The story

It all started with a Coke bottle filled with oil.

On a cold evening in Brookline, Mass

The night I met my husband, all I knew about Bulgaria was from the Harry Potter franchise: Good Quidditch players who tolerated dark magic and fur coats maybe more than they should.

That’s why I was surprised when he (my future husband, not Harry Potter) pulled up a map that first night to show me Bulgaria actually bordered Turkey and Greece. “No one even wears fur coats,” he assured me, scrolling through pictures of seemingly endless sunflower fields and meadows with wild roses.

“So you guys like, grow stuff there?” I asked, trying to square the arctic tundra in my mind with this flower-rich landscape on Google images.

Flash forward to the Pandemic

15 years later it was 2020, at the height of pandemic-induced boredom, I finally tried some of its exports directly on my skin.

During a video visit with my dermatologist (#CovidLife), she mentioned that cold-pressed, unrefined sunflower oil was maybe the best single ingredient for my dry yet acne prone skin. “That’s funny” I thought, “they sell that stuff by the barrel in Bulgaria.”

My mother-in-law lent me some of hers in a recycled Coca-Cola bottle. While she used her oil on salads and for high-heat frying, I planned to slather my face in it. As I poured just a bit from the bottle, the smell of just opened sunflower seeds filled the room. It was weird, isn’t oil supposed to be scentless?

Turns out, no it’s not! If an oil doesn’t smell like the fruit or vegetable it came from, it’s because it was extracted using a high heat or chemical process that strips the oil of much of its original properties. That means it loses the antioxidants, vitamins, and yes, the smell that the naturally extracted version maintains.

The oil itself was thick and, this is going to sound obvious, but super oily. I started to doubt my plan. But I pressed ahead and when I washed it off, I couldn’t stop staring at my reflection. I was glowing! I also couldn’t stop touching my face. It felt softer than I had ever remembered it feeling.

I started using the oil every night to remove makeup. And for the first time in my life, I liked how I looked better after I washed the makeup off than how I looked with it on. After a couple weeks of religiously using it, I noticed old acne scars were fading and my skin’s texture was smoother and glossier. That’s when I started using the oil in the morning too. Within another week, I had to ask my mother-in-law for another bottle’s worth.

I desperately wanted my friends to try the oil. Just once. But they politely at first, then more firmly, declined. “What would it take” I asked them, “to start using this?”

One friend was brutally honest: “It would have to be less thick, it needs to wash off more easily, and while I get you think this smell is an important indicator of purity, it needs to smell… less like sunflowers.”

The bumpy road to formulation

It suddenly occurred to me: What if I turned this into a legitimate facial oil cleanser? Not like in a plastic Coke bottle. But a real one that people could buy and use and love?

My chemistry education was limited to a single summer school term when I was 16. A quick Google search confirmed I couldn’t do this alone: I needed a professional to help me.

The only problem? I spoke to dozens of skincare chemists about my idea but they all replied with the same two objections:

1. Custom formulas are expensive and time consuming. Why not try an existing formula but tweak it a bit to your taste?

2. We already have a sunflower oil supplier, we don’t want your sketchy oil in plastic bottles.

I quickly learned that nearly all new skincare products, from indie brands to celebrity endorsed lines, don’t just rely on the same or similar formulas: they also all use the same ingredients from the same handful of suppliers. My whole medicine cabinet was just variations of the same stuff packaged in different bottles.

But I didn’t just want to make a sunflower oil cleanser. I wanted to make a cleanser with this sunflower oil and only feature additional ingredients that had the same high quality pedigree. 

Finally, I found a clean beauty lab in Indiana who works with some of the most innovative beauty brands on the market. They thought it sounded like a fun project.

Over the next 13 months, we went back and forth on rounds and rounds of possible formulas. I started using words like “viscosity” in casual conversation. We had to find a way to balance the natural scents of the different oils, create a combination that dissolved even the most stubborn mascara, all without irritating sensitive skin and eyes.

And well, we did it! The final formula is somehow better than what I was initially dreaming of all those months ago. And after extensive product testing across the country, I’m not alone in my obsession.

I hope you’ll try the Cold Pressed Clean. Personally, I think it’s more magical than anything in Harry Potter.