Everything You Need to Know About Beautycounter (Now in Canada!)

Founder Gregg Renfrew chats about her beauty line that puts safety first.
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Michelle Villett
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Founder Gregg Renfrew chats about her beauty line that puts safety first.
Beautycounter Gregg Renfrew

Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew.

If you're into natural beauty, then you've probably heard the buzz about Beautycounter, a California-based start-up selling non-toxic makeup, hair, baby and skincare products. Ever since the brand launched in the States in 2013, it's been on my radar (and I've been periodically clicking around their website, wishing I had a US shipping address).

But not anymore, because as of last week, Beautycounter is available in Canada. It just got a lot easier to implement a safer personal care regimen, like I outlined here.

Since healthy beauty is such an important part of this blog, and my own personal values, I caught up with founder Gregg Renfrew to find out what Beautycounter is all about. A little background on Gregg: she's a mother of three, a serial entrepreneur (she sold her bridal registry company to Martha Stewart Living and has consulted for Intermix and Jessica Alba) and is extremely passionate about cosmetic safety. Prepare to be inspired...

Plus! To see behind the scenes of this morning's media event, the products in action AND my first impressions, add @Beauty_Editor on Snapchat. But be quick, the snaps will delete by about midday on Wednesday, I think! 

Here's my chat with Gregg:

What is Beautycounter all about?

Beautycounter launched three years ago in the US. Our goal was to create a business that got products into the marketplace that are high-performing and significantly safer for your health. We believe that we are the leader in safe personal care, beauty and now baby products as well. 

The assumption is always that because it's safer, it doesn’t perform. I think we are a true testament that you can have beautiful, luxurious products. We set out feeling that women were always being asked to compromise on either efficacy or safety, and we're saying it doesn't need to be that way. 

Beautycounter Sugar Body Scrub in Lemongrass

Beautycounter Sugar Body Scrub in Lemongrass.

Was there a personal "aha" moment that inspired you to start a beauty company?

There was an "aha" moment for me in terms of becoming aware of our exposure to toxic chemicals. The beginning started when I watched the documentary film called 'An Inconvenient Truth'. That was about global warming, obviously, not specifically about skincare or beauty products. But it started this journey to remove toxins from my home, from my body, from my family. Over a period of time, as I learned more and more, I realized that one of the ways in which we're exposed to toxic chemicals is through our skincare and cosmetics. 

An Inconvenient Truth

The 2006 film 'An Inconvenient Truth'.

The traditional department store brands that we've all known and loved are highly effective, chic, sexy, on-trend—and they are filled with all these chemicals that are banned elsewhere. When I say "elsewhere," I mean the EU, for example, has banned 1,400 ingredients from all personal care products. The United States has only banned 11. And Canada has banned somewhere between 600 and 700. While you're much further ahead than the US, you're still behind where the EU is.

So I could find all these products that had all those ingredients in them, and I really didn't want those—but I loved them because they worked, and I really thought they looked good. At the other end of the spectrum was a bunch of products that were natural, very eco and green, but they didn't work very well, they didn't smell very good and they weren't packaged in a way that I thought was interesting and aspirational. 

From 2011 to 2013, I spent a little over two years really putting together our business strategy, helping to formulate products and partnering with other people. I've been working on this full-time for more than five years, but we've been in business for three. It all really began from watching 'An Inconvenient Truth' back in 2006.

Beautycounter Jars

Beautycounter's chic packaging.

What is unique about Beautycounter's mission?

First and foremost, Beautycounter is a company that is dedicated to educating and increasing awareness around an issue we think is incredibly important: the exposure to toxic chemicals through skincare and cosmetic products. Of course, we're in the business of selling products, but we're also in the business of educating. If people have access to information, they're going to make better and more informed choices. 

Beautycounter Christy Coleman

Christy Coleman, celebrity makeup artist and head of innovation at Beautycounter.

Secondly, we aim to provide solutions through the line of products we've created. In the US, we've shipped out almost 2.5 million products over the last three years and have won "best of beauty" awards. Christy Coleman [Beautycounter's head of innovation] is an absolute perfectionist and felt strongly that if she couldn't use our products in her day job as a leading celebrity makeup artist, they wouldn't be good enough. Performance was really important to us, but equally important was safety. 

The reason why I say "significantly safer" is because we don't have all the answers. We are about progress, not perfection. We are doing the best job we can with the information that is available today, the 25 years of research that has been compiled through non-profit organizations, doctors and leading researchers. There are a lot of data gaps out there. 

