This article first ran in the Fall-Winter 2018 issue of NewBeauty, available on newsstands until January 15, 2019.
A few years ago, 32-year-old Michelle Cady was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and amenorrhea. Like a lot of New Yorkers, the finance executive thought her body could handle anything.
Until, she realized, it couldn’t.
Cady didn’t consider herself unhealthy. She woke up every morning at 5 a.m., visited the notoriously intense Barry’s Bootcamp for a session, or met with her personal trainer before work. Lunch consisted of a chopped-salad-meets-light-dressing order, while post-work activities included wining and dining clients, drinks with friends or a second visit to the gym.
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Lots of coffee was key, so was, as she describes it, “looking put together.”
“I was living the Sex and the City dream. But I was physically incapable of even taking a deep breath.”
But she kept going.
“I was suffering from burnout and had no idea,” she says.
The only thing that stopped her: Another diagnosis—only this time it was for her mom, who had cancer.
“Among other things, it made me really curious about wellness. I didn’t want to do all these things to be skinny. I wanted to do all these things to have a healthy body.”
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Cady gave two weeks notice, enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, earned her personal training certificate and started what she calls, “the process of healing.”
“I decided to make the switch to clean beauty and household products,” a move she credits for being the catalyst to feeling better and being all-around happier in the process. “When your body is trying its best to regulate and stabilize your hormones, I think it’s best to avoid endocrine disrupters found in many conventional beauty products, fragrances and cleaning solutions. Over a few months, as I ran out of my old products, I’d go to the natural food store or investigate new products online and upgrade my basic products to clean versions.”
Today Cady is a health coach and the “clean switch” is something she recommends to all her clients—especially if they’re struggling with hormonal or thyroid-related issues.
“It’s hard to switch from your go-to products, I totally get it. I’m not so good with change, so I recommend, ‘Take it slow.’ You don’t have to toss all your old stuff ASAP. When it runs out, explore a new option. My favorite places to source new products are Whole Foods or the local natural foods store. Or just Google ‘best natural shampoo’ and ask friends who are already on the clean beauty train—believe me, they’d love to offer up suggestions!”
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Cady also says the bigger idea of clean living doesn’t have to be so complicated, although she admits it can be overwhelming.
“It’s best to look at it as trying our best to replicate what life was like for humans 10,000 years ago. Even over the last 100-plus years, humans have had to deal with an unprecedented amount of new chemicals, additives and environmental changes to our food supply, personal products and environment. It’s a world epidemic. I like to remind my clients and myself to take control by going back to the basics—really think about what ancient humans would do. Beware of lists that have long ingredients, both in your food or your beauty cabinet. Even having a plant in your apartment to add oxygen to the air, getting sunshine and spending time in nature helps. Nowadays, Americans spend 95 percent of their time indoors. We need to balance this out, especially if you’re a city-dweller!”
Indie Lee has a similar story. The founder of the eponymous clean beauty line says that, even before she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at age 37, “living clean” was important to the then-accountant.
“A few years prior to my diagnosis, I built a 750-square-foot greenhouse in my backyard, from which I was selling edible flowers to Whole Foods and harvesting fresh vegetables for meals. I was working to bring farm-to-table programs in local schools to educate children on the importance of clean eating.”
But Lee admits she wasn’t holding every part of her life to the same standard—something she believes played a part in her diagnosis. “I applied everything and anything to my body and face. I honestly never thought about it.”
Lee’s surgery was a success. The doctors successfully removed the tumor and her post-recovery sparked a super clean skin and body care line, which she now sells at Sephora.
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“I believe in ingredients that come from nature, from our fields, mountains and oceans,” she says. “And I believe in using science to amplify those benefits, without harming animals in the process. Healthy nourishment promotes emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, and I believe what you put in your body as well as what you put on it are equally important.”
Annie Jackson, cofounder and COO of Credo, is another proponent of all things clean living and says she started to think about the whole movement while she was still at her job at Sephora.
Although Jackson’s livelihood revolves around beauty, she the first step to her clean regimen started with taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle, something she thinks credits with exercising and eating organically, while being conscious about the products you use every day.
“I’ve been in beauty my whole career, both as a retailer and on the brand side. Shashi, our late founder of Credo, was my boss when we were both at Sephora. He was a true visionary and saw this tidal wave coming long before anyone else. Since we had a long work history together, he bounced the concept of Credo off of me and when I did my research on the space it was clear he was on to something. As soon as we started to look for brands to see if we could even fill a store to meet our high clean standard—we instantly we saw the wave of indie brands that needed a platform to showcase their products that aligned with their values.”
It’s those values that Jackson says has been a huge driving force for Credo, and one she thinks is fueling the entire clean movement as a whole. “The second generation of entrepreneurs and creators are not only passionate about beauty, but they are conscious and informed about the harmful ingredients that exist in most conventional products. The brands we work with at are different from the first generation of natural/organic/green brand visionaries because they focus on beauty and efficacy as a critical part of their brands, in design, packaging, texture and scent.”
