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W3ll People Co-Founder on Starting a Natural Makeup Line, Best Products and More - Beautyeditor

W3ll People's Co-Founder on Starting a Natural Makeup Line (and the Products You Should Try)

Get to know this clean cosmetics brand.
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W3ll People

What do you get when an elite makeup artist teams up with a dermatologist and an eco-entrepreneur?

You get W3ll People (pronounced "Well People"), one of the hottest indie cosmetic lines—that just so happens to be all-natural!

Not that you'd guess without looking at the labels. Founded a decade ago by three friends, the brand's ethos isn't just about safe products with clean ingredients. 

First and foremost, it's about performance. So that's why you'll find the highest-quality finishes, flawless coverage and long-wearing pigments, just like you would in any mainstream luxury line. It's quite a feat, considering they don't use:

  • Silicones
  • Petrochemicals
  • Artificial preservatives
  • GMOs
  • Parabens
  • Dyes
  • Fragrance
  • Sulfates
  • Glycols
  • Nanoparticles

This is all right up my alley, so I obviously jumped at the chance to meet one of the co-founders, Shirley Pinkson, at The Detox Market (which carries the line, among other retailers).

W3ll People

With W3ll People co-founder Shirley Pinkson at The Detox Market.

Shirley is the makeup pro in the trio, and you can see she worked a little magic on me during our chat (I'm wearing this and this!).

Read on to find out: 

  • How the brand came to be
  • The best things to try from the line
  • Tips for working with their mineral powder foundation (one of my top picks!)
  • New products and the future direction for the brand

What is W3ll People about, in a nutshell?

High-performing natural cosmetics. We lead everything we do by performance, not by the ingredients story. 

Funny you say that, because when I discovered your brand a few years ago, my first thought was, "you'd never guess it was natural!" 

Oh, thank you! That's my goal. That is what we strive for!

Who is the W3ll People woman?

You! She's like you. Our customer is anywhere from 25 to 45 years old. Even older, but that's kind of our core age group. We really reach out to everybody, but I would say our sweet spot is in the 30 to 35 range.

How would you describe the W3ll People aesthetic?

We're kind of "less is more." Just creating that very clean, minimalist, healthy, natural beauty. Like a no-makeup makeup look. 

The key is to create a beautiful, glowing complexion, which just tends to be harder. But once you have that mastered, the sky is the limit.

Agreed—although I know some people love an "Instagram" face!

It's a lot. Especially the younger generations, they really go for the heavy makeup. But I do think from a complexion standpoint, as that twentysomething goes into her thirties... a 30-year-old doesn't want to do those looks!

She doesn't have time!

Exactly. I think we aspire more towards, like, the Gwyneth Paltrows out there. You want to look the best you can be—healthy and radiant. The twentysomething, they do makeup for fun. It's still a fashion accessory to them, not an everyday thing. That's why you, me, we don't do those things anymore. We don't have the time.

We're lucky if we can leave the house with eyeshadow on.

We don't even have time to think about it, and plan out the look.

I think skincare also starts to become more important as you get older. For me, that means choosing makeup that is good for my skin, not just wearing what's trendy.

I tell women, "Sure, wear your chemical foundation for a special occasion," like when I do weddings. "You want to feel safe and you know it works. But then afterwards, let's do natural day to day." It's all about balance. 

But the good news is, you can find just as good products out there!

Like your line! How did you get started?

I was an educator for NARS Cosmetics. I was one of the original six members of their corporate team, so I started out wearing many hats. All of us came from the bottom up. 

Were you a makeup artist before that?

We were all makeup artists. Honestly, it came from excelling within the company, from the counter level. So when we performed, exceeded our goals and made a difference, we were quickly promoted into this core corporate team.

At the end of my tenure there, I was an educator and global trainer for them. I loved it.

What was it like to work with François Nars?

It was great. From an artist's perspective, he is über-talented, so I learned so much. We all worked under him and we all were trained to a degree with him.

What was your path from NARS to W3ll People?

Two years.

That's fast!

Yeah, it was really fast. Well, I was working on this while I was with NARS, to be honest. On the DL, like on the weekends. That took about two years, and then I left NARS.

