When milk + honey founder Alissa Bayer weighed options for starting a business after getting her MBA, she knew she wanted to do something that contributed to the health and wellbeing of others. She was inspired by a meeting with Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines. “He created a company culture where employees are treated well, have fun, and are valued,” says Bayer, who took Kelleher’s mission to heart.
“I truly believe that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, who will take care of your shareholders. We call it ‘the Virtuous Cycle,’ Some of the ways we take care of our team is to offer paid time off, a 401K, and health benefits to any employee who works a minimum 24 hours per week,” she says.
We sat down (six feet a part) with Bayer to find out more.
How did the brand come to be?
After grad school, I knew I wanted to do something that made people feel good. That manifested as a spa and later into products.
As milk + honey’s sole owner and founder, I bootstrapped the company from the ground up, working closely with my husband and the current milk + honey CEO, Shon Bayer, to spearhead growth for both the product line and brick-and-mortar spa locations. From a single standalone spa in 2006, milk + honey has since grown to include a collection of six spas and salons and a nationally available line of hyperclean and effective bath, body, and skincare products. Next year, we’re excited to expand into the West Coast market with a new spa location in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, followed by one in Culver City.
When did you decide to create your own products, and why?
The products were a result of us looking for products to use both in the treatment rooms and put on our retail shelves that were hyperclean and non-toxic — and also did what they were supposed to do. Back in 2006, finding something that was clean and efficacious was a tall order.
All of our products were developed and born out of the spa. Our bodycare was formulated in conjunction with massage therapists—they guided us to find the best essential oils to soothe aching muscles and promote relaxation. Our skincare line was developed alongside our in-house team of estheticians. They created the product profiles and came up with their dream list of ingredients. We worked with our lab to formulate them, and our talented team tested them in the skincare treatment rooms—this really is an esthetician-driven line.
“Hyperclean” means that we’re not just doing the basics. Everyone is “sulfate-free” and “paraben-free.” We look at each and every ingredient to make sure that it’s safe, non-toxic, effective, and sustainably sourced.
Tell us about some of them.
From bath, body, and home products to skincare and beauty accessories, we’ve created a full range of hyperclean products that fit easily into your life. The best part is that we’ve done all the ingredient research as well as the efficacy and sensitivity testing to ensure that every single thing we offer is something you can shop without having to wonder, “Is this okay to put on my skin? Use in my home? Put on my child?” It’s all safe, effective, and a delight to use.
Our deodorants have been a long-time bestseller alongside our Body Creams, Bath Soaks, Home Fragrance, and core skincare line.
Which ones can you not live without?
It’s hard to choose favorites. Right now, I do not go a day without using the Bakuchiol Treatment, Luxe Face Oil, Cleansing Balm, Hand Soap Nº09, and the Hand Purifier.
Which are most popular with your clients?
Our skincare line resonates with our clients because it’s vetted by our estheticians, and isn’t overly complicated. Clients love the Gel Cleanser and Cleansing Balm, which provide an effective and gentle way to double cleanse; the Intense Hydration, a nighttime moisturizer must; and the new Bakuchiol Treatment (aka a plant-based alternative to retinol), a gorgeous hybrid serum-moisturizer that improves the production of collagen, minimizes the appearance of aging, and promotes even skin tone and texture.
Tell us about your new expansion to Los Angeles.
The Brentwood spa will be our first location outside of Texas, and is slated to open in early 2021. This location will offer massage, body treatments, facials, medical aesthetics, waxing, lash extensions, manicures, and soakless pedicures. We’re thrilled to work once again with Droese Raney Architecture. They designed a gorgeous and functional spa for us in Fort Worth, and they are a dream to work with. The architecture of our spas is fundamental to our success. We need our design to be thoughtful, functional, and welcoming. We don’t have rigid design specifications because each location is unique. We want our locations to feel like siblings, not identical twins. It takes a lot more effort to design that way, but it allows each spa to have its own personality, energy, and aesthetic.
Why is self-care important during COVID, and how can your products help?
I think we’re all feeling varying levels of anxiety, uncertainty, interpersonal stress, existential dread, and loneliness, so it’s crucial that we prioritize our mental health and wellbeing on a daily basis, even if it’s simply carving out time for a 10-minute meditation, a bath (instead of a shower), or a moment to express gratitude. In regards to the latter, gratitude is paramount in the DNA of milk + honey. We encourage clients to write gratitude notes in our spa lounges, and we save them and embed those notes into the walls of new spas when they are under construction. Our walls and spaces are literally infused with gratitude and love. When you really focus on gratitude, it’s nearly impossible to give in to negative emotions.
