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Dishing With Ada

An interview with Alchimie Forever’s CEO

When she mentioned recently that her Swiss beauty company was celebrating its 20th year, I recalled that it was precisely two decades ago that I met Ada Polla. I was working at Capitol File magazine where she was introducing the launch of Alchimie Forever.  

We’re good friends who talk or text almost every day but I was still a bit curious (not about her favorite Georgetown restaurant) and thought it was a good time for Ada to share with all of us.

Incidentally, I chose for the cover, a photo taken in my Georgetown condo. One of my favorites and a wonderful memory of an all-day shoot. 

When you launched AF in 2004, and made Georgetown your home & company headquarters, how did you find DC? In the past 20 years, what changes have you seen in the beauty industry here, and also in terms of daily living?

I moved to DC in 2002 from Boston for school (Georgetown Business School), and I immediately fell in love with this city. To me, it felt like “the beginning of the South.” It had everything I loved in Boston (lots of colleges and universities, an international and well educated population, parks and a river, a feeling of being “old by US standards,”) but with nicer weather, nicer people, and a tiny bit of that Southern hospitality. I love it as much today as I did then. 

In terms of daily life, the restaurant offering has grown so much (although I still basically go to the same places, more on that below). The same has happened in the beauty industry - we now have multiple Heyday, Silver Mirror Facial Bar and Glo30 locations, we have Varnish Lane for nails, Drybar for hair, amazing dermatologists and medical spas (I can’t wait to go to PeelHaus!). Some of these beauty brands even originated in the DMV! This was unheard of when I moved here - it was just Alchimie Forever, and Bluemercury (which has since moved its HQ out of the region). I think DC is now less perceived only as a politics-only city, it has gained more breadth and depth, even to the outsider. 

Ada Polla
Ada Polla  Photo by Alchimie Forever

Your dad, Dr. Luigi Polla was the first physician to introduce laser therapy in Europe. Your family now has opened the Forever Institut in several locations, a medical spa offering a range of aesthetic services. When you visit, what’s the first thing you have done?

I started getting Botox injections in my mid 20s (my dad is a big proponent of micro doses of Botox for preventative purposes), and that is still what I get done every time I go home to Geneva (2-3 times per year). My father is the only one who has ever done my Botox.

More recently, I have started doing Picosure treatments on my décolleté area. Even though our Firming Gel for Neck and Bust was the second product we created, it took me too long to embrace the treatment of the neck and décolleté, and I have some uneven pigmentation that bothers me. And that’s really all I do! I know it’s time for me to find a Forever Institut-like place in DC, as 2-3 medical spa treatments per year is no longer sufficient… this is one of my 2024 goals. 

You travel so much for work. How do you maintain that fresh-faced look when you often spend much of your week in flight and at airports?

I love to use our Kantic Brightening Moisture Mask on the plane. I apply like a thick coat of moisturizer, and no one is the wiser. It keeps my skin hydrated and glowing. I take one EmergenC every morning in a tall glass of room-temperature water (and have done so for 15+ years). And I use the hotel treadmills even though I hate treadmills. 

In addition to staying out of the sun and using sun screen, what beauty tip is most essential to your daily routine?

The most important thing for wellness, health, and youthful skin is to reduce inflammation. While inflammation is a natural defense reaction in our body, most of us live in a state of low, chronic inflammation, which accelerates various aging processes - hence the term “inflammaging.” How do I minimize inflammation? I do not smoke. And I avoid sugars as much as possible. I drink wine, which contains sugar - but I never have soda, fruit juices unless freshly squeezed, desert or sweets, and I limit carbs, pre-made salad dressings (you’d be surprised the amount of sugar in them), most sauces, and processed foods. I try to sleep 7 hours per night, I exercise five times per week (running or SoulCycle), and I work to limit alcohol. I am just ending a 21-day no sugar cleanse (basically, lettuce and lean protein only), and am embracing  “damp January” for the rest of the year! 

What do you see as the biggest difference between how European women and American women treat their skin and their preferences in make-up?

The best way I can think to answer this is that in Europe, skin care is considered as part of heath care. We treat it like American women treat dental care. We start going to see estheticians in our teens, and do so religiously. We use quality products at home (which do not have to be expensive). We don’t wait for our skin to be “bad” to take care of it. We use more skin care products than we do skin care. 

In terms of makeup, the European (Swiss) look is still a bit more natural. More skin, less foundation. Makeup is thought of as color (eyes and lips) rather than as a tool to cover the skin. And the eyelash craze that has taken over the US has not yet reached Switzerland. 

AF’s Kantic Brightening Mask just received an award. Congratulations! Tell the readers a little about what makes this mask so special.

Yes! Our Kantic Brightening Moisture Mask just won the Think Dirty “Dirty Thinkers’ Choice Award”. It means a lot to me for two reasons. First, it recognizes the first product my father created, the “oldest” product in our brand (the first iteration of this mask was created in 1989), and the product that started it all for us as a brand. In an industry where newness and product launches are considered as necessary to keep the consumer and our industry interested, I love that the original product continues to be used, and to win awards. And second, it recognizes our continued efforts to bring effective, and clean products to the consumer. 

What are some of your favorite places to dine and shop in Georgetown?

I have been going to Peacock Cafe since I moved to Georgetown in 2002, and I will go there forever. I love the Farivars, the team, the atmosphere, the food, the service, all of it. And they have the best fries in DC! 
My husband loves Brasserie Liberté, and I love their brunch and their mimosa kit. 
Apero is a fabulous neighborhood bar, and the upstairs La Boheme a fabulous addition. My husband and I went there for our Christmas date, and the experience was fantastic in every way (decor, small space, tasting menu). 

Food & drink: I am blessed that I can walk to where I buy (most of) my groceries: Stachowskis and Scheele’s and Georgetown Wine & Spirits. This is the most European thing about living in Georgetown! 

Fashion: I still miss the Barney’s Co-op so much! Since then, I have been shopping at Rag & Bone a lot. I just discovered Ann Mashburn (I don’t know how I did not know about this boutique for so long!), I am excited to start shopping there as well. And every time I walk on Wisconsin Avenue I tell myself I should stop in Wolford and Veronica Beard, but then I remember my resolution to wear everything in my closet at least once before buying new clothes. If I had a magic wand, I would bring back the Nike store. And I would love an indie book store in Georgetown. 

Accessories: I love SCOUT (and one of my best friends from business schools works with the brand).