Ayla Beauty: A Serious Hidden Gem In The SF Skincare World

Beauty is tricky, we get it.

Being harassed by beauty “consultants” along the sidewalks of downtown SF isn’t the most ideal way of getting your beauty knowledge. That’s why Dara Kennedy, the owner of Ayla Beauty, is changing the knowledge base of SF beauty and beyond. Homing the most sought after products, this skin maven caters to a vast array of clientele. 

We got to sit down with Kennedy and talk her story, her vision, and the path in which Ayla hopes to take:

Give us some background on Ayla, origins and all!

In a nutshell, Ayla is a beauty retailer that goes deeper. The products we carry are remarkably effective, always healthy, and often hard to find anywhere else. The advice we share is well-researched, making the most of our connections with top experts in the beauty and wellness world. And the one-on-one guidance we offer is thoughtful and genuinely caring.

We launched online in 2011, and we now have a studio on Bush Street where you’re welcome to come in and play with the products and get to know us better.


How was Ayla concepted? Was it something that was a personal affinity over time or something you saw that the Bay Area needed?

It really grew out of this crazy passion I’ve had for a long time. Before, during, and after business school, I worked in global marketing and product development for a variety of beauty brands on the East Coast and in England (Elizabeth Arden, Soap & Glory, and Living Proof) and was thoroughly immersed in the mainstream beauty market. But I began practicing yoga on a regular basis in 2000, and as my practice grew deeper, I became really interested in the growth of the natural beauty category and its benefits for consumers as well as the environment. Many people didn’t, and still don’t, realize that a beauty product can be widely sold with shockingly little testing to ensure its safety for people and the planet alike.

As I became healthier in general and noticed how great I felt as a result, I took greater responsibility for the choices I made every day — from what I put into my body to what I put on it. Then, becoming a parent really solidified my commitment. Every day, I think about whether or not what I’m doing will support the planet that my kids will inherit, support their health, and support my own health so that I can enjoy as many years with them as possible.

I don’t think you have to go all organic, all the time. But I do think that an enormous amount of evidence supports switching to a cleaner beauty regimen overall. At Ayla, we carry a variety of brands from which we’ve picked star products that really perform—many of them present themselves as “natural” and organic, some not—but we make sure that the specific products we carry don’t contain ingredients that are clearly questionable.  Because you don’t need them, they could harm you, and they could certainly age you faster because they’re likely to trigger an adverse reaction and inflammation as a result.

I started Ayla in San Francisco partly because I thought healthy beauty was a concept that would resonate with a lot of people here — we launched in 2011, when “green beauty” wasn’t even a term that was used yet. But it was partly by chance, because my husband and I happened to move here when I was ready to start working on Ayla full time. I’m so glad that we, and Ayla, ended up here. I adore this city and I’m proud to call it home.

Give us the 411 on some of the products Ayla homes? We hear it’s quite the selection & beautiful.

Thank you! It was important to me to collect products that aren’t all the usual suspects you see everywhere else, because I was sick of seeing the same products everywhere and I wanted Ayla to be a place of unusual discoveries. We do have some marquee and marvelous green beauty brands like May Lindstrom and Vintner’s Daughter, but they’re alongside these undiscovered gems that I found in random places around the world. (Especially France, because I love visiting Paris.) Here are some of my favorites:

– Les Fleurs de Bach elixirs are wonderfully effective, certified organic Bach Flower remedies that have been made by a great little company in France. They’re almost fanatically devoted to making the purest, most effective Bach Flower remedies possible, and we’ve heard incredible success stories from our customers.

– BioRecept is a line of products made in France by a celebrated chemist and pharmacist who’s developed products for major global companies for many years. This is her passion project, and our customers absolutely love these products. They’re only available at Ayla and in Paris at Citypharma.

– Biocyte Hyaluronic Forte is an ingestible form of hyaluronic acid that miraculously seems to work wherever you need it. Our customers have told us that it plumps up pitted acne scars, makes lips look fuller, soothes eczema, and smoothes wrinkles. It’s amazing.

– MyHavtorn is a tiny company in Bollebygd, Sweden, that grows their own sea buckthorn trees and then uses those sea buckthorn berries to make products fresh to order for us. They’re bright orange, which is an indicator of how powerful they are. Their Organic Facial Oil is wonderful for rosacea.

And we hear consultations ‘one on one’ are encouraged, can you give us a step by step how Ayla approaches clients?

Dara Kennedy - Ayla's owner and founder

Dara Kennedy

Ayla’s owner and founder

We love doing personalized consultations, because each person’s skin and hair are unique and respond to products in their own way. We start by asking what you’re currently using and how you feel about it. Where we go next is different in every case, but in general, we try to focus on what you need most, what will get you the best results, and what will make you happiest. We’ve been doing this for awhile now, so we’re comfortable with this super-customized approach. I think it gets better results for everyone than the typical cookie-cutter skincare quiz.

What is one beauty tip or secret you tell everyone? Anything our readers could use for their skincare journeys?

Your skin is an organ, and it changes and shifts just like the rest of your body depending on your general health and state of mind. Instead of becoming anxious about those changes, try to relax and observe them…and then get reliable guidance to shepherd you through them. Over time, you’ll become an expert at observing and treating your own skin. And you’ll start to view it as an ally in your quest for better health, because it’ll give you clues about what’s going on in your body. That’s when skincare becomes truly empowering and incredibly interesting.

What is the future of Ayla look like? We assume all things healthy and good natured!

We’re renovating our original space at 1825 Bush Street, which I’m really excited about, especially because the brilliant Chloe Redmond Warner and her team at Redmond Aldrich are behind the new look. I love it when people come to visit us in person; having a larger space that’s open more frequently will allow us to do more with it. Starting in the fall, you can expect to see lots of cool events with some of the best beauty and wellness experts from the Bay Area as well as LA, NY, and even overseas. It will be a fun way for us to bring to life our goal to curate not only the best products, but also the best experts — making the Ayla experience even more enlightening and empowering. And, importantly, even more fun.

On more of a personal point, what are your fave places to eat, see, and do in the Bay Area. Any shout outs you’d love to give?

I love good food. I’ve given up gluten and dairy due to an annoying autoimmune condition that doesn’t play well with them, which is tragic because I could have probably lived on bread and cheese. But when I go to Little Gem, I don’t miss them at all. Their crispy roasted potatoes are to die for, and the excellent wine list is a fabulous bonus.

I’ve been a yoga devotee since 2000; wherever I roll out my yoga mat, it feels like I’m home, but I especially love Dave Larot’s classes at YogaWorks. They’re challenging and thoughtful, and they’ve really improved my practice (which took a dip after I had two kids).

Another place that feels like home to me is Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in the Presidio. I go for walks there at least once or twice a week. It’s my happy place.

And if I could pick one place to go for a night out, it would be the San Francisco Symphony. That may sound very old-fashioned, but what professional classical musicians do is astounding and beautiful and profoundly moving, and I hope there will always be enough people out there who appreciate and support it.

// 1825 Bush St, Nob Hill, aylabeauty.com

Ayla Beauty: A Serious Hidden Gem In The SF Skincare World
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