about how your mom is big into self-care. What do you do for May? Like at the end of the day when you shut the doors and you’re like, this is for me. Do you find those moments? What do you do for yourself?

I do. Not to self plug, but this is what this is about. The creation of this company—and I get reminders every day. I spend all day long talking to clients. I’m on the computer from morning ‘til night—the second I wake up ‘til the second I go to bed. That’s what I’m doing. I’m on Instagram answering questions. I’m on emails answering questions. I’m showing up and talking to people in person. This is what I do. So when I am telling you, “Take that time, you deserve it.” I say that all day long. So at the end of the day if I don’t hear that ringing in my own head I did something wrong and I’m a liar. When I go home at the end of the day, I have to practice what I preach. It’s good for me. It is. It’s like I’m doing mantras all day long. At the end of the day I gotta show up for it. So I do.

You do your skin care ritual?

I put down my babies, and I close the door, and I go into the bathroom. And if I have thirty seconds it’s going to be the best thirty seconds. And if I have five minutes it’s going to be the best five minutes, and I’m going to give it all. I’m going to breathe, and smell, and have the textures, and aromas, and I’m going to really feed it in. If I just happen to have a sliver once a month that’s an hour, I’m going to do the whole thing. I’m going to layer on all the masks, and do all the oils, massage myself head to toe, and it’s going to be beautiful. Whether you have an hour or thirty seconds, you have to go all the way.

I love that. What’s next for the brand? You spoke about the Pendulum Potion that’s coming—is there anything else fun that you’re working on that you want to talk about? Or anything on an esoteric big scale?

Well I’m always working on something. If you go on Instagram, I do give peeks of stuff. Which is troublesome, because everyone emails me and says, “When is this happening?” And, it’s not. [laughs] That’s usually the answer. I have to play. Well, you have to ask that question. The last product I released was almost three years ago. I am not someone who’s going to come out with something every season. When I introduce something, it’s because I believe in it with every cell of my being. And it has to exist. And it has to be better than everything that’s out there. I’m not going to just release something because someone says I need to have “x” in order to be complete. Because I don’t believe that. I’m indulgent, but I’m a minimalist. I don’t think you need sixty products. So I’m not going to introduce something I don’t think is vital. But I like to play. When I go into the studio, and I go into the kitchen, that’s my heaven. I’m surrounded by the most beautiful ingredients in the world. I can’t help but be inspired and want to mix and come up with new things. I should probably just come out with twenty other brands under different names, and hide, and just slowly be Willy Wonka everywhere.

Well, and you really can mix and play with your existing ritual. At least I do—I mix The Blue Cocoon with a little Problem Solver to make a spot treatment.

That’s a great spot treatment!

Or I mix the two masks together. There’s a lot of fun things to do with what’s existing.

Thank you so much for being here to chat with me. It was an absolute pleasure.

You’re welcome. Really fun to share.

 

Shop all May Lindstrom Skincare, here.