The story of Kate McLeod’s eponymous skincare business and the story of her marriage are inextricably linked. After running her own bakery abroad for years, the former pastry chef turned her life upside down when a first love came back around, and she moved to New York City without a plan. (If you want to dig into the details, check out the New York Times “Modern Love” column written by the journalist who’s responsible for McLeod’s now-husband, who happens to be the founder of Hinge, booking that plane ticket.) After a few years of getting back on her feet while experimenting with natural plant butters and pastry molds, McLeod officially launched her first skincare product in 2018, an innovative solid moisturizer called The Body Stone. In the years since, her food-grade beauty products have amassed a significant following which includes Naomi Watts, who shared an early glowing review of The Body Stone in her Into the Gloss “Top Shelf” interview. McLeod and her team now make everything in their line—including an argan-infused Sex Stone, and a brand new Face Stone—in their so-called “Butter Atelier” in New York’s Hudson Valley. We caught up with the founder via Zoom, discussing everything from her latest launch to the unexpectedly effective tool that cleared up her hormonal acne.
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How did you go from being a pastry chef to launching a skincare line?
When I first came back to New York, I became very close with my husband’s sister-in-law. And she really believed in knowing what you’re putting into and on your body. One day, she saw me putting on lotion, and she asked me if I knew what I was putting on my skin. And the truth is, I had never really given it that much thought. She gave me a piece of raw cocoa butter to try as a moisturizer, and it is a rock hard solid. It’s not that pleasant to put onto your body, because the melting point is so high. But the next day when I looked at my skin, the results were phenomenal. Cocoa butter is rich in fatty acids and polyphenols and vitamin E, so it’s amazing for creating a barrier to lock in natural hydration. But I thought, There’s got to be an easier way to use this.
So I used my kitchen skills and approached the cocoa butter as if it were a piece of chocolate and I was making a ganache. When you bite into a ganache-filled truffle, it’s squishy and it melts in your mouth because it’s been tempered and mixed with other oils and fats. At first, I was just pouring the mix into jars and scooping it out with a spoon, but when my husband and I got married, I used canelé and madeleine molds and gave them out to all the guests as party favors. Then, eventually I started working with a sculptor, who helped come up with the current shape of the body stone.
What does the process of making the body stones look like now? And what makes them different from other creams, balms and moisturizers on the market?
Nothing has really changed since the beginning except the scale at which we’re doing things. Our products are food for skin, made from scratch. The recipes are all started in my home kitchen, and they do not change when we bring them to scale in the workshop, where we still temper, mix and pour everything by hand. And everything is waterless: In a typical bottle of lotion or jar of cream, the industry standard is that you’re getting 75 to 80 percent water. With the body stones, you’re getting just 100 percent plant-based, food-grade nourishment.
The body stone also offers an opportunity to connect with yourself. When I first started making and using the product, I was in a really rough place. I had just taken a massive U-turn in my life, and I was in the throes of battling an eating disorder. But I found that the days that I put this on my body, I just felt good. Frankly, it kind of got me out of it one day at a time.
How does the new face stone formula stray from the original?
We have a lot of very dedicated followers of the body stone, and I would frequently get asked, “Can I put it on my face?” And I’m like, “On some winter days when it’s really, really cold, yeah…” But generally, I wouldn’t recommend putting cocoa butter on your face, because it doesn’t have the lowest comedogenic index. So I just started exploring a lot of different exotic butters. Kokum butter, which comes from a gorgeous plant native to India, has a very similar chemical structure to cocoa butter, which gives it that solidity. But unlike cocoa butter, it’s not going to clog your pores.
Speaking of makeup, any favorite products?
I’m not a huge makeup person, but I’m kind of religious about Gucci Westman’s bronzer, and her blush sticks. And the Jamie Makeup “blighlighter,” which is a blush/highlighter combination. For a night out, I keep a few Ilia eyeshadow palettes in the back of my drawer.
What is something you've learned from working in the skincare space that most people wouldn’t know?
I don’t think people realize how most products are made, or what a contract manufacturer is. And I’m very proud that we don’t use one. Often, the formulas different brands use are just created for them, and they’re very, very similar to the next formula that’s on the conveyor belt one branch down. A lot of products in mainstream beauty stores are made in the same manufacturing pants, and there’s no transparency around that.
What is the first thing you do in the morning, skincare and wellness-wise?
I hug my husband, and I try not to look at my phone. Then my baby gets his bottle and I get my bottle, which is usually a cup of caffeine-free tea—I do think that that is part of my beauty regimen. I brush my teeth, I wash my face, and I do a spritz with rose water. Then I’ll do a little bronzer or blush, and I’ll pick up my journal and write for a bit, and then I’ll try to go on a walk.
Do you have a preferred face wash that you use?
No, and I get such looks on this one, but I really just wash my face with water. Occasionally, I’ll make myself a scrub out of oats, sugar and strawberry seeds. But normally it’s just water and a Face Halo, which is like a little round fiber cloth that’s supposed to be for taking off makeup. When I got pregnant, I started getting hormonal acne, and my mom gave me one and it completely cleared up my skin. It gets in there way better than any other exfoliator, so I have seven of them now, and I use one a day instead of using a washcloth. And truly, my skin has never looked better.
What about your evening routine—what’s the wind-down, get-ready-for-bed situation?
I’ll use our dry brush a couple of times a week. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve gotten little bumps on the back of my thighs, and that really helps. I love baths, or a good, long hot shower. If I’m washing my hair, I like Briogeo or the shampoo and conditioner from Intelligent Nutrients, which was started by the guy who originally founded and then sold Aveda—they have peppermint oil in them, which gives you a lovely tingle. If I’m in the bath, I add epsom salts or magnesium citrate, and I’ll sprinkle in some eucalyptus oil. (The other thing I put into my bath, we’ll be launching in 2022…) After I’ve dried off, I’ll put on our body stone and let it absorb overnight.
Do you do any treatments or are there any wellness practitioners that you see on a regular basis?
Acupuncture was a big part of my first pregnancy and it’s a part of my second, too. When I was expecting my first child, I visited the Yinova Center in New York, where I did acupuncture to help with gestational diabetes.
Is there a piece of beauty advice you’ve received that changed your perspective on beauty?
It’s a question: “Do you know what you’re putting on your body?” From my sister-in-law all those years ago. Think about it: Your skin is your largest organ, and it’s porous. And up to 60 percent of what you put on your skin is going to soak through within the first 30 seconds after application. You might not literally be chomping into it, but you’re consuming it nonetheless.