Is there asbestos in your eyeshadow? There could be. The FDA issued a warning this week after finding traces of the toxic substance in YouTube star JoJo Siwa’s new makeup kit for tweens. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more we don’t know about the safety of our beauty products, according to Beautycounter founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew who has actively lobbied Congress for better regulation of the cosmetics industry since launching her company in 2013. Read below for our conversation about her career, her commitment to clean beauty, and what we all can do to avoid compromising our health in the name of beauty…
Katie Couric: What inspired you to start Beautycounter?
Gregg Renfrew: In 2006 I watched a documentary film called An Inconvenient Truth. It was a wake-up call for me. I started connecting the dots between what was detrimental to the earth was likely also detrimental to our health. I began making sweeping changes in my own life and home – I could change out my plastic containers for glass, buy organic mattresses, clean my home with Seventh Generation products; but when it came to personal care and beauty products, I couldn’t find any that met my high standards and had ingredients that were safer for my health. I felt people were being asked to compromise their health in the name of beauty. I saw a void in the marketplace for a beauty brand with products that were incredibly high performing, but made with ingredients that were significantly safer for health.
I think a lot of folks don’t realize how little regulation there is of the beauty industry. What should people know that they might not be aware of?
We have not updated a major federal law governing the beauty industry since 1938. This law that governs the 70 billion dollar beauty industry is 1.5 pages long and allows for companies to use questionable ingredients in their products without ever having to test their effects on human health. The European Union bans or restricts close to 1,400 ingredients from their personal care industry while the US only bans 30. Lastly, we have introduced over 80,000 chemicals into commerce since WWII, of which less than 10% have ever been tested for safety on human health. I knew I had to do something to disrupt and bring meaningful change to an antiquated beauty industry.
There’s actually bipartisan support for regulation reform in the beauty industry. Do you see the opportunity then for real change?
We are optimistic for change in the beauty industry. Senators Feinstein and Collins have introduced a bi-partisan bill called the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S.276). We hear the House is set to introduce their own bill soon. Since the day we launched in 2013, we have spent a considerable amount of time lobbying in DC for more health protective laws over our own industry. Not only do we lobby ourselves, but we bring our independent Consultants with us to do so as well. Since we launched, we have held hundreds of meetings on the Hill, sent thousands of calls, emails, and texts to members of Congress, all asking for more health protective laws in the beauty industry – and they have heard us.
Your company is a certified B Corporation (the B stands for “benefit,” and it signifies a company’s equal commitment to people, the planet, and profits). With that commitment in mind, how do you determine what’s safe to use in your brand’s products?
With the lack of regulation surrounding the beauty industry, there is no federal definition of what is considered safe – so companies have to define it. Since our first product launched in 2013, we created our own high standards. Our Never List ™ is a list of over 1,500 questionable ingredients that are never used in our product formulations. We constantly learn and study new ingredients every year – and that list has grown now to close to 1700. Our Ingredient Selection Process is unparalleled in the industry – it is a 5-step rigorous process we put our ingredients through to ensure the safety of our products.
There’s been a real shift toward the idea of health and wellness in the beauty industry as a whole. What do you think is driving that change?
Consumers are increasingly aware of the lack of regulation and demanding products that are safer for their bodies, and transparency from the companies they support. There are companies like Beautycounter, who are focused on moving the market and have created new categories within the beauty industry that is moving the industry in a different direction. The clean beauty has arrived, and the future of beauty is, and will continue to be, clean beauty. There’s increased awareness around the fact that there are chemicals of concern in many of the products that are used in the consumer marketplace today. It started with the food movement and now it’s moved to beauty. People are becoming aware not only of what they put in their bodies but also on their bodies and they are demanding of their companies’ safer ingredients and radical transparency. Consumers are voting with their wallets and it’s forcing the entire industry to change. We know that clean beauty is not a fad and no longer referred to as the future, it is here and now.
Tell us about your business model. Why do you say Beautycounter is creating “economic opportunity” for women?
Beautycounter, like many other companies, believes in the direct-to-consumer relationship. We also believe in the power of storytelling. We view ourselves not only as a brand but also a movement, and as such we rely on people to power this movement. We’ve created economic opportunities for women by creating a platform upon which they can build businesses that are financially rewarding while simultaneously having significant social impact. People increasingly, whether through our independent Consultants, bloggers, vloggers, etc., are looking to social media to make purchasing decisions based on the influence of people they trust, and we’re taking advantage of that opportunity and empowering women while doing so. We also know we need to meet the consumer wherever they want to shop. So, to that end, we are available direct-to-consumer through multiple channels – our largest is our network of independent Consultants, but you can also purchase our products on Beautycounter.com or through one of our stores – in NYC and Denver.
You’ve always been ahead of the curve as an entrepreneur…what do you see as the next frontier?
Thank you, that is very flattering. I do believe there will be an increased focus on wellness – a holistic approach to health, beauty and wellbeing. Specifically though, mineral sunscreen, community driving markets, and sustainable packaging are the next frontier.
You’ve worked for some very high profile women – Martha Stewart and Susie Hilfiger. How have those experiences shaped you as a leader and as an example to other women?
While both of these women are very powerful, they are very different. They taught me the importance of leading with confidence. They taught me the importance of servant leadership where you are focused on not only your own success, but the success of those who are building a movement side by side with you.
Who inspires you?
The women and men who are building the Beautycounter movement inspire me every single day – but it’s not so much about the who, it’s more about the what. The what is taking a group of ordinary people like me, and doing extraordinary work together and realizing that it is possible to move a market when you work in unison.