Sit down with CEO of Beautycounter, Gregg Renfew, and journalist Melissa Magsaysay as they talk about what it means to run a clean beauty brand.
Join Melissa and Gregg as they reunite after their first meeting almost ten years ago, when Beautycounter was a pioneer clean beauty brand, as they discuss how far sustainable beauty has come and what the future of sustainable beauty looks like.
The Beautycounter story begins after Renfrew watched an Inconvenient Truth in 2006 and subsequently observed multiple friends and loved ones battle with cancer, fertility issues, and have children with birth defects. From these experiences, she began to question the negative effects of chemical exposure on the human body and our environment.
Renfrew says she began to change many habits to eradicate toxic chemicals from her life, “it was easy for me to change out my household cleaning products, to take my shoes off at the door, to switch to brands like Seventh Generation, and wash my floors with water and vinegar.” But when it came to skincare and color cosmetics, Renfrew notes that existing eco-friendly brands were good for the earth yet ineffective, while higher performing, mass-market products contained chemicals of concern.
“Why can’t we bring high-performing, significantly safer products into the market?”
Renfrew’s goal was bigger than getting toxic chemicals out of the products we put onto our bodies every day. She not only wanted to build a company, but a movement that was going to make our country and our world safer for everyone through education and legislation.
How Beautycounter Defines Clean Beauty
So how does Beautycounter operate as a clean beauty brand? Beautycounter throws unethical greenwashing practices by the wayside, instead taking a holistic approach to clean beauty. Renfrew states, “there is no clear definition of clean. When people talk about clean, sustainable, natural, organic… those words are extremely confusing to the consumer and not well defined.” Beautycounter’s goal is to help consumers shop smarter overall. Though they were one of the first companies to publish their “never list,” (a list of ingredients they chose to never formulate with), they wanted to ensure that they were holding themselves to the highest standard and taking a comprehensive approach to sustainable packaging, sourcing, and supply chain management, not just ingredients.
Regarding the balance between efficacy and safety, Renfew emphasizes recognizing the expectation of today’s conscious consumer while simultaneously pushing to make the product safer for human health and the health of the earth. “As consumers, we want products that are effective... Performance is incredibly important... If you are asking someone to compromise on one or the other, you are doing them a disservice.” An example that hits close to home for Renfew? Beautycounter lost a lot of time and money on a makeup line after they found heavy metals within the product. “We were devastated. [Christy Coleman] cried for months.”
Innovating Packaging for a Carbon Neutral Footprint
A recent win for Beautycounter? They recently launched a refillable, cartridge-method, clean deodorant, which Missy was quick to point out won recognition for its packaging by FAST COMPANY for its Innovation by Design Award. This product took many years to make, as creating a high-performing clean deodorant is a feat in and of itself, plus Beautycounter wanted to ensure that the packaging was carbon neutral. Renfrew notes that this was not an easy accomplishment, and took years to get right.
Fixing the Problem at its Roots: Beautycounter and the Clean Coalition
When asked about her biggest wins in her career, Renfew jokes that she has been called “relentless in her pursuit of changing the industry”. Though she has hosted over 1,000 meetings on Capitol Hill, she’s quick to remind people that she isn’t a scientist and that “a group of ordinary committed citizens can do a lot of great things.” She’s proud of the strides the state of California has taken to remove a high number of chemicals of concern from products, as well as working to protect salon workers and removing coral-eroding chemicals from sunscreen. “We don’t just fight for beauty, we fight to get toxic chemicals out of peoples’ homes, away from children, etc...” She also notes that Beautcounter is not alone, and she is proud of the work of the Clean Coalition.
So how can the consumer get involved? Renfrew revealed, “We have not updated a major federal law in the US governing this industry since 1938. The law that exists is 1.5 pages of legislation and still allows for know carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals to be put in the products we use every day, and the FDA is not screening chemicals for safety before they are put into products on the shelves and they are not able to recall products when they are known to cause harm to health.” She advises people to text or write their local legislators and get involved. She invites anyone to email beautcounter.com to join forces for change.
So what’s next for Beautycounter? By 2025 they hope to be fully recyclable, which Renfrew notes is no small feat; while they have already moved so many products to glass packaging and are moving away from virgin plastic, they still have a long way to go. They also have a new product called Hand Savior, launching soon. Renfrew also believes makeup will be back in a big way post-pandemic, and hopes to better serve the needs of women of color. “Doing great work is never easy… focus on progress over perfection because if you don't take action, you’re never going to get better. We’re just striving every day to get a little bit better for everyone.”