Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share How They’ve Overcome Ingredient Issues

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we asked 14 brand founders and executives: What issues have you encountered with the ingredients you use, and how did you resolve them?

Janet Hayward Founder, Ipsum Skin

It may sound obvious, but one of the challenges of starting a certified organic plant-based beauty brand is the total reliance on the whims of Mother Nature. If a growing season suddenly takes a turn for the worse—early snow, late frost, too much rain, too little rain, weather is too warm or weather is too cold—it can really impact on the availability and quality of key ingredients.  

In addition, for some certifying bodies such as COSMOS, it is important that the entire process of cultivation, harvest, processing and bottling all follow strict guidelines, which includes protecting the biodiversity of the environment. Therefore, opting to use the same ingredient from an alternative, uncertified source is not an option. I have actually delayed production of a new face oil to add to the range until next season because one of my proposed key ingredients suffered in an unexpected major rain storm.

I think it's really important to be clear about your ingredient deck in terms of expected product efficacy and experience and, then, discuss every ingredient with your formulator to ensure that organic supplies are actually available and consistent with the certifier guidelines. You may find you need to switch to a similar alternative ingredient, but sometimes this can lead to a really happy result.

Annie Tevelin Founder, SkinOwl

We have tried to showcase as much transparency as possible with concern to our ingredient decks. In our earlier years, we reached out to distributors who preferred to withhold information about some of their raw ingredients such as origin, stability and expiration dates. We had to work really hard to retrieve MSDS forms (Material Safety Data Sheet), which only motivated us to seek out companies who value honesty and accuracy as much as we do and nothing less.

Ido Magal Founder, Lavido

After 16 years of building the brand in Israel, we wanted to shift to vegan ingredients. One main ingredient in our products was beeswax. It was a challenge to remove this ingredient because it is a natural thickener that gives the products body and texture. I began exploring for an alternative at trade shows around the world and, fortunately, found a company that creates natural vegan waxes made from plants. The shift in the market ultimately found a solution for us.

For a long time, I was looking for organic black cumin seed oil to source for our products and couldn’t find it anywhere in the world, so I decided to grow it. I made contact with a local farmer in Israel, and he began growing the plant. We sent it to a local factory to cold press, and this became the first cold-pressed organic black cumin seed oil on the market. At that time, we also sold it as an oil for health and wellness. Now, we use it primarily in Lavido skincare as it’s a great anti-inflammatory ingredient by helping to prevent and reduce redness.

Kara Soule CEO and Co-Founder, Verdant

Unfortunately, the term “wild west” perfectly describes much of the unregulated CBD marketplace. Products may contain synthetic CBD, little to no CBD, pesticides, heavy metals, just hemp seed oil or unchecked THC levels. Despite these “outlaws," my brothers/co-founders and I were unrelenting in maintaining our exacting ingredient standards. Even with our relevant professional backgrounds, though, we faced many challenges along the way.

For a year, we spent every waking minute researching our supply chain, engaging in hundreds of industry conversations, testing ingredients and even architecting our own—and the industry’s first—blockchain system. We came across more than a few "interesting” characters that year, including a lab with “adjustable” test results. 

The process was wearying, but, as a self-funded company with an almost obsessive ingredient focus, we refused to cut corners. As a result, we’ve been able to create something we truly believe in and, when customers notice the difference and recommend us to their families, it is incredibly gratifying. That’s how we’re trying to “settle” CBD’s wild west.

DANIELLE CUCCIO CEO, Cuccio Somatology

Luckily, we have an in-house regulatory department, and I'm not sure what I would do without them. However, you just really need to know the rules. Ingredients have CAS Numbers (Chemical Abstracts Service), etc. It's so much more than just an ingredient name. These days, consumers are very ingredient-savvy. They know what's up. You can't fool them.  

I take it very seriously to create products that have clean ingredients, but also have results. I want all of our products to always be good for our customers. We started using hemp in a recent product, and I had to make two versions of it because some of my customers can't sell hemp in their country. There's always a way to make something work.  

Joan Sutton Founding Partner and CEO, 707 Flora

Sourcing quality, full-spectrum CBD isn’t the easiest task and, beyond that, the best CBD suppliers are not necessarily seasoned cosmetic raw material suppliers, so that introduces another set of obstacles. The issues we had were that some of the original CBD development samples were in carrier oils, and that meant that you would have a very diluted concentration of CBD. Some didn’t have the right paperwork or testing, some would not be able to scale up for larger production runs, and some didn’t understand what an INCI name was (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) and why we needed that. 

