For a musician, there are few things worse than getting shelved — but at least for Bathe Brand founder Tiffany Brown, the resulting fallout led her to the clean beauty space. A few years ago, her initial excitement about getting a record deal and moving to Atlanta quickly soured, and she was left without a creative outlet and a gnarly bout of depression and anxiety.
“This really is no glitz no glam,” Brown told me over the phone in a recent interview. “I didn’t plan to be in the clean beauty space, I didn’t plan to be in the beauty industry. I came to New York to sing and write songs and be the next Beyonce. I was going to school and working so hard, and I finally got signed. A lot of newer acts were coming out of Atlanta, and Atlantic Records had a subsidiary there that I got signed to. So I packed up my stuff and moved south.”
As Brown explains, getting shelved is worse than getting dropped, because “when you’re shelved you can’t really do anything outside of the contract for the allotment of years that you’re signed for, and I still had three and half years on my deal.” Moving back to New York to put the pieces back together, Brown remembers working two day jobs just to make expensive city rents and still earning so little she qualified for food stamps. And even if she hid from her anxiety over being shelved by writing at night, or the occasional one-off performance, the stress showed up in her skin, manifesting as lesions that dermatologists offered no recourse for.
“My skin started to break out in what was like lesions at that time,” she remembered. “I went to dermatologists and they were all just like ‘well, your skin is too dark.’ Pretty much anything they could think of to even try to target these areas would have damaging effects on the rest of my skin. And I wanted to be pampered. I wanted something nice, and I knew that I couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money on big hauls of products that may or may not have worked. Also, I just didn’t have a lot of money.”
The financial commitment is a huge part of the skincare and beauty industries that doesn’t get discussed enough — how expensive it can be to take care of your skin, attempt to heal yourself, and participate in the newly-anticipated cycle of “self-care.” It’s the stress of poverty and gig economy living that can lead to the mental health issues that damage many young women (and men) in the first place, and then require more money, products, and services to recover from. In that sense, Tiffany’s solution was an incredibly innovative one: Use her SNAP benefits (read: food stamps) to buy healthy, organic ingredients that could double as skincare.
“I didn’t even know to ask for a therapist or any of those things,” she remembered. “I didn’t have language or understanding then to know that I was really depressed and dealing with a lot of anxiety. This was like do or die. I had a bathtub, which was a blessing, because not all New York apartments do, and I knew that I could go to Whole Foods and try something. So in the beginning it was avocado, oats, and Manuka honey — things that I knew would work or I could research really quickly. It sparked my interest in the luxury and the abundance of nature.”
Using basics like avocado oil and olive oil for moisturizing, Brown began to study herbalism at the Herbal Academy and other workshops, while also incorporating Ayurvedic oil cleansing practices into her daily routine. Above all, the ritual of taking a daily bath and focusing on this as a “fluid meditation” was a core principle of the personal practice she developed.
“For me, the ritual of bathing is spiritual and sacred,” she said. “Having this fluid experience was really meditative. It became something I looked forward to. I just had to come to these waters and realize that I am a big and small part of nature and this universe. And also start to affirm myself. As I grew and time went on, I learned, I healed my skin, and I’m alive. For me, it really was life or death. And that was the beginning of Bathe Brand, I just didn’t know it yet.”
Slowly moving from the phase of healing herself into wanting to provide support for others, Bathe Brand began to emerge from Tiffany’s experience, grounded in a mix of African American herbalism and Eastern medicine. The Annointing Oil ($60) come in four varieties: Palo Santo + Vetiver, Neroli + Myrrh, Lavender + Sandalwood, and Clary Sage + Citrus. These are all blended with specific focuses, come with their own affirmations, and are antibacterial and antimicrobial oils designed to cleanse and condition skin.
The anointing oil can be used in one of three ways. First, they can be used as a pre-cleanse and massaged into the skin about fifteen or twenty minutes before a bath or a shower and rinsed off. Second, the oil can be used to dress the water, and poured directly into the bath as it runs. Third, the oil doesn’t necessarily need to be rinsed off and can be used after the bath as a finishing moisturizer.
“I did a lot of independent research to understand how slaves used herbal medicine,” she explained. “As a Black woman, that was really important to me. In this country, especially around ideas about food and welfare, Black people are often given the short end of the stick. As slaves, we understood what herbs did what and we put them to use. So often we’re taught to look for all these other things, but what we need is not only all around us, it’s the elements of who we are. We are divine connection to nature itself.”
Another part of Tiffany’s own experience with the fluid meditations and her bathing ritual was unlearning some of the self-loathing she’d internalized as a queer woman growing up in a strict fundamentalist tradition. “I was raised extremely fundamentally Baptist,” she said. “I’m a queer woman, which clearly that doesn’t really align with those teachings, so I also just didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel like I had a real connection to God, with the universe, goddess, whatever folks think of it as. The fluid meditation was a time for me to reclaim spirituality and realize that I deserve love.”
Aside from the Anointing Oils, Bathe Brand also offers three soaks: The Lac Rose Sea Soak and Nile Sea Soak — each $46 — and the Mood Mylk for $32. These are not meant for application to the body but to dress the water, like bath salts, though like the oils, each soak has a different function. Because baths open up the pores in a different way than showering, these soaks are stocked with ingredients that the body will readily absorb while submerge. Both products use all-natural ingredients with an emphasis on sustainability.
If you need any further convincing of Bathe Brand’s genius, the Anointing Oil was also featured in Goop, a coveted co-sign for a still-emerging wellness brand. Through it all, from the humble beginnings looking for ingredients at the grocery store to the success of her now fully-formed, handsome wellness brand, Brown’s commitment to the power of honoring our bodies through the bathing process remains the same.
“This transformational time for me, bathing, became a bond,” Brown said. “What I hope for Bathe Brand is that it can be incorporated into something that most folks are doing every day, bathing of some kind. That something already in our routine can be up-leveled, and can serve multiple purposes. That it can make us slow down and give that self-affirmation every day. Being able to take care of myself made me realize more of my self-worth, building this ritual is sacred communication with myself. That’s what I hope it brings to others.”