Wil Baker, left and Dave Karlak, right, founders of Max Green Alchemy
Max Green Alchemy wants to prove that consumers need not compromise performance when they buy natural and organic styling products.
Scalp Rescue Texture Paste, Scalp Rescue Sculpting Gel, Scalp Rescue Styling Gel and Scalp Rescue Pomade are designed to provide the latest looks without parabens, PVP, silicones, wax or other synthetic additives. Instead, they combine plant-derived ingredients with traditional botanical extracts, vitamins and essential oils.
Because of this emphasis on performance, the company's products have developed quite a following in the curly world.
"We love Max Green Alchemy for curly hair because it doesn't feel like there's anything in the hair, but it gives good curl definition," says Nicole Lengerich, a stylist at Dio Salon & Spa in Colorado Springs who specializes in curly hair. "My curlies love Styling Gel. I think it's so good that they'd use it even if it wasn't natural."
San Francisco-based Max Green Alchemy got its start in 2004 when Wil Baker, whose background is in finance, teamed up with David Karlak, who has a marketing background. Both had an interest in natural products and believed there was a need for products that "respect consumers' internal and external environments without sacrificing effectiveness."
The name "Max Green," says Baker, is a philosophy which reflects the duo's vision.
"Alchemy is what we do as a company," Baker says.
"We saw a gap in the market was for natural products that were still sensual," says Baker, who telecommutes from England. "We wanted people to have an experience when they used them, and be products they would use even if they weren't into natural ingredients."
The cosmetics, hair and skin care industries use more than 7,000 ingredients derived from natural or synthetic sources. As many as one in seven of these have harmful or toxic effects on the skin or body, ranging from minor skin irritation or contact dermatitis to carcinogenic implications, Baker says.
Baker and Karlak spent a year developing Max Alchemy's first four products: Skin Rescue Cream, Scalp Rescue Shampoo and Conditioner and Chap Defense Lip Balm. The line launched in early 2005 at the Natural Products Expo, and was picked up by Whole Foods Market within half an hour.
"It was an indication they liked what they saw," Baker says.
Whole Foods helped the fledgling company set up a distribution network, and it was "like a rolling snowball," Baker says. Today, Max Green Alchemy products are sold at 250 resellers in the United States.
Products have been added based on customer demand. The line has grown to include lotions, cleansers, bath products and hand and foot care. Male-oriented shaving products currently are on the drawing board.
"We ask people what they'd like us to bring them," Baker says. "That really steers our thought processes about what we'd like to develop next. The sky's the limit!"
The styling products were developed because of the gap that existed for effective natural styling products that perform like their chemical-laden cousins. Many "natural" products rely on petrochemicals to provide hold. Texture Paste is designed to add define and detail to chunky styles; Styling Gel is a soft hold gel; Pomade adds shine and moisture and Sculpting Gel is a strong-hold, humidity-resistant gel.
"There aren't many good natural styling products out there," says Baker. "We thought we could do better. We've taken natural styling products to the next level."
The company has strictly complied with the Food & Drug Administration's standards, rather than cutting corners, Baker says. The company sources as many organic ingredients as possible. The ingredient panels on products, in literature and on the site specify which ingredients are organic or are sustainably wildcrafted.
"Since we source organic ingredients from global suppliers, ingredients meet various organic certification standards," Baker says. "We hope that a comprehensive organic certification scheme will emerge. However, our company mission is to provide the finest quality personal skin care products using ingredients of 100 percent plant origin."
"We get a lot of calls about ingredients, and we've developed a reputation for our knowledge about the subject," Baker says.
The company has been lauded by natural living publications such as Vegetarian Journal, Herb Companion, Skin Deep and Organic.org. In 2008, the company won the Best Cruelty-Free Personal Product award from PETA for its Scalp Rescue Shampoo. The PETA Proggy (for progress) awards recognize animal-friendly achievements in commerce and culture on behalf of their members and supporters.
"By making you aware of protection issues and providing you with accessible alternatives to products that hurt animals, Max Green Alchemy is contributing to a more compassionate and humane way to live," says Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA. "Their innovative and progressive contribution sets the gold standard for other companies to emulate, and we applaud them for their foresight, initiative, creativity and kindness."
Max Green Alchemy also has received recognition from mainstream beauty publications such as Elle, which this month named the company's Scalp Rescue Conditioner as the best "green conditioner."
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