I know you have two co-founders, hence the "3" in W3ll People. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Yes, there are two other founders behind the brand. The best part is we all went to college together, so we knew each other from before, from our freshman year in college.

W3ll People founders

W3ll People founders Shirley Pinkson, James Walker and Dr. Renée Snyder.

There's James Walker, and he's a self-proclaimed tree hugger. By trade he's a marketer. What James does is manage the social responsibility by working with partners like EWG [the Environmental Working Group]. We're an EWG-verified brand, which means they've vetted the products, and we put their symbol on our boxes. That tells you this is safe.

Then there's Dr. Renée Snyder, who's a cosmetic dermatologist. She does the deep dive on the ingredients and vets and verifies everything we use in our cosmetics.

I manage product development. 

Coming from NARS, were you always secretly interested in natural products? Or did you have an "aha" moment that changed your thinking?

It was kind of like an epiphany and a curiosity all at the same time. A lot of it started with my customers asking me about ingredients, and we couldn't answer any of those questions.

I started to flip over my makeup boxes. Nobody ever read ingredients. And so when I started reading them, I was kind of like, pardon my French, but "Holy shit, what is this?"

I started looking things up, and I didn't like what I found. The problem was, there was no other choice at that time. 

When was this?

This was 12 years ago. We opened our doors in 2008.

I didn't realize you had a store.

We have two stores! They're in Austin, Texas, and that's where we started off before we distributed to great places like The Detox Market.

We just grew from there. To this day, we sell lots of other brands. It's like, we give 'em this piece of the pie [the makeup], but they also need to put together the rest [of their routine].

W3ll People

These W3ll People products perform just like conventional cosmetics.

Was it hard at first, trying to formulate with natural ingredients?

I knew what I wanted, I just wasn't sure how to get there. By working with really good chemists, what I found was they really wanted to learn.

So natural was a new challenge for them?

It was a new challenge to make high-performing natural because a lot of brands [are mainly focused on] the ingredients. Okay, yes, we are here to do something good, but we need to make sure it works.

So, I started with performance. I would literally bring a conventional piece of cosmetics and say, "I want this in a safe formula. But I want it to move, breathe, look and feel exactly the same."

I know you recently reformulated some of your products. Did you change the entire line, or just certain things?

Not the whole line, but a good portion of it. To meet the consumer demand, essentially.

Let's talk about your mineral powder foundation. I was excited that you took out the titanium dioxide. Can you tell us more about that?

Our former formula of Altruist Foundation Powder had titanium dioxide in it. In our case, we used it as a pigment. 

From a health perspective, it was perfectly healthy, but I think people have become really alarmed with titanium dioxide. The molecule was not in the micronized format—it was huge. So it wouldn't penetrate or get into your lungs.

Even if you inhaled it?

Especially if you inhaled. Using a nano-sized particle of titanium dioxide isn't good for you because when you inhale it, it goes into the bloodstream. Even when you're using it on the skin, it penetrates the skin.

But ours was big. It wouldn't have penetrated. But we still went ahead and removed it. The fact of the matter is, if we can make it better and get it out of there, let's do it. And so we did that.

What did you replace the titanium dioxide with?

Just straight up zinc oxide. It's non-micronized. There's enough zinc oxide in that puppy to give you an SPF of 15 every day. And that's been tested, so we know that for a fact.

That's great. It seems like many brands don't really try to innovate with all-natural ingredients—they just claim "it can't be done" for whatever reason.

No, and maybe it takes longer. We were out of stock on this product for a long time. So there's the price you pay. But we're proving that we can do it!

What's the best way to use a mineral powder foundation? I think a lot of people, including myself, have had mixed results with Bare Minerals.

It can look like too much, yeah.

I just found it looked dry and aging. Is that an application thing or the product itself?

It's a little bit of both. If the product is heavy and thick and not finely-milled, it can do that. Ours is super-, super-fine. It's also intended to give you light to medium coverage. You can build it and get more from it, but in general, light to medium.

How should you prep your skin before powder foundation?

