Gregg Renfrew – wife, mom, retail titan and entrepreneur – has a busy life, but a simple mission: get safe products in the hands of everyone.  After discovering that most of the personal care products on the market are unregulated and contain dozens of toxic chemicals that have been banned in other countries, she knew something had to change. Enter Beautycounter, her beauty brainchild devoted to progress. 

Beautycounter is a unique direct-to-consumer business model designed to educate on the effects of harmful skincare ingredients while offering people the ability to do well by doing good.  Since its inception 3 years ago, the company has managed to engage more than 13,000 consultants in the United States, mostly women, who share Beautycounter’s bold vision to place ingredient transparency at the forefront of beauty. Their advocacy work has even reached Washington D.C., where Gregg and her team demanded more stringent regulations on the cosmetic and personal care industry.

A trailblazing visionary and tireless leader, it’s no surprise that Gregg has built a powerful team around her. Two women in particular play a strong role in creating the brand experience – Mia Davis, Head of Environment, Health & Safety and Christy Coleman, Head of Innovation.  Mia, formerly the Organizing Director at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is in charge of ingredient research, sourcing and safety.  Christy is a celebrated celebrity makeup artist who is in charge of product concept, formulation and performance.  They collaborate to source ingredients and test formulations so that women don’t need to trade their health for sophisticated, luxurious beauty. 

Beautycounter Celebrity Makeup Artist, Christy Coleman
Christy Coleman
Mia Davis, Head of Health and Safety for Beautycounter
Mia Davis

I recently had the opportunity to interview both Mia and Christy, who generously shared their process of formulation, their passion for ingredient research and education and gave me a sneak peek at what’s ahead for Beautycounter. One thing is for sure…if you hadn’t yet heard of this pioneering company, you will now surely remember their name. Beautycounter is a company that’s destined to change the conversation for years to come.      

You have a long career of doing work to make the planet and the products we use safer, what is your approach to ingredients?

MD: For me it comes down to safety and transparency, not only how it exists in the end product but also the whole process of getting that ingredient into a product. So when you are looking at an ingredient in this way, it’s a very big task to verify that an ingredient should make its way into our products.  We have to take into account the way it’s farmed, the impact on the environment and the impact on the people who have farmed it – or in some cases manufacture it.  When we choose ingredients we also look at the safety in relation to the concentration and application of the ingredient.  There’s always new information and more work to be done.  That’s why we added a reproductive and environmental health scientist, Nicole Acevedo, to assess existing studies and help us conduct new studies.

New Studies? Can you tell me more about that?

MD: We will be announcing more details this year, but we are very excited to be working with scientists at several universities on studies that will help us understand ingredients better, of course never testing on animals.  This will obviously take time, as it is a large undertaking, but look forward to sharing the results of our work publicly so all everyone benefit. 

What sustainability initiatives do you have in place?  Anything new on the horizon? 

MD: First, we are a certified B Corporation, so we have strict criteria we need to meet to maintain a high standard of accountability in our business practices.  We also have a sustainability manager whose sole job is to map out how we can lead the way in sustainability.  One example you can really see is in our paper compacts that we use for all of our pressed makeup, they are completely recyclable and much better for the environment than conventional compacts. As natural beauty and personal care products grow in demand, one of the challenges will be to continue to source botanical ingredients sustainability and fairly, so we spend a lot of time working with our suppliers to ensure we are sourcing fair-trade ingredients.

Gregg and the Beautycounter team have been lobbying in Congress to help get the Personal Care Safety Act on the floor.  Do you think the Act will make it to the floor to be voted on this year?

Beautycounter's Gregg Renfew visits DC

MD: In 2016, we’re confident that Congress will prioritize the Personal Care Products Safety Act. There has been overwhelming public support for updating our broken cosmetics safety law.

How did you start your career in beauty? 

CC: I grew up in Texas and Oklahoma and always knew I wanted to be a makeup artist in New York City, it was my dream.  So I got my estheticians license and moved to New York where I got a job working for Kevin Aucoin, where, as you can imagine, I learned a lot.  In 2002, my dad got diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and so I had to return to Texas to take care of him.  There I was working for Vidal Sassoon and Ralph Lauren when I stumbled on the book, Not Just Another Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan, and it changed my life.  To me makeup had been such a pure art form.  It was playful and fun and I loved all the textures and scents.  I had no idea all of it could be so bad for you.  Reading that book changed everything and I immediately cleaned out my makeup kit and never looked back.

What is your process in formulating products?  Are they all manufactured in the United States?

CC: Mia and I are like a husband and wife team.  First I work on product ideation, the free and creative work, you know, the fluffy stuff.  Then I work on how the products need to perform and get deeper into what ingredients I want to us.  Then Mia and I go back and forth and challenge each other on ingredients.  Then we come together and we both challenge our labs.  My job is to make sure each product performs.  As a makeup artist that is of the utmost importance to me it has to work, well.  Mia then makes sure we use ingredients that meet our safety standards and are sourced from responsible suppliers.  All of our products are manufactured in the U.S. except for our powders, bronzers and blushes, which are manufactured in Italy. 

Beautycounter Makeup

What was one of the most challenging products to formulate?

CC: Our Lip Sheer, which you are including as the Sidekick in your February selections was challenging to formulate because it took such a long time.  I wanted it to have a balance of firmness for application, but I also wanted it to feel good when it you put it on.  I believe that beauty products are as much about how you look as how they make you feel.  Also, I tested more than 20 different vanillas to find the one that we use in our petal lip sheer.  The one I settled on is organic, from Madagascar, and is not too sweet or overpowering. It has a sophisticated scent. 

Beautycounter Lustro Rose Neroli Body Oil

Can you tell us how you selected the oils that make up your Lustro Body Oil?  What was your objective in creating this Hero Product?

CC: I have always used just pure oils on my body because I know how good they are for the skin, so we wanted to create a very pure and nourishing body moisturizer, that of course was as beautiful as we could make it.  The 11 oils we selected for the blend represent that this is our most luxurious and decadent body oil.  For the scent, I chose my two favorite scents, rose and neroli.  But it wasn’t easy; I had to test a wide variety of essential oils until we found the right Tunisian neroli and Bulgarian rose.  The rose is delicate and the neroli has staying power, they layer beautifully and balance each other out.   

What is your favorite ingredient and why?

CC: One of my very favorite ingredients for the skin is Apricot Kernel Oil, it has so many benefits on the skin, like ant aging antioxidants, and it is fast absorbing.

What Is the biggest discovery for you lately in terms of the creative process – or in creating a specific new product? 

CC: It’s always the discovery of new ingredients and how they work.  It’s fascinating work, I love it. 

What types of products can we expect Beautycounter to launch in 2016?

CC: We don’t know exactly what new products will come out, some just take a long time to formulate.  But we are working on just about everything you can think of.  We definitely look forward to launching a mascara and deodorant as soon as we are ready.  We want to make sure when we make something, we make it right, and that takes time. 

What’s your office space like in Santa Monica?  And can you give us a peek into your company culture?

MD: We have a beautiful open office space and our team can often work outside, as I am right now.  The space is open, has a lot of natural light and plants, we really love it.  We have over 75 employees in our headquarters and we feel very much like we are still in start-up mode, so it’s very busy.  But, every Thursday we host a ‘lunch and learn’ where we buy a delicious organic lunch for our employees and take time to see each other and socialize a bit.  During lunch we invite either an internal or outside expert to lead a talk that educates us all on a new topic.  For example, we just began composting in our offices so our sustainability manager just did a talk on how-to and the importance of composting in the office and at home. 


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