We are advocates for cosmetic reform—hoping that not only our country, the United States, but all countries will have health-protective laws governing all citizens so they will have access to safe products.

How are your products safer?

We believe we've created the most health-protective ingredient screening process in the United States. Although we can't prove it, we would argue that it is the most health-protective screening process in the world.

We started with the approximately 1,400 ingredients that have either been banned or restricted in the EU, and we banned all of those. Then we took another 100 ingredients that we knew were either linked to health issues or could potentially be linked to health issues, and we added those on top. So we have banned 1,500 ingredients from all of our products. Those are any ingredients that we think can be linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity or endocrine disruption. 

In terms of how we make our products, we work with an internal product development team and we have had chemists and other scientific researchers in our offices. But we also work with outside contract manufacturers and chemists. 

Do you use all-natural ingredients?

To be clear, we're not 100 percent natural. We are about 80 percent natural or naturally-derived. We are very focused on safety. We know that there are some man-made ingredients that are safe for your health, and there are some naturally-occurring ingredients, like lead and arsenic, that are not safe for your health. Safety is our platform, rather than natural or organic.

Beautycounter Gregg Renfrew

Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew.

What impact do you think you've made so far?

We've already been able to move the market, just from the sheer volume of products we've sold. But I think it's also our work in Washington, knowing that we've been instrumental in helping pass legislation in the States. For example, last fall, we helped ban 56 of the most toxic chemicals from all children's products—not just personal care and cosmetics products, but all products. We've been working tirelessly in Washington to effect change, and I think they are listening to us. Over the weekend, we sent 15,000 plus emails to Congress demanding cosmetic reform. 

Many companies are following our lead. We've inspired other companies to take our Never List [ingredients you will never find in Beautycounter products] and formulate around it. Some larger companies are working with us to understand how we've been able to achieve the results we've had. 

Beautycounter Tint Skin, Retractable Brush, and Mattifying Skin Finishing Powder

Beautycounter makeup.

Will anything be different about Beautycounter in Canada?

Our intent is to be respectful of the Canadian marketplace; to work with non-profit organizations that are focused on Canada, not the US; and to increase awareness and mobilize a large group of women and men around our cause. We are launching in both French and English, which is really important to us—to be for all Canadians, and not just a segment of the population. 

Beautycounter Nourishing Rosewater Mist

Beautycounter Nourishing Rosewater Mist.

How many products will be available here?

We are launching with 42 products, including about 17 of our 20 bestsellers, with a whole bunch more coming. We have not been able to launch sunscreen yet, because you have more restrictions around sunscreen, so it's going to take us longer to get that product into the market in Canada. 

Where can people buy the products?

We call ourselves direct retail, which means we sell direct to consumers through multiple channels. The largest channel is our network of independent consultants. We also have our products on Beautycounter.com and through specific retail partnerships, which have included J. Crew in the US. While we have not yet announced the launch of a retail partnership in Canada, you can rest assured that we will. 

Beautycounter Mattifying Powder

Beautycounter Mattifying Powder.

Why do you use independent consultants, similar to Avon?

Our story is best told person to person. If you think about traditional department stores and specialty stores, the story of safe ingredients was not going to be told perfectly well at the point of sale in those stores. Because one, you've got the leading cosmetic manufacturers who control the shelf space, and two, most of the people are focused on selling products. We see ourselves as educators more than anything, so we really wanted the opportunity to share our story person to person. As women, we share information that we think is relevant with the people we love and care about—whether it's about getting married or having a baby or going through health issues—and we turn to our friends, not companies or stores. 

We also saw what was happening on a macro level. If you look at the world today, we are all sharing information. You know this very well—bloggers and other influencers are able to use their belief systems, networks and personal influence to drive content and commerce. 

We are also allowing people to build businesses on a platform that's been created to allow entrepreneurism without all the risks—women who are looking for an economic opportunity, but want flexibility in their lives. Whether that's the youngest generation, who don't want nine-to-five jobs, or stay-at-home moms who want to make an independent income, we believe it's an incredible opportunity to share a message and build a successful business. We believe it is the way of the future.

Can you also bypass talking to a consultant and just buy direct through the website?

Yes, you can absolutely just go to Beautycounter.com and we'll be thrilled.

