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Helen Reavey: “Be proactive, not reactive”

My most important trick is to stay compassionate and show empathy. Understanding people no matter where they are in life, their hair journey, their career. Along with the idea that beauty is what’s on the inside, it is important to treat your body kindly. Having a proper vitamin-rich diet that you can realistically stick to […]

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My most important trick is to stay compassionate and show empathy. Understanding people no matter where they are in life, their hair journey, their career. Along with the idea that beauty is what’s on the inside, it is important to treat your body kindly. Having a proper vitamin-rich diet that you can realistically stick to helps your hair, skin, and nails. Looking at beauty holistically is so much more rewarding than trying every new product on the market and being disappointed when it doesn’t work. In regards to something you can do that immediately reflects beauty on the outside, your hair is like a luxury fabric that you wear everyday. Treat it with products that will respect natural growth and health.


As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Reavey.

Helen Reavey is the co-founder and CCO of Act+Acre, a modern wellness brand dedicated to the health of the scalp and hair. Helen has more than 15 years of experience as a professional stylist and has styled numerous A-list celebrities including Alicia Keys and Harry Styles, as well as directed and styled international Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Helen founded Act+Acre with her husband, Colm Mackin, in 2018 with the goal of creating innovative hair care products made from clean ingredients that put scalp health first.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born and raised in a small town in Northern Ireland and spent most of my childhood working at my father’s local corner store. As the first in his family to start a business, I always admired his entrepreneurial spirit and aspired to start my own venture one day.

After business school, I completely changed direction and trained to be a hairstylist while joining a Dublin-based salon. I worked by day and attended beauty school at night. As hard as it was leaving my family and friends, I always knew I wanted to work and live in New York, so off I went in pursuit of my dreams in January 2013.

Even before I arrived in New York, I was fortunate enough to work alongside hair legend Sam McKnight and, under his direction, I styled Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. I knew I wanted to express my creativity and make sure I made people feel good, and every day with Sam was a masterclass in this. After months of knocking on doors in New York, I was eventually signed by an Agent, started to win some clients of my own, and went on to direct my own shows at Fashion Week in Paris and London, as well as collaborating with the industry’s top photographers on magazine editorials and advertising campaigns.

After 15 years of this and having worked all over the world with all hair types, genders, and nationalities, the one thing that I noted as being common across the board was poor scalp health. So, I decided to delve deeper into the haircare industry and really examine the products that we use every day. My research unfolded that the industry was serving up a selection of sub-par products that do not serve to nourish, balance and stimulate the scalp… enter Act+Acre!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that’s happened in my years of working with hair is discovering our Cold Processed® method and the more unusual thing about that was it happened in our apartment on a Saturday afternoon!

Colm and I enlisted the help of our chemist friends to find out how typical hair products were made and we were surprised to find that most are produced through a heating process that causes active ingredients to evaporate. The loss in nutrients is then made up for through the addition of artificial ingredients, and, unfortunately, many of them are known carcinogens or tied to potential health risks.

For example, the squeaky clean feeling from shampoo often comes from surfactants that strip the hair of natural oils and moisture, and the silky finish of conditioners is likely the result of silicones, which are actually trapping dirt and oil instead of allowing moisture to penetrate.

We then reached out to our physicist friends for help in developing the Cold Processed® method. We would work most weekends with them in our apartments — think whiteboards EVERYWHERE. What resulted was instead of using heat, we mixed our formulas using cold pressure. Using hyperbaric chambers, ice-cold water, and 1,200 pounds of pressure, we could prioritize plant-based ingredients since the scalp can be a pathway for toxins into the body. The result is a nutrient-rich formula that easily absorbs into the hair and scalp for optimal health.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

That’s easy: the day I met Alicia Keys. After months of knocking on doors, I was eventually signed by Management+Artists, but I was at the bottom of the roster. I did have one thing in my favor though: I immediately had a bond with my agent. She would put me forward for jobs I had no chance in winning, and that’s what she did one day in September 2013. I met Alicia at her house and 15 minutes after we met she asked me directly to become her main stylist and come on her next tour, “Girl on Fire”. We travelled the world together throughout the remainder of 2013 and 2014. When I returned to New York, I felt the same, but people in the industry looked at me differently, I suppose.

Everything was different after that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many inspiring and talented people, but I’m most grateful to my husband, Colm. We met on the first day of university, and he’s been my biggest supporter ever since. I left business school to enroll in beauty college; it’s usually the other way around. Everyone thought I was foolish, but Colm told me I was “world class” (as he put it), and I never doubted it. We are both first-generation college graduates that had huge dreams and were so fortunate that even in a small place like Northern Ireland we found each other at such a young age. We are so blessed to have found so many other mentors, guides, and leaders along the way. Some of them we’ve such deep relationships with, and others we’ve never met, but their memory and what they stand for resonates deeply with both of us.

