Insider's Guide to Spas
Photo By Rebecca Dale


A Passion for Plants with Yael Alkalay

Mary Bemis

The creator of Red Flower shares her passion for plants and why you should experience their full and natural powers.

Insider’s: You’re so passionate about plants. Why?

Yael Alkalay: I think scent saved me life. I’m not alone in that experience. Pure essential oils have so much power, partially because of the way scent communicates with the body directly through the limbic system. Scent can reach you when nothing else can.

In my case, when I was at Columbia University, I had a stroke while skiing way up in the French Alps. I was flown from Courchevel to Boston and as part of attempting to diagnose the cause I was given a spinal tap that leaked; I couldn’t move. During the hospital stay my close friend Bess came and bathed me with an intense mint essential oil — and everything started clicking again. I came alive again. That moment sparked the desire to help people experience the full power of scent.

Insider’s: You talk about the culture of flowers and plants. What does that mean?

YA: In life we have a drive to understand our own roots, to know our heritage and where our power comes from. We know our own story is important, and I believe the same is true with plants. When I started making products using botanical ingredients, I wanted to bring back the idea that every plant is from its indigenous source — that comes from a real place — that there is a grounding to the experience of every plant we use. : I think part of my heritage and my spirit is cultural anthropology. The seed of Red Flower is to tie back in the geography of the culture, the heritage, the process of how something is grown…to bring all that back to the experience of using the product.

Insider’s: For example?

YA: Think about the difference between a Maine strawberry and a Finnish Strawberry. They’re radically different plants. They physically look different, taste different, and one has a much higher vitamin and fatty-acid content. Part of what drives the success of our Nature line is that we are using “super berries” all sourced from Finland. Infusing a line with plants from different places is not just a poetic choice. It is one reason our products are named after the country where we source the raw ingredients, highlighting the extent Red Flower searches the globe for the most potent and pure ingredients. It is also important to give a sense of respect for the places where things come.

Insider’s: What inspires your various lines?

YA: A big part of that inspiration comes from my own family heritage and the global travel that I have dedicated my life to. My grandfather was the first dermatologist in Bulgaria. My mother’s family were farmers in Argentina. I grew up with openness to seeing the world from different perspectives, and I’ve spent my life researching alternative paths to live a healthier and fuller life in places from Latin America to Japan, to Finland, to the Arctic Circle. I’m drawn to places where the approach to health and longevity is an inherent part of the daily practice.

In life we have a drive to understand our own roots, to know our heritage and where our power comes from…I believe the same is true with plants…

Insiders: What was your first spa line?

YA: The first line we launched for spa was Red Flower Japan, which is based on a Japanese process of bathing in scents to release inner “ki”, or life force. It is a seven-step line that delicately scents and softens the skin, but the fundamental purpose is to invigorate and energize the body.

I think people often overlook the importance of bathing to improve how you end up feeling and living. Tapping into that vitality is a big part of the Japan line, and felt I could only express that vision thru key spa alliances. It was so new to the American consumer, how to rethink how to take a bath…that’s really what prompted my foray into spa. I want and continue to want to create products and services that are a point of access for people to have new insight on how to live more fully.

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis is editorial director of She is an award-winning spa journalist, honored with Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and the distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She sits on the board of Wellness Warrior, is a Global Wellness Day Advisor and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.