Khalyla Kuhn Is A Spearfisherwoman — And A Beach-Beauty Queen

The free diver, podcaster, and Ebb Ocean Club founder shares her best water-ready beauty tips.

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These days, a lot of beauty-brand founders are either already multihyphenates or become one upon their company launch. But “competitive swimmer-turned-free diver and podcaster” is certainly one of the more unique combinations.

This title describes the inimitable Khalyla Kuhn, who’s perhaps best known for co-hosting the weekly pop-culture podcast Trash Tuesday with Esther Povitsky (before that, she started the Tigerbelly podcast with her then-boyfriend Bobby Lee). Collectively, her streams reach 2 million subscribers and have over 15 million views and listens across platforms monthly. But besides spending a lot of time behind a microphone, she’s also likely to be found in the ocean. After decades of five- to seven-hour days in the water, though, Kuhn sought to create hair care products that could meet her specific hair needs — and fit her reef-safe-ingredient-only mentality. Ebb Ocean Club is now here, in all its reef-safe, cruelty-free, biodegradable, detangling, and moisturizing power.

Ahead, NYLON talks with Kuhn about finding a meditative state in the water, her new hair care products, and her latest hobby: spearfishing.

Courtesy of Khalyla Kuhn

When did you first start swimming?

I was born and raised in the Philippines and learned to swim when I was 3 years old. I started swimming competitively at the age of 6, and by the time I was 10, I was part of the Philippines National Team. At age 12, I was the youngest to compete in the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia — which was terrifying for me. My whole life revolved around competitive swimming, and that’s kind of all I did as a kid. Swimming is a very regimented sport. When I think about my life as a young swimmer, I don't always think of it fondly. Even the smell of chlorine brings me back.

As you grew up, how did you continue with the sport?

I came to the United States at 15 years old, and then I swam competitively in high school. In the public school system, where you live determines where you go to school. [My sister and I] lied about where we lived initially so we could go to the school with a better swim team. We were found out and eventually zoned to Blair High School, which hadn’t had a swim team before. But my sister and I eventually won the California State Championships for them back to back while we were at the school. From there, I got a full ride to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

What role does swimming play in your life now?

I went back into free diving out of necessity. Full transparency, I come from a very traumatic household and there was really only so much that talk therapy did for me. For me, being in the water is even more than meditative. It's the only place where I have full control of my breath, it feels like my heart slows down, I feel very focused, and the background noise fades into the recesses. It has been such a pivotal part of my mental health journey.

I don't know why the water does that for me. Maybe it is because swimming was such a big part of my younger life, I sort of segued back into free diving. Then, only a couple years ago, when I went through a terrible breakup, I got into spearfishing and have been doing it ever since. The water is the one place where I feel the most healed. I never get out of the ocean feeling worse.

I need to know more about free diving and spearfishing.

Usually people scuba dive, right? That's how they take the lay of the underwater land and get to see coral and fish. I do that, I just don't use a tank, I go down there on my own breath. As for spearfishing, now I have a speargun — it’s basically just bands with a trigger mechanism — that I take to the bottom of the ocean and I shoot fish this way.

What’s your biggest beauty concern when it comes to getting in a pool or the ocean?

When you’re in the pool, you're up against the chlorinated water and that can be very harsh. With the ocean, there’s obviously the salt, there’s water pollution, and there’s the mechanical tangling from the movement of the waves working on your hair. I find that the ocean is actually a lot harder for me to manage, because I'm not necessarily wearing a swim cap and I’m at the mercy of the movement.

“I never get out of the ocean feeling worse.”

When you swam competitively, what would you do to prep your hair and skin before a meet?

Admittedly, at the time when I was competing, I was sort of like, “This will do.” My hair was already so messed up from the chlorine. I remember there was this one shampoo that was specific for removing the greenness from your hair, called Ultra Swim. But I mostly only wore a swim cap and paid no regard to my skin and my hair. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake because so many of my skin and hair woes come from years of chlorine exposure.

What’s your beauty routine before you get in the water now?

Now, I'm so careful. I really try to really minimize the things I'm putting back into the ocean. That’s actually how Ebb Ocean Club came about. The idea came to me because I was like, “Well, I've been very careful about the stuff on my skin, but there’s still a sh*t load of product that I’ve been putting on my hair.”

An ideal situation going into the water now includes SPF; I use a brand called All Good, which is reef-friendly. I'll put it on my face and body, but I usually have a wetsuit on, so that part is generally protected. My lip balm also has to have SPF, because, I mean, I have a pretty sizable mouth. Right now I’m using the Supergoop Lipscreen Shine SPF 40.

Believe it or not, nothing really works to keep my hair from tangling. I have tried ponytails, I have tried braids, but my hair is just too thin, it always tangles. I put the Ebb Detangling Tonic Spray in my hair preventatively to minimize it and get some level of protection from the elements. I put my hair in a low bun and I try to wear the hood of the wetsuit, but it’s only like that until you're at the mercy of the waves.

What’s your post-dive beauty routine?

The first thing I do when I get out of the water is rinse off. I bring my own little portable shower or use a beach shower, if that's available. The one product that has been so moisturizing for my face is the Circumference Pure Balancing Botanical Face Oil. The scent is really soothing post-dive and a really nice contrast to the salty, kind of crusty ocean vibes.

Then, I use the Tonic Spray the same way I did before I got in, from roots to tips, and I slowly brush that out. Once I get home, I rinse it out and wash with the Ebb Detangling Shampoo and Conditioner. If I have an extra-deep tangle, I go straight for the Deep Treatment Repair Mask and keep that on for 10 minutes before working it out slowly.

What’s your skin care routine like when you’re not free diving?

I have eczema and persnickety skin, so unfortunately, I cannot go heavy on retinol or basically anything. I use the Youth To The People Superfood facial cleanser and the Tatcha Dewy Skin Cream. I am very underwhelming in that way.

Do you even have a daily makeup routine?

I like to think of myself as a double agent because I have to be in front of the camera [to record the podcast]. So on the days I film, I do beat the face a little bit. I don't get hair and makeup done professionally for any of my shows or anything. It's podcasting — we wear sweatpants and show up as ourselves.

I wear the Fenty Blurring Skin Tint as a base. There’s the Fenty bronzer and my most recent favorite product has been the Nars Dolce Vita Liquid Blush. For eyes, I use Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, and the Lancôme Lash Idôle Mascara is the one I’m using now. Then, I usually just do ChapStick. That's it.

But, you're right — if I'm going for a dive, I'm always going with a bare face.