The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate beauty products, which means that many items used every day by Americans – from makeup to cleansers to shampoos – contain toxic chemicals. For instance, the US permits 12,500 ingredients in personal care products; in the EU, this number is restricted to about 7,000. Fortunately, as the health and wellness movement gains momentum, consumers increasingly are taking green, toxin-free living into their own hands. As a result, clean beauty businesses are projected to generate nearly $22 billion globally in 2024, up from $11 billion in 2016. Here are four female entrepreneurs working in a variety of ways to help consumers better understand the potential dangers of many conventional beauty products and choose clean beauty instead.
1. Cassandra McClure, founder of the Clean Beauty Podcast, Conference and Business Retreat
On February 29th, Cassandra McClure is hosting the first ever Clean Beauty Business Retreat. Green brands including Codex Beauty, founders such as Dr. Vida Karamooz, and Gen-Z influencers like Fiona Frills are coming together to connect as the clean beauty movement grows. This event will serve as the launch pad for McClure’s upcoming Clean Beauty Conference, or Clean Beauty Con, a project that has been “tugging at her heart strings” for over two years as she has built a following for her Clean Beauty Podcast.
McClure began playing with make-up when she was six years old. She spent over 10 years training and working as a model and professional makeup artist in locations from LA to Dubai and Europe. Then, within one week in 2018, she was diagnosed with psoriasis, severe allergies and vision loss – but no one knew why. One month later, she met a woman hosting a Beautycounter pop-up who explained that as a breast cancer survivor, doctors had advised her to use clean products, ones without fragrance and toxic chemicals. As a professional makeup artist, McClure had never heard the term “clean beauty” before and assumed all cosmetics sold in US stores, especially high-end luxury brands like YSL and Chanel, were safe.
Yet upon returning home, a quick Google search revealed that McClure’s favorite products had all sorts of potentially harmful chemicals listed on the ingredient labels. She decided to detox, getting rid of everything from shampoo, perfume, and laundry detergent to candles, deodorant, and floor cleaner. In the end, she got rid of 90% of the beauty and skincare products she used to enjoy every day. Within 48 hours, McClure says she could breathe and sleep better and her vision had become less foggy. Within three days, her skin was bump-free, her head had stopped itching, and her headaches and mood swings had started to disappear.
“The difference was night and day,” McClure says. “I couldn’t believe that I had been poisoning myself and my clients with beauty products for so long.” She decided to share a video, and within 24 hours it had thousands of views. So, she began researching brands, searching for excellent clean products. Yet as she looked for a podcast, she couldn’t find one about high-performing, artist-grade clean beauty. And that was how her Clean Beauty Podcast was born. Then, in 2019, McClure launched her first clean beauty product, the Lash Binder.
“My purpose is to empower women in reclaiming their health by voting with their dollars – and buying clean beauty products,” McClure says. “Standing up to the misinformation spread by billion-dollar corporations isn’t easy, but I have to do something big. I feel it is my duty to spread awareness about the dangers of unregulated personal care products that made me sick. I won’t stop until all beauty is clean beauty.”
To young people looking to tap into their life purpose, McClure says, “Dig deep and go after what you are passionate about. Find others who are as passionate as you and create a team. Find a mentor or two. Then start experimenting and don’t be afraid to be bold.”
2. Jaleh Bisharat, cofounder and CEO of NakedPoppy
Jaleh Bisharat is the cofounder and CEO of NakedPoppy, a clean beauty startup based in San Francisco. NakedPoppy uses advanced AI-enabled technology to make it quick and easy for consumers to find clean beauty products that work well while still meeting the highest standards of safety. She was inspired to create NakedPoppy because she found that while many people she knew clearly were interested in clean beauty, when attempting to choose new products they became overwhelmed.
“It became clear to me that just offering clean products would not be enough,” Bisharat states. “We needed to be sure we could solve that overwhelm problem: take the effort out of researching what’s clean and make sure we offered a way for people to uncover what would look great on them. We solved that tough problem with NakedPoppy’s AI-driven algorithm.”
Before founding NakedPoppy, Bisharat served as a CMO or VP of marketing at several renowned brands including Amazon, OpenTable, Upwork, and Eventbrite. What really defines her, however, is her upbringing in Iran “at a time when most girls were mostly destined for marriage,” she says. Her parents were different. They believed in girls getting an education, and sent Bisharat to the U.S. for schooling just before the 1979 Iranian revolution. “My family fled the country, losing everything. I woke up one morning with no money for tuition and only an ironclad determination to finish my degree and make my way,” Bisharat explains. “After that loss, there hasn’t been a problem that has seemed insurmountable to me.”
On a personal level, Bisharat has eaten organic food for as long as she can remember, and was an early adopter of clean beauty products. But she also found that very few women really knew about the harmful chemicals in their beauty products. With NakedPoppy, she truly has tapped into her life purpose. She says, “Every single woman who switches to clean makeup is doing better for her health, her family’s health, and the planet. Did you know that the EPA considers conventional makeup to be hazardous waste? What you wash off your face and send down the drain has an impact not just on your body, but also on the water supply and nature. Clean beauty products are gentle. At NakedPoppy, we also make sure every product we carry is cruelty-free and we actively encourage fair labor practices.”