We encourage clients to write gratitude notes in our spa lounges, and we save those notes and embed them into the walls of new spas.
I have three young children at home, so it can be tough to find and create those calmer moments throughout the day. I find that burning milk + honey Essential Oil Candle Nº46 instantly shifts the mood in the room. Its warm blend of sandalwood, vetiver, and cardamom are grounding, which is perfect for right now. If I can squeeze in a longer bedtime routine, I’ll run a bath with milk + honey Milk Bath (it’s so indulgent and smells delicious!), put on the Pink Clay Masque, and sink into the silence. If you prefer showers to a bath, you can still treat yourself to something special. I suggest dry brushing before getting in, then follow that with milk + honey Body Polish Nº05 and Bath & Body Oil Nº14. There’s nothing like boosting your circulation, gentle exfoliation, and extra skin hydration to make you feel like a new person!
In your opinion, how will spas be different when we return?
As a business owner, mother, and fellow human navigating these murky waters, I know that reopening is a big step—one that will undoubtedly spark questions and concerns. I’m confident that our team has done (and will continue to do) an exceptional job in addressing every aspect of employee and client safety as we’ve slowly reopened our spas in Texas. We took a lot of additional precautionary steps to keep our clients and team members safe and healthy, including mandatory temperature checks and health screening questionnaire upon arrival, wearing masks, reduced capacity, staggered appointments, HEPA air filters in every treatment room, and temporary suspension of certain services and amenities (steam used in facials, robes, slippers, steam showers).
In short, the spa experience in the immediate future will look very different than before. I am an optimist at heart—I do think that the spa industry will survive this pandemic and will continue to be a place that provides a respite and relief from all of the other stresses of life, but finding our footing in this new normal will require us to be responsive, cautious, and patient.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
While we’re hard at work on our Los Angeles expansion, there are a couple of big things happening on the ground here in Texas. We’re introducing medical aesthetics to all of our existing locations for the first time. It’s an exciting launch for us, especially since we’ve partnered with renowned Dermatologist, Tyler Hollmig, MD, to bring our medical aesthetics offering to life. We’re also in the final stages of development on three new milk + honey products: an exfoliating toner, exfoliating cleanser, a gorgeous foot cream and hand cream.
Four milk + honey products you may want to try:
Cleansing Balm ($48) —This cleansing balm is the product of two years of testing, feedback, and reformulation. We spent a good portion of those two years searching for the surfactant alone. We wanted it to be smooth, milky, and hydrating without leaving an oily residue. It’s perfect as your standalone cleanser (especially for those with dry skin), but if you’re double cleansing, it pairs well with our Gel Cleanser. My favorite way to maximize the results of this balm is to leave it on for a minute or two (while you’re brushing your teeth, for example) before rinsing thoroughly. It’s not supposed to be a masque, but leaving it on a little longer allows the oils to bond to pollutants on your skin. You’re giving it time to work its magic.
Blue Tansy Balm ($98) —This multi-use skin salve treats burns, rashes, and scrapes. This powerful formulation also neutralizes redness and dryness. While I love to use it at night when my skin is extra-dry or inflamed, I’ve found it’s my go-to spot treatment during the summer. It works wonders on my kids’ bug bites or any sunburns—they ask for it all the time! A little goes a long way. Press into cleansed skin and use as a spot treatment for dry patches and inflammation. Or, use once to twice weekly as an overnight masque. A thin layer is sufficient— the oils in this balm are precious.
Bakuchiol Treatment ($98) —This serum-moisturizer hybrid delivers retinol-like results without the skin irritation and photosensitivity side effects. Bakuchiol Treatment also supports collagen production, evens skin tone, and helps to reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Fun fact: Bakuchiol was the most highly requested ingredient from our estheticians. This might be my favorite product we’ve created (so far)—it really is that good.
milk + honey Stick Deodorant ($16) —In the world of clean bodycare, aluminum-free deodorant is often the first clean-beauty switch someone will make. At $16, it’s an easy and affordable switch to make that will have a big impact on your future health. Our deodorant is available in three strengths—Extra Strength, Regular Strength, and Baking Soda-Free (for sensitive skin). We even have a quiz on our website if you’re not sure where to start.
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.