Beautycounter Rejuvenating Night Cream

Beautycounter Rejuvenating Night Cream.

Which products do you think will be a hit in Canada?

In the US, our daily products, like our daily cleanser, body lotion, face oil and cleansing balm, have been extremely successful for us. My guess is that Canadians will probably buy similar products. From the times I've been in Canada, it feels like a natural look is more prevalent, and our colour cosmetics really lend themselves well to that type of look.

What are your personal favourite products?

I am addicted to using our cleansing balm. I'm in a business where I have to travel all the time and I love that it's solid, so you can take it in your carry-on. It leaves your skin feeling very dewy. When your skin is exceptionally dry, you can use it as a treatment at night. It's a multi-purpose cleaning balm and treatment.

Beautycounter Cleansing Balm

Beautycounter Cleansing Balm.

I love our lip sheer. I wear it every single day of my life; day and night. 

Beautycounter Lip Sheer

Beautycounter Lip Sheer.

I absolutely love our Radiance Firming Complex serum.

Beautycounter Radiance Firming Complex

Beautycounter Radiance Firming Complex.

I love our everyday lotion from our essentials collection.

Beautycounter Hydrate Everyday Body Lotion

Beautycounter Hydrate Everyday Body Lotion.

I really like the cream blushers, too, but we're not launching those until later in the spring. 

Beautycounter Color Pinch Cream Blusher

Beautycounter Color Pinch Cream Blusher.

I'm also obsessed with Tint Skin. I use the Sand colour every single day. It's like a tinted moisturizer, but it has the ability to layer, to be more like a real foundation if someone is looking for more coverage. 

Beautycounter Tint Skin Hydrating Foundation

Beautycounter Tint Skin Hydrating Foundation.

The retractable brush I can't live without, because it allows you to put tinted moisturizer on really easily. For someone who has two or three minutes in the morning, it's just the perfect thing for me from an application standpoint. 

Beautycounter Retractable Foundation Brush

Beautycounter Retractable Foundation Brush.

Which ingredients are most important to avoid?

I always try to avoid fragrance. It is one of the worst offenders because under international IP law, companies are not required to list the ingredients that go into their fragrances. Some of the worst ingredients, including toxic chemicals called phthalates, are used in perfumes because it helps them bind to your body or your hair. Fragrance is something that I avoid at all costs.

Within classes of chemicals, I really try to avoid parabens and phthalates. But there are many. A lot of those ingredients that I would never want on my body ever are listed on our Never List, which is downloadable for everyone.

What's the best way to get educated about non-toxic beauty?

As a company focused on education, our site does give a lot of facts about what's going on out there. In the US, there is a non-profit organization called the Environmental Working Group, and they spend a lot of time through their Skin Deep Database trying to help people understand what's going on. Those are great resources. Specifically around cosmetics, there's a book called 'Not Just a Pretty Face' by Stacy Malkan that I found to be useful. 

Not Just a Pretty Face

'Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry' by Stacy Malkan.


Do you predict the beauty industry will move away from "natural" to more of a safety focus?

It used to be this eco thing, but the industry term that is being more widely used now is "clean," which is not about being green. It's about ingredients that are non-toxic, but are not necessarily 100 percent natural. As a company, we like natural and organic ingredients, but we also believe that those are overused terms and often not met with legitimacy in the marketplace because there's no regulation. For us, it's really, "Are the products safe for your health?"

Beautycounter Body Oil Rosemary Citrus

Beautycounter Body Oil in Citrus Rosemary.

How do you hope to change the beauty industry in the future?

I always say this isn't a women's health issue, this isn't an American health issue—this is a global health issue. More than 85,000 chemicals have been introduced into commerce since World War II and almost 90 percent of those ingredients have never been tested for safety on human health. Until all countries have more health-protective laws, the average citizen will still be exposed to toxic chemicals unnecessarily, and we think that's unacceptable. Change is necessary regardless of what country you live in. It's important for the health of the world. Your skin is your largest organ and your health is your greatest asset. We deserve safe products.

We will not rest until we see a day where our children, your children and future generations of children don’t have to worry about reading the labels of the products they are putting on their bodies every single day—and they can’t even believe we ever had to. We are creating a movement for safer beauty. Just like someone advocated for seat belts, and car seats for infants, and no smoking on airplanes, we can be that catalyst for change. 

Where to buy: Beautycounter.com

Have you checked out Beautycounter yet? 
What do you think?