I like to put moisturizer on, and then when then skin is like, not completely dry, but not too moist, then I like to put the Altruist on. Just so it has something to grab onto. 

If your skin's too dry, then any powder will end up grabbing onto little imperfections or dry patches. So just a few seconds after moisturizer, it's ready to roll.

Is it best to apply it with a kabuki-type brush?

I would always use a kabuki. I would pick up about a silver-dollar amount and swirl it in the cap. That's super-important. You don't want to see visible powder on the surface of the brush, because the first place you touch is where all the powder will get deposited, right? This way, you can apply a little bit at a time.

I know some brands recommend you always set your mineral powder with a mist. Is that necessary?

No. I think if your skin is really dry, or if you feel like you just look overly powdered, you can set with a mist. But it's not a necessity.

I always like it, because I think a facial spray immediately takes you from "I just did my makeup" to an "I've had my makeup on for an hour" kind of look.

Yeah, lived-in.

Exactly!

You also have a cream stick foundation. Has that been reformulated as well?

Yes. We reformulated our Narcissist Foundation Stick and brought the organic content from 30 percent up to 70 percent. 

We also added crushed freshwater pearl to both the cream stick and the powder foundation

It's in the Realist Invisible Setting Powder and the Bio Brightener Invisible Powder, too.

What does the freshwater pearl do?

We wanted to marry skincare benefits and colour together. It has a visual benefit of giving a nice little smoke-and-mirrors effect, but it's also a collagen-boosting ingredient. It's been really prevalent in Japanese skincare. 

Are the foundations your bestselling products?

Number one is our mascara.

The Bio Correct Multi-Action Concealer is our number two-selling product. It is a Big Daddy concealer.

Do you mean full coverage?

It is. So it's meant for the eye area, or any kind of imperfection you want to cover. See how little I put on my hand? And how far it goes?

I've been looking for something like that, because it's the one thing I haven't been able to find in a natural formula!

It is amazing. It has caffeine and peptides in it to help with anti-aging. You can use it for pimples as well. I dab a little bit of the powder over it and it sets down really nicely. 

Another biggie that's climbing the ranks is our new liquid liner

That's also hard to find in a natural formula.

It has rosemary and eyebright in it, which is really healing for the eye area. You can get a really fine line, a gorgeous wing. I just love a nice tight line on the eye. I think it really defines the eye. 

Do you still have eyeshadows?

We don't have the eyeshadows anymore, but I am working on eyeshadow palettes. It's not that the eyeshadows didn't sell, but they were a loose format. That's hard for you to travel with and get around with. People loved them, but they were just high-maintenance. So I'm moving into doing eyeshadow quads, that you can take with you on the go.

That's great, because there haven't been many palettes available with natural ingredients.

We've really gotten into the palette game. We created a natural contour palette with your highlighter and your contour, or bronzing product, in one. These are creams. 

They're sold separately as well, in sticks, and are probably our number four-selling product. 

We haven't talked about lips and cheeks. I think the colour sticks are my favourite thing you make.

Thank you! Yes, they're for eyes, cheeks and lips. 

And then we have the Nudist Lip Butters. These guys are your lip shines. They're tinted and it's high-duration, low-commitment colour.

Is everything meant to be applied with fingers or brushes?

I do fingers. I sell a brush that you can use with creams, but I like using my hands. You really work it in; you just feel like you have more control and it warms up the product.

What products do you have coming up?

We just launched our tinted moisturizers. They're an SPF 30. They go on like a dream and they do have coverage. They're gorgeous.

And we are working on pressed foundation powders. It will be about the same level of coverage as the Altruist powder, but more portable, so you're not having to worry about carrying around a loose powder. The finish is about the same.

Where do you want to take W3ll People in the future?

We're really known for our basic products, but we want to build our brand to be a hybrid makeup brand—marrying skincare benefits and colour together.

That's why products have been remastered to contain the freshwater pearl. It's an ingredient you'll see throughout the brand. We think it's beautiful for the skin; super-healthy. We also use an algae complex, which is a skin brightener, plus green tea and chamomile. 

So we're bringing in really healthy ingredients that make a difference in your skin!

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