Many of the women leading the charge in cleaning up our medicine cabinets never intended to be in beauty. Alas—as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and that adage rings true for every single woman on this list. From cystic acne to cancer, many of these lines were founded by women seeking solutions they needed, but were not able to find. This necessity, coupled with passion, dedication, and the fearlessness required of any entrepreneurial endeavor, has made it easier than ever before to access safe, nontoxic cosmetics—without compromising efficacy, or for that matter, chic bathroom shelves.
But keep in mind that the boundaries of the natural beauty world are hard to pinpoint. As interviewee Rose-Marie Swift notes, “The word ‘natural’ means nothing—there are no laws to define or regulate its use.” While working in pharmaceuticals, Claire Vero, founder of Aurelia came to realize “the impact and importance that skin and its condition can have on every aspect of your life,” and the intrinsic link between skin health & self-esteem. Each of these skincare lines, made from safe, nontoxic ingredients, has helped its customers feel better about their skin, in thanks, at least in part, to the love that’s gone into their making.
Chase Polan crafts her holistic skincare line, Kypris, in Scottsdale Arizona, where she sources wildcrafted golden prickly pear seed oil. Not all ingredients take that short a trip, though. Her biodynamic rose essential oil comes from a “uniquely chosen, woman-owned farm, half the world away.” This approach, which Polan calls “glocal,” allows Kypris to blend “the best of green technologies and natural science for unparalleled benefits to skin, and an ecstatic experience of your divinely unique beauty.” For Polan, skincare and beauty are centered around “wellness, care, and delight—as opposed to fixing perceived problems,” a radically different approach than that of most products on drugstore shelves, or advertised in magazines. “There is ample science to support the multitude of benefits—physical, psychological, and even immunological—of quality self-care which includes a connection to Nature,” she explains.
TRY THIS: Kypris Antioxidant Dew, $67, is a do-it-all serum that hydrates, soothes, and protects the skin. It’s lightweight—perfect for mixing with everything else on this list and in your existing “skincare wardrobe!” Rich in, yes, antioxidants from Vitamins C & E, this serum also includes hero ingredient Ferulic acid for increased environmental protection. Additionally, sea algae extracts hydrate, while rose extracts soothe.
When extensive tests found high levels of toxic chemicals in Rose-Marie Swift’s blood, the technician asked her if she worked in cosmetics. Unaware of the hazardous ingredients found in many cosmetic products, Swift was astonished, but awakened. “We now know that what we put on the skin can be absorbed and in some circumstances, it’s absorbed directly into the bloodstream and through the blood brain barrier. Why are we taking chances with this?” she says, “It may come as a shock to you to learn that the FDA does not regulate chemicals used in body and beauty care products with the exception of synthetic color.” But sacrificing a lifelong love affair with beauty, and career in the biz was not in the cards, so Swift set to create a solution. RMS, launched in 2009, “I chose to formulate my products with raw, food grade and organic ingredients in their natural state, allowing their living, healing attributes to penetrate and rejuvenate the skin,” she explains.
TRY THIS: RMS quickly became a go-to for the in-the-know set, many of whom swore by her Living Luminizer, $38, long before the Kardashians made highlighting the beauty buzzword it is today. Still one of the best, this small pot adds a natural glow to the cheekbones and is easy to apply, on the fly, using one’s fingers.
Claire Vero worked in pharmaceuticals at the time she started to think more about her skin care. When Vero faced changes in her own skin, she looked for science-based solutions—unsurprising, given her background. “I made a list of all the things I wanted from an ‘ideal’ age preventative skincare brand,” she says, but there really wasn’t “one brand that stood out and satisfied all these criteria, so I decided to make it my mission to create this ideal range. Quite simply, I wanted to create a brand for women of all ages that was scientifically proven to prevent skin aging and focused on luxury as well as nature.”Consulting on a treatment for patients diagnosed with chronic plaque psoriasis, she found probiotics. “Having discovered how the power of probiotics can balance the skin’s inflammatory response, I set about creating a scientifically proven skincare range for all skin types that would focus on radiance, glow, and age prevention,” Vero explains. Thus, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare was born.
TRY THIS: The Miracle Cleanser, $62, this creamy cleanser melts away makeup and nourishes the skin with Aurelia’s signature probiotics, in addition to a blend of rich botanicals, including fatty-acid-rich Mongongo oil and omega-rich Baobab.