I am lucky to have a cannabis expert as a partner that was able to source multiple full-spectrum CBD suppliers and, after testing all of the different CBD compounds in the formulations for efficacy and, then, vetting the companies, we chose the top two, knowing that, if my first choice didn’t come through, I would have a backup.

Louis Marty Co-Founder, Merci Handy

Our main challenge has been with our deodorant. I love natural deodorants, but the ingredients offer some problems when it comes to traces smell, and efficiency. We developed a clean deodorant without alcohol, aluminum and parabens. I love glycerin and sodium hydroxide. We overcame the smell issue of natural deodorants by working with Firmenich to find the perfect scent.

Melinda Herron Founder, 103 Collection

We are a vegan lifestyle brand and plant-based ingredients are essential to our ingredient deck. Many factors such as crops, demand and market disruption can affect our ingredients. The crops for essential oils are always changing due to climate changes and demand. With these changes, we have had to continuously communicate with our manufacturer about new ingredients that can be substituted to ensure that the quality and performance remain consistent with our values. We are always excited about consumers that are eager to learn more about vegan products and will continue to make sure that our ingredient deck reflects a conscious lifestyle. 

Anne Kukkohovi Founder, Supermood

Some of our products have special Finnish ingredients that can be harvested only during certain times of the year, and let’s say birch sap in Canada cannot be compared to Finnish birch sap. So, we need to have that in mind as we plan our actions, but that is also one of the things I love the most about the business and really hope that I never have to give that up.

PAAYAL MAHAJAN Founder, Essential Body

I love showcasing ingredients from India. My vanilla beans come from a farmer’s co-op in South India. My coffee comes from Indian coffee farmers. My formulations work on the principle of efficacy, safety and real sustainability. I watch the ingredient trends come and go. I am also acutely aware of the environmental impact of these trends. As an example, I don’t use sandalwood in my retail line. Sandalwood is an endangered species, is heavily regulated, and authentic sandalwood oil is near impossible to come by. 

The more I study, the more I learn and lean into my own education, I realize how important it is to create formulations that are good for you and the planet. I do import my matcha from Japan and Manuka honey from New Zealand, but I arrived at that decision after months of research and evaluating all my options. 

I don’t call one ingredient a hero because I formulate every single product with a lot of attention, science and careful analysis. I use effective, gentle yet potent ingredients, none of which cause skin sensitivities or allergies, and none of my oils exceed a two on the comedogenic scale. I also stay away from trends.

Michelle Shaffer Founder and CEO, TwinMedix

We always look for improvement as technology is ever-changing, and we look for the purest, most natural ingredients in our formulas. With that said, we did have one issue we wanted to evaluate with one of our product SKUs to make sure the stability and consistency of product ingredients work to the best of its ability. 

We reevaluated this product SKU and did some further testing with the formula as products can separate in different temperatures. The evaluation was done by our manufacturer, who did additional stability testing with all temperatures and ingredients. In the end, the manufacturer did make some modifications with the ingredients to make certain the product performed within specific temperature ranges.

Luisa Wiesche Founder and Business Director, De Lilou

Our fresh ingredients are our most valuable capital and are supplied by just a few hand-picked producers. We worked tirelessly to find the ones who deliver us raw materials that are grown, harvested and extracted ethically at the peak of their potency. The fact that we only produce small batches implies that we also only buy small amounts of ingredients at a time. This pushes prices up. That’s why finding trusted supplier partners with transparent processes throughout the value chain is the best strategy for building a long-term relationship within the supply chain.

DANUTA DUDEK Founder, Cotarde

The ingredient list is a never-ending challenge, and one may feel like constant changes are needed to stay up to date with the trends. From the beginning, we wanted to have a technology based on actives that would prove to work their best in very harsh, onboard conditions so we focused on identifying those instead of screening latest trends. I still believe it was the right decision, even though there are very strong trends sweeping across the category.

Lynette Reed Co-Founder, Fluid Fragrances

We have had a lot of requests for all-natural and, in perfumery, that can be challenging to have a sophisticated fragrance using only natural ingredients, but we are working on an upcoming all-natural collection. Otherwise, with perfumery, we don't have many of the issues other cosmetics and beauty products have.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].