The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

When we launched in 2018, “hair wellness” wasn’t yet a category, but we decided very early on in the process that we wanted Act+Acre to be an industry disruptor and role model. We wanted Act+Acre to be an outlier and a pioneer in the wellness space, to think broader and further. It was born as a reaction to the established category and as a promise of what this category can become: something that comes to life through scientific advancement, real solutions to real problems.

Act+Acre isn’t about quick fixes. We’re about expertise, caring, and thinking things through. We’re talking about the long-term well being of your scalp and your hair. More importantly, it’s about your own well being, and the well being of the world. We wanted our brand to be proactive, not reactive. It’s about prevention, not damage control. It is about long-term funding.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

Transparency, and moreover how informed the modern customer is with products, processes, and ingredients. It keeps brands accountable when they know customers are going to see through anything that isn’t genuine. Your community should be asking questions. They deserve to be listened to, otherwise it’s not a community.

Phase 2, 3 and 4 of sustainability. Greenwashing has come and gone, the days of making profit here are over thankful. But, it served a purpose, as it raised the level of debate in this country on the subject. Now all brands have their part to play.

Finally, the importance of the scalp (sorry, I will try not to make this a plug!) 2018 brought the understanding that scalps are extensions of our faces and that skin and hair are composed of similar proteins and fats. Lifeless hair and an irritated scalp are signs of an imbalanced microbiome. When your biome is balanced, you’ll notice common hair symptoms disappear. You’ll need to wash less often. Your hair will feel stronger and look shinier. Buildup of product, sweat, sebum and dead skin cells can block the hair follicle and have an impact on the quality of hair growth. I’ve seen this first hand since I started in a salon in 2005.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

First, I think brands should strive to make a contribution to the industry and the world, rather than simply accepting the status quo. I have access to every kind of hair product in my profession, and the last thing we need is another version of a product on an already crowded shelf. I really believe our Cold Processed® method is the future of haircare, and I would love to see more companies challenging how things are made and what they are made of.

Second, the sustainability movement within the beauty industry has been so encouraging, but there is so much more that can be done. I hope to see more of my peers adopting sustainable practices around packaging and shipping, as well as responsible sourcing. I’m proud to say that Act+Acre is a carbon-positive company, which means we are actually giving to the environment instead of staying neutral or taking away carbon resources. Cold Processed® uses 90% less energy too. It costs us a lot more to make the products, but they are better for you and better for the Earth.

Fashion proclamation but beauty is always a conversion and we need to be more inclusive. People need to feel heard, seen and represented. I encourage brands to include POC on their website, social media, and on their teams.

You are a beauty expert. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can utilize “to feel beautiful”?

My most important trick is to stay compassionate and show empathy. Understanding people no matter where they are in life, their hair journey, their career. Along with the idea that beauty is what’s on the inside, it is important to treat your body kindly. Having a proper vitamin-rich diet that you can realistically stick to helps your hair, skin, and nails. Looking at beauty holistically is so much more rewarding than trying every new product on the market and being disappointed when it doesn’t work. In regards to something you can do that immediately reflects beauty on the outside, your hair is like a luxury fabric that you wear everyday. Treat it with products that will respect natural growth and health.

Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry.” Please share a quick story or an example, for each.

  1. You need to care. We decided very early in the process we wanted Act+Acre to be a role model in the category, so its promise must reflect the role it wants to play. It must disrupt the conventions of the haircare world. It must support its customers holistically, across aspects of their lives, by engaging their body, mind, heart, and spirit. It must reflect being well and doing well.
  2. Be proactive, not reactive. For us, we focus on scalp health because it’s the beginning of great hair. The scalp cannot be an afterthought when it’s the source of hair growth and health. Modern consumers want something that works, so getting to the root of the problem and fixing that is going to be so much better in the long run. It’s about prevention, not damage control. It is about long-term funding.
  3. Education is key. We’re about expertise, caring, and thinking things through. If a customer doesn’t know the reason behind why we do what we do, they’re not going to give our brand another look. We have to be thoughtful about the ways we give education so it’s not overwhelming, but inspires the user to take charge of their hair, their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of our environment.
  4. Be original. Hair wellness was not yet a category when we launched. We created a whole new approach to haircare and a new vernacular. This might have created confusion but as I said above beauty is about conversation and sometimes it takes confusion to create conversation.
  5. Invest time in hiring the right team. The famous phrase says, “It takes a village,” and it really does. You want the right people who also care as much about building the brand as you do.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Treat your scalp like you treat your skin.

Education around the importance of scalp health and the direct correlation to your hair health. Lifeless hair and an irritated scalp are signs of an imbalanced micro biome. When your biome is balanced, you’ll notice common hair symptoms disappear. You’ll need to wash less often. Your hair will feel stronger and look shinier. Buildup of product, sweat, sebum and dead skin cells can block the hair follicle and have an impact on the quality of hair growth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Colm and I like to say to each other once in a while (usually when things are tough), “We haven’t come this far to come this far.” Maybe that’s the truth within Act+Acre.

How can our readers follow you online?

@helenreavey

@actandacre


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