FIG + YARROW
“I suspect it was secretly in development for most of my life,” Brandy Monique says of Fig + Yarrow, the line she founded and makes herself. Her entrepreneurial spirit dates back to beginning her first business at eight. Of her start, she says “I managed to convince a local shopkeeper who made these kinds of products to hire me based on my culinary skills. She’d never allowed anyone to make her more challenging products (save for once which was a failure) but she gave me a very intimidating chance to prove myself immediately and — wiping the sweat from my brow — I somehow did.” Eventually, with the knowledge and confidence she’d gained, she went out on her own, developing Fig + Yarrow. “I describe my products as food for the body,” she says of the range. “Most of the truly pure lines in recent past were a bit too hippy for me, or just didn’t quite capture the full experience I was looking for.” She noticed that these products might not even be reaching an audience who’d appreciate them due to their aesthetic. Fig + Yarrow however, is the kind of brand that makes natural beauty seem like the very coolest type. “With each order we send out, I feel this thread of connection to the recipient. Knowing their name and where in the world they live reminds me that my products go to real and wonderful people.”
TRY THIS: CARDAMOM + COFFEE Body Scrub, $48, is made with a clean, indulgent Caffe Theo blend—a mixture of Organic, fair trade Peruvian and Indonesian beans. This scrub contains a powerhouse mix of body-boosting ingredients—coffee, which is antioxidant and of course, caffeine rich, is known to stimulate the senses, tighten the skin, and break up cellulite deposits.
A breast cancer diagnosis was Valerie Grandury’s wake-up call. She quit her job and went back to school, studying health and wellness. “ I promised myself never to expose my body to toxins and chemicals,” she explains of the transformative moment. The Californian, who was born-and-raised in France, wanted the luxury and results of French skincare—sans toxins. “Not finding it,” she said, “I decided to create it. At first I only worked with private clients creating custom blends for them. Through word of mouth, demand grew very fast and so was born Odacité.” A far cry from a basic skincare line, Odacité is meant to be customized. “Coming from custom blending products for private clients for five years taught me that the skin is constantly changing, therefore you need to adapt your skin regimen to get that flawless skin every single day. Your skin is affected by factors like weather, pollution, stress, diet, hormones, sleep… So you may wake up in the morning with dehydrated skin and go to bed with a pimple. No product in the world can do hydration in the morning and pimple at night. So I created a line of 18 Serum Concentrates that are super easy to use and allow you to customize your routine to whatever is happening that day. You don’t need to change everything, you just add the Serum Concentrate du jour to your routine. For example, if you wake up with dehydrated skin, add two drops of the Po+R Hydration Serum Concentrate to you moisturizer. Go to bed with a pimple, spot treat with Bl+C pimple Serum Concentrate.”
TRY THIS: As mentioned above, Odacité sells 18 serum concentrates to be mixed and matched according to one’s own skincare needs, but the Ac+R Serum Concentrate, $55, is a bestselling favorite. Grandury explains the process—“Formulated with the oil superfood acai that we extract by pressing seeds and the pulp of the fruit together…This extraction method delivers a real elixir de beauté loaded with antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that will gobble up all free radicals and deliver an instant fresh glow.” Due to the high concentration of nutrients, Ac+R fully addresses aging—from wrinkles to firmness, tone, texture, and hydration.
For Leah, the Hawaii-based founder of LeahLani, skincare is ritual and not routine. Her journey started while she was struggling with severe cystic acne, and led her, with no prior knowledge of skincare, to a holistic esthetician school. From there, she became a spa director, where she explains, “I quickly learned how valuable my hands truly are, and what powerful healing tools they make…I set off to create a line of skincare that would transform a ‘routine’ into a ‘ritual’. LeahLani Skincare would not only heal my skin, it has expanded my heart in more ways then I can ever begin to interpret; connecting me to people all over the world through my precious potions.” There is an almost spiritual thread that runs through many of these brands, created to heal, and often for personal use before expanding into the businesses they are today. For Leah, it’s particularly strong. “There is a label on all of our jars that says “from my loving hands to yours”. When something is made by hand with love, you can feel it. Each jar and bottle of Leahlani harnesses that connection, infused with aloha.”
TRY THIS: The triple-tasking Honey Love, $48, which can be used as a cleanser, exfoliant, or mask. Organic Hawaiian raw honey mingles with superfood, maqui berry, rose clay, hibiscus and more to simultaneously soften, clarify, and hydrate the skin.
“When my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, I went to most of his appointments with him, and started learning about all of the potentially harmful ingredients found in personal care products,” Tata Harper says of the events that led her to found her wildly successful namesake line. ”I started changing my lifestyle, what I ate, the household cleaning products I used, but I couldn’t find any skincare products that were 100% natural and that gave me the results and the experience I was used to, so I decided to create my own.” For Harper, providing high-end luxury skincare with no compromise on health, is “the ultimate luxury.”
