As time passes we become more aware of how some of our practices and products of the past can harm us and the environment. We know that organic produce is the better way to go, that exercising thirty minutes a day can have major psychological and physical benefits… the list goes on. But beauty is a sector that we’ve often not thought much about when it comes to how ingredients affect us.
We sat down with Tara Foley, founder of Follain – an online boutique of curated clean beauty products – to school us on what clean beauty is and how to adopt it into our routine.

You originally worked as a lawyer, but then decided to start your blog called Naturalchemyst – was there a particular reason or moment that prompted this move?

Back in 2009, I was on a completely different career path working long hours and trying to stay healthy. I had this ‘aha’ moment when it hit me that I focused on fitness and healthy eating, but not on what I applied to my face and body. So I started asking questions, was disappointed to find so little information about healthy beauty, and then launched a blog called the Naturalchemyst. The response showed me how many people wanted to find effective, nontoxic options. After working in nonprofits and legal services for so many years, the speed and immediacy of the interaction my little blog achieved were so rewarding.

While researching and writing for your blog, was there a particular discovery that stood out to you?

First and foremost, I was shocked by the fact that none of my friends, family members, or really anyone I spoke with thought about their skincare ingredients, or knew that there were so many toxicants allowed in US personal care (there are over 1300 ingredients banned from beauty products in Europe and less than 30 in the US)!

Another thing that stood out to me when meeting with all the clean beauty brand founders was an issue that kept coming up: that they didn’t have a good retail home. The brands were too elevated for healthy grocery stores, and wanted an expert beauty boutique dedicated to clean brands…enter Follain, a few years later!

After starting your blog you decided to get an MBA, where your concept for Follain won a national retail business plan competition. What was it that made it stand out from other entries?

One thing that made the Follain plan stand out at the time (in 2013) was that the market was ready, given the rise in popularity of other health and wellness retail concepts (cycling, juicing, etc). Our unique business model also stood out. Every product on Follain’s shelves must meet the rigorous Follain-Approved standard, meaning that it has to be the most effective item for that skin type, the purest form of the active ingredient, nontoxic and thoughtful.

We’re wondering… Why is it so important that we use “clean” beauty products? How does it really affect our health?

Clean beauty prioritizes human and environmental health, featuring natural nutrient-dense ingredients as much as possible, and only safe synthetics where they are absolutely necessary (for preservation or performance). We do this because some beauty ingredients have been linked to endocrine disruption, allergy triggers, and long-term illness. So we have a long, evolving list of unsafe ingredients that are banned from our portfolio and we consistently work with an advisory board of scientists and doctors to update this list regularly.

However, clean beauty is really about so much more than the absence of unsafe ingredients. It’s about feeding your skin with real vitamins, minerals and nutrients that will truly will truly work better; delivering healthier, stronger skin.

Do you have an anecdote to share with us of how a product with bad ingredients affected someone?

Most ingredients we consider “bad” don’t have immediate health impacts as much as long term impacts. That being said, we have spoken with customers that had seriously dried out skin or scalp from using SLS (sodium laureth sulfate), or who had allergic reactions to synthetic fragrance-filled products. These are examples of ingredients that are harmful in both the short and long term.

Can you tell us the steps your team takes to finally decide to add a product to the site?

  1. We look for safety, efficacy and transparency…to start. We have the highest safety standards around, so each product gets checked for a long line of restricted ingredients.
  2. Next, we look at effectiveness. We will only consider products that are best in class, and rarely even carry full brand portfolios. I test every single product we carry, along with a team of other team members with a variety of skin types and concerns. Any product carried at Follain has to work as well as, if not better than, anything on the market (including conventional products). It has to do what it says it’s going to do!
  3. Transparency from our brands is also essential for us. We have to know that every ingredient is sourced in its purest form, and is sourced in ways that align with our ethics (good to the environment, humane, and animal-friendly).
  4. Finally, we also look at the packaging. The right packaging for the product – both technically (keeps out light), environmentally, and experientially. It should be a joy to experience. Clean beauty products should provide a moment of mindfulness and self-care that you look forward to.

How hard is it to find a product that meets your standards of both its contents and efficacy?

There are so many products on the market that claim to be clean, so a huge part of our value to our customer lies in curation. We sort through and vet all the options on the market so our customers don’t have to. In fact, over the years, we have tested over 600 brands to find the 75 makers we currently sell from.

At Follain we don’t exist to provide shoppers a million ways to address an issue; just the best way. So at this point, to be a good fit, a product has to do what it promises to do even better than something we already sell or address a new problem completely. Having said that, we vet new products and ingredients constantly! 

That’s incredible that you’ve narrowed down 75 brands from 600! What’s something that we would be surprised about the beauty industry in terms of practices or ingredients?

The fact that there are formaldehyde and mercury in some products was one of the biggest surprises to me! And honestly, they’re not even the worst offenders. I’ve since learned about many other toxic ingredients that are super prevalent and just don’t need to be!

Wow, mercury and formaldehyde certainly aren’t ingredients we want on our skin! If we were to begin to integrate “clean” products into our regimen, where would you suggest that we start?

It doesn’t have to be daunting to start a clean beauty routine! One of the ways I like to tell people to start is to think about the products you use most often as well as those that stay on your skin the longest and start with those. Deodorants, soaps, moisturizers, cleansers, foundation and so on. That way you are starting the journey to healthier options and you can continue to add new products on an ongoing basis to find what works best for you in each category.

You can shop Follain online for a great selection of curated clean beauty products or visit their stores in Boston and Nantucket!