Our beauty products have absorbed thousands of chemicals, of which the Food and Drug Administration has banned less than a dozen in nearly 90 years. In contrast, the European Union has prohibited 1,300.
“It’s an unregulated industry and has been since the 1930s. That always shocks people,” said Follain Seattle Store Director Michael Monicatti.
In other words, the FDA doesn’t ever review ingredient toxicity before a product reaches our faces.
With headline after headline threatening cancer-causing pollutants in skincare and makeup, enlightened consumers have taken notice of the industry’s dirty ways and are choosing safer substitutes. Luckily, independent companies are riding the demand wave and developing vegan, organic, cruelty-free, sustainable, locally-sourced products for us.
Even big beauty brands are self-regulating—stamping claims like “paraben-free” front and center on their labels—in response to customers choosing cleaner ingredients.
With all the pure-looking options, it raises questions on which are actually effective and which genuinely align with our personal values.
One business has done the work for us.
“Follain is the brainchild of Tara Foley, and she has a really interesting past and history,” Monicatti said.
She pursued a law career, hoping to make a positive impact in the beauty industry. Later realizing lawmaking wouldn’t be the fastest way to affect industry change, Foley started an educational beauty blog and cultivated relationships with clean brands. In 2013, she opened the first brick and mortar.
What makes Follain unique is the model—curating the best of products of each clean cosmetic line. Foley closes the gap between ingredient source to packaged good by visiting partner locations around the world.
The shop supports manufacturers carrying certifications for ingredient integrity and practicing sustainable packaging and printing. The focus is on non-toxic and non-animal-tested additives, along with other attributes for conscious consumers, while addressing real skincare concerns—like dehydration, inflammation, repair and clarification.
“We pick and choose products we feel are the best,” Monicatti said, pointing to Follain’s decision to be “the first clean beauty brand to ban phenoxyethanol—a highly contested preservative that came on the market after (endocrine-disrupting) parabens were found out to be quite damaging.”
Originally phenoxyethanol was thought to evaporate quickly before absorbing into the skin, but recent studies show that it may not be so. Although still used as a “safer” paraben replacement, Foley proactively restricted it in the store’s collection, given the early scientific warnings.
“It was a huge decision she made, and it just goes to show the integrity and caution she takes into taking care of our customers—a lot of whom are moms and moms to be,” explained Monicatti.
Follain’s eye-opening restricted list explains the intended function of harmful compounds and why they’re a health concern.
Education and transparency empower us to make smart decisions for our bodies and the environment. But still, price is a concern for shoppers in switching to cleaner brands. If already buying designer brands, however, the price would be similar to Follain’s curated products and a better investment for our skin. There is also a more affordable in-house line.
In big beauty, the majority of cost is wrapped up in marketing—making us all physiologically believe a brand will transform us into beautiful, desirable creatures. Non-lab made ingredients tend to be more expensive too, making costs higher for cleaner, independent companies, Monicatti explained.
Through this movement to detoxify our skin, overarching illusions are breaking down. Myths like: the FDA has our back, and showcase matters more than health and integrity. These assumptions are being challenged by a growing number of businesses and consumers, which is why companies like Follain are just getting started.
“We have to do some re-education on those stories,” Monicatti proposed.
The beauty of Follain is its ability to make the process simple. It saves us time and money (reading review on top of review, ordering products we don’t end up liking) and doesn’t leave questions on whether we’re actually getting a clean brand.
And most of the shopping we do is online now, making accidentally purchasing dirty or toxic products much more likely, according to a documentary series on Netflix—Broken: Makeup Mayhem.
“Counterfeit cosmetics have tested positive for known carcinogens, levels of animal feces, rat droppings, horse urine…,” the film’s intro describes.
And, why would anyone put lead, arsenic, mercury or aluminum in our lipsticks, eye shadows and God only know what else?
“Heavy metals can act as colorants. Sometimes just adding a heavy metal can easily deliver that vibrant color, and it’s much cheaper than trying to coax that beautiful, rich color out of a safer, more natural product,” said Whitney T. Bowe M.D. in the episode as she explains the harmful implications of cheap ingredient replacements.
Shifting the beauty industry to be more natural has largely been in our hands, the buyers.
“The consumers are becoming a lot savvier,” said the film’s Lexy Lebsack, senior beauty editor for Refinery 29, “and that’s given some of these big makeup conglomerates some healthy competition.”
It’s empowering to know we create the demand for a cleaner industry, and the market has already responded. We just need to prop up the consciously clean brands and avoid harmful ingredients.
Which is why Follain puts education at the center of their mission. Through the blog and by hosting educational events at stores, the company is taking the time to inform customers and move us all in the right direction.
“The more you know, the better you do,” Monicatti added.