TRY THIS: Elixir Vitae, $380, is a luxurious gem amongst a widely beloved skincare collection. Containing 38 active ingredients to fill and relax the look of wrinkles, all of which are safe, topical alternatives to injectables, this serum immediately gets to work smoothing the skin’s surface and plumping the skin to diminish the appearance of fine lines. Results are gushed over by Harper’s loyal fans.
With a name like Drunk Elephant and bright white packaging accented with pops of yellow, magenta, and bright orange, Tiffany Masterson’s non-toxic skincare line was bound to catch attention. But even Masterson was brought to tears when the call from Sephora came. In launching the line, she’d set out to create products focused perhaps even more on what they were formulated without, than what they were formulated with. Finding skincare products with no chemical screens, essential oils, fragrance, dyes, or silicones is a tall order, but Masterson’s Drunk Elephant has made it that much easier. Her line is small—less than a dozen products including two newer launches and centered around non-toxic ingredients with a heavy-dose of African Marula oil. “The line is biocompatible, clinically effective and non-toxic. The ingredients are recognized, accepted and understood by our skin. We pulled the sense of safety from the natural side and the sense of “this works” from the clinical side,” Masterson explains.
TRY THIS: Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, $90 is a skin-fixing serum containing 12 percent glycolic acid. It works, while you sleep, by “dissolving the glue that holds dead skin cells to the surface,” to slough away dead skin and resurface for a bright and even complexion. The proprietary T.L.C. Framboos blend includes glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic acids and Raspberry Extract, which the skin absorbs easily and effectively provides gentle, non-irritating chemical exfoliation.
Annee DeMamiel was pretty surprised to wind up in beauty. But, she explains, “every time I tried to move off this path, something put me right back on it.” An acupuncturist, chiropractor and student of aromatherapy and Chinese Medicine, deMamiel was busy (and content) treating private patients. She explains—”I was doing my treatments, and as part of the treatment, I would do a bespoke oil and tea for each patient based on what they needed.” Her patients couldn’t get enough of these custom blends, so DeMamiel kept making them, and giving them to her patients. Finally, her husband put the kibosh on these freebies, pushing her to actually sell the tea and oil blends.
“We change our clothes for the seasons, we change our food for the seasons, but we never change our skincare dependent on the time of the year. So I started to blend around the seasons, and the Chinese medicine aspect of that. I would make, 20 or 30, but then it kept growing. So we decided to put a label on them and put them on our website and see how it went.,” deMamiel says of her humble beginnings.
“I was just happy doing my treatments and what have you…it had been like two weeks when one of the journalists I’d treated was now working at Net-a-Porter, and she called in all of the products for consideration. A month later, the call came. Net-a-Porter wanted to stock deMamiel, in full. So Annee sped up her production as fast as she could, to prepare for the amazing opportunity. Flash-forward to now, and you can easily shop deMamiel on Net-a-Porter, and many other chic boutiques around the world.
Restorative Cleansing Balm, $64, Like all of DeMamiel’s products, her cleansing balm comes with an accompanying breathing ritual. It’s a luxurious blend of healing, skin-loving ingredients. Calming calendula, antibacterial Manuka honey keeps breakouts at bay, and Kukui and Moringa oils nourish the skin. Also, of note, however, is DeMamiel’s Altitude Oil, $44, which, while more a wellness product than a beauty one, is especially notable having recently earned a place on British Vogue’s centennial list of the 100 best products of the last 100 years.
April Gargiulo has made a bigger splash on the beauty world with her one product—the beloved, and quickly cult-ified Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum—than many brands do with a full range. It all started when she tried to find products to treat her own skin. Frustrated with what was available, she set out to create her own product, applying her background in fine winemaking to doing so. “It was developed for my skincare issues, and lucky for everyone, I had a lot of skincare issues—it was focused on hormonal skin, acne-prone skin, skin that is prone to discoloration, fine lines, tone, elasticity, clarity,” she says. “Because we focused on, and addressed those issues at such a foundational, cellular level, it has become a product that is able to treat so many different skin issues, from acne, to hormonal issues, to discoloration, to rosacea!”
The process is laborious, expensive, and error-prone. “We have chosen plants that are the most nutrient-dense plants in the world, plants, which, in ancient times were actually called the ‘foods of life,’ because they gave your body everything you needed to thrive, and we are sourcing these plants from all over the world—the finest, most conscious growers in the world.” Unsurprisingly, this process earned Gargiulo the comparison, from a friend in fashion, to couture.
Try This: The one and only product might just be all your need: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botancial Serum, $185. This game-changing blend, a “luxurious, multi-correctional infusion,” contains 22 of the world’s most active organic and wildcrafted botanicals. Together, they restore radiance, improve texture, calm and soothe redness, and prevent and treat breakouts. This product has quickly become iconic in the natural beauty world.