One particular challenge Bisharat faces in the clean beauty space is “cleanwashing.” Brands are jumping on the clean beauty bandwagon and taking the easy way out by saying things like “we have no parabens, no phthalates in our products” when in fact there are plenty of other regrettable ingredients they may be using instead. NakedPoppy allows just 700 scientist-vetted clean ingredients in the products it sells.
“Don’t be afraid to be patient,” Bisharat says to other aspiring changemakers and entrepreneurs. “You don’t have to be an entrepreneur in your 20s just because it sounds hot. You can learn from others with more experience, on their dime. It may take you some time to find your passion and to develop your qualifications. That’s okay. I didn’t start NakedPoppy until I was in my 50s. And I’ve never felt more qualified or more excited to lead a company.”
3. Dr. Barbara Paldus, founder of Codex Beauty
Having built several successful companies in the biotech space exceeding $100M in revenue, Barbara Paldus, PhD set her sights on beauty – and specifically, rewriting the rules of clean beauty on a global level. She has since applied her scientific expertise to launch Codex Beauty, a collective of global skin care brands built on science, natural ingredients, plant-based preservatives, pharmaceutical-grade processes, safety and efficacy trials, sustainability, and consumer transparency. Paldus has vowed to apply the same level of ethics and practices that she knows to be standard in biotech to the beauty industry, where rules and regulations are sorely lacking. Launched in June 2019, Codex is currently available in Ireland, UK, US, China and Dubai with nearly 20 additional countries slated for 2020.
In addition to working to develop strict codes for clean beauty products, Codex Beauty has undertaken significant research to develop the first known plant-based, self-preserving system. Unlike synthetic preservatives, this system relies on organic plant acids, ensuring formulations maintain a stable shelf-life. Codex Beauty plans to license this system for use among other brands, working to clean up the industry as a whole. In addition, in response to the beauty industry’s prevalent use of petrochemical-based plastics, Codex Beauty uses recyclable and plant-based green polyethylene (PE) airless containers made from sugarcane waste. This packaging design minimizes carbon footprint while guaranteeing a safe shelf-life.
Paldus was inspired to enter the clean beauty space because her son had a phenoxyethanol allergy, which it took years for her to figure out. The more she researched, the more she realized that “clean” and “natural” beauty products often are not as stated, and that in fact no standards exist as the beauty industry is unregulated. Moreover, she discovered that the impact of industry packaging on carbon footprint and plastic waste was much greater than she had realized. “It became clear to me that reforms need to be made to stop greenwashing,” she states.
The biggest challenge she has faced is changing industries mid-career. She says, “The beauty industry is unique and requires a steep learning curve with many rookie mistakes along the way. A desire to learn, understand, and solve the difficult problems have helped me overcome entering this new market.”
Paldus has this to say to aspiring entrepreneurs. “1. No matter how bad it gets, never give up. Consistent effort eventually does pay off. 2. Surround yourself with the best people you can hire. Remember, there is strength in diversity. 3. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and create a new market. Train yourself to see what problems you might solve before others even realize the problem exists.”
4. Alisa Metzger, founder of INNBeauty Project
Alisa Metzger founded INNBeauty Project with the intention of bringing clean beauty “to the masses” by making it inclusive and affordable to everyone. “Clean beauty is indisputably the future,” she says. “Incredible brands have paved the way. However, many clean brands today are expensive, with an average product price of $50+, and still primarily target Caucasian women in their 30s and 40s. Our vision is to create clean, affordable, inclusive skincare for Gen Z.”
Young people today are very conscious about what they put into their bodies and onto their skin. They love products that are vegan, toxin-free, and cruelty-free. Already, they are pushing major brands toward an even cleaner and more transparent beauty space. INNBeauty aims to make clean products accessible to all. “We face virtually no competition in terms of clean beauty products for Gen Z,” says Metzger. “Clean brands tend to lean in on Millennials with the assumption that they hold more spending power over younger consumers. While it is logical to assume that those who are post-college have more to spend than consumers in high school, what you must consider is the spending power not of teenagers but of their parents.”
Starting a company has many challenges. Fortunately, Metzger finds her prior experience in the beauty industry has alleviated a lot of the common technical challenges startups face relating to manufacturing, formulation and supply chain. Nevertheless, she has struggled in conveying the size of the market opportunity to investors. “Being one of the first Gen Z-focused brands doesn’t give us a lot of benchmarks,” she says. “Showing that INNBeauty has over 3 million views on TikTok, however, helps quantify the reach and consumer potential.”
“If you have a burning desire to create something new, to innovate, to change the status quo, you owe it to yourself and the world to do it,” Metzger says to aspiring entrepreneurs. “With that said, don’t underestimate the value of experience. My years at L’Oreal, P&G, and private equity-backed startups gave me the confidence, decision making skills, invaluable relationships and network to start a company. Also, know your consumer just as much as you know your product. The brands and people that change lives are those that deeply understand why their target audience behaves the way they do.”