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Still not convinced? Jackson says the average person uses upward of 12 personal care products daily, which amounts to hundreds of different ingredients. “Being knowledgeable about the ingredients you are using and understanding a brand before you buy a product is not a ‘trend,’ it’s being smart and making informed decisions.”
“Clean beauty, clean living, whatever phrase you want to use, is a way of life. Now that people are more informed—now that they know they don’t need to sacrifice their health for the use of beauty products that work and that they can now have it both ways—why would you want it any other way?”
Not surprisingly, Jackson believes that consumer demand for transparency and better ingredients is growing fast.
“There is a wealth of information out there that empowers people to know what they are consuming. The existence of similar parallels in other consumer categories in the industry where sustainability, ethical sourcing, environmental impact and health are already key factors in consumer decision making, with food being one obvious example. The overall shift to conscientious consumption and healthy lifestyle that is innate to the millennial. Conventional brands won’t be able to rely on fancy marketing and synthetic B.S. ingredients for long. There is a big risk for those who assume this movement is a niche. It is more a risk for the conventional brands and retailers who don’t adapt. They have more to lose than the disrupters and start-ups. The conventional brands and companies that are open minded and accept this change is coming and make changes to meet consumer demand will rise to the top, and others who are complacent will likely suffer the consequence of a significant loss of market share because by not adapting to a better way.”
“Consumers are speaking out in a really loud voice and everyone should listen.”
Someone else who is listening: Follain’s founder and CEO Tara Foley.
The Boston-based retailer believes in “products that are engineered to be clean from the ground up, prioritizing human and environmental health,” which means including nutrient-dense ingredients as much as possible and only using safe synthetics where absolutely necessary.
“We have a long, evolving list of unsafe ingredients that we ban from our Follain portfolio, and we work with scientists and doctors to update this list regularly. But clean beauty is really about so much more than the absence of unsafe ingredients. It’s about feeding your skin with real vitamin-, mineral- and nutrient-rich ingredients that will help nourish it while truly and sustainably improving it.”
In terms of overall clean living, Foley—who says she was at a point in her life where she was “so focused on racing triathlons and preparing super healthy meals to find out they didn’t align with all the rest of the healthy choices she was making,” now tries to “filter my water at home, we use air filters at home, we don’t wear shoes in the house since it tracks in toxicants from outside, and we don’t use any plastic in the kitchen-for cooking, storage or otherwise.”
“With clean living, beauty and otherwise, I believe it’s so important to seek balance and sustainable options for your lifestyle. There is so much information to absorb. Knowledge and education are important but practical measures for that education are different for everyone. I can, and do, control my home environment but that doesn’t mean that when I’m at work, traveling, or anywhere else I don’t sit on the furniture that may have flame retardants, I don’t drink the potentially unfiltered water, and so on and so forth. Do what works best for you to feel your best.”
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Foley also says that more innovation and options in categories like sun care, hair care and makeup is needed.
“The clean beauty industry has clearly prioritized skin-care products, which is great because these sit on your skin for so long and their nutrient-dense ingredients can really change your skin. That being said, women are looking to switch out all their products and there just aren’t as many brands and options in other categories yet. I think they’re coming!”
Silk Therapeutics’ cofounder and CEO, Greg Altman, and president/COO and cofounder, Rebecca Lacouture, are part of one of those “second-generation” skin care categories. The line features clinical-grade, silk-based anti-aging products and, as the duo explains, the company takes the entire manufacturing process into account—something they say goes outside simply staying away from a list of banned ingredients.
“Clean beauty has to extend beyond ingredients and encompass the entire process of creating a skin care formula. We believe people are still trying to understand the definition of clean and what it means for them. They may not be fully aware of the manufacturing practices employed throughout the beauty industry, which is why commitment to developing and manufacturing our products with transparency is one of our core values as a company. The Environmental Working Group [EWG] strongly associates clean with non-toxic: a term well-understood and defined in the medical community. In its most general context, this means that the final product—not just individual ingredients—will not adversely affect the function of a living organism, such as a single skin cell or the overall human body.”
The brand also believes that truly “clean” beauty must also be biocompatible—as they describe it, “suitable for contact with even highly sensitive skin”—and also produced under good manufacturing practices. Special steps are taken to obtain the water used in the formulas and all products are manufactured on-site at the company’ headquarters in Boston, which they say helps to enable full control over the process.
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“We use purified, deionized water in our manufacturing processes. This water is filtered through reverse osmosis filtration and tested for things like heavy metals, such as lead, and bacteria endotoxins in order to ensure that it is pure, clean and safe. Such practices provide guardrails beyond reproducible manufacturing procedures, extending from the reagents used to clean our manufacturing equipment to the sourcing and procurement of raw materials. For us, these practices help to ensure we are aware of and can avoid unintended consequences such as incidentals: the ingredients used to make ingredients, which are often undisclosed preservatives that could be endocrine disruptors.”
“For us, ‘clean’ is more than simply non-toxic or natural,” they say. “It must be hypoallergenic, sustainable, biocompatible and safe for people and the world they live in, and free of persistent ingredients that could cause skin irritation, body burden or environmental pollution.”
“We strongly believe that less is more.”