As we draw to the close of another year, I decided it was a good time to reflect on the diversity of topics and guests I’ve had the pleasure of hosting on the Formula Botanica Green Beauty Conversations podcast. When a member of our team suggested I pick my all-time favourite 10 episodes, I had both a tough and easy time choosing them from the near 150 we’ve reached.
The sheer number of guests I’ve interviewed, all sharing incredible insights, opinions and stories from across the beauty industry – and beyond – made narrowing down any particular topic incredibly hard. Then, I remembered some of their viewpoints – at times divergent from mine and my preconceptions but always thought provoking – and a clear top 10 episodes came to mind.
I intend for this list to be used, not as a reminder, but as a call to action. If you missed listening to these episodes first time around, then you are in for some eye-openers on the beauty industry we call home. These are episodes that stand the test of time and are as relevant now as they were when I recorded them.
As we struggle with information overload in our industry alone, it is reassuring to know that Green Beauty Conversations tells it as it is and tells it straight. We don’t shy away from controversy and aim to keep an open mind. Our episodes on biotech and synthetic bio beauty, for example, certainly ruffled some feathers. Green Beauty Conversations sits firmly in the sustainable, naturals sector of beauty. But, we don’t operate in a vacuum and nor without needing to understand the mainstream beauty industry and the science, trends and practices that drive it.
I introduce each Green Beauty Conversation with our podcast’s mission; its aim is to challenge you to think about how you buy, use, make or sell your green beauty formulations. By exploring my personal top 10 episodes below, along with the many more fascinating conversations in our podcast archives, you will start your own journey toward helping change the beauty industry for the better.
And for a behind-the-scenes look at our podcast, take a look at my post earlier this year celebrating 100 episodes. I share what goes into producing Green Beauty Conversations each week, as well as my takeouts on what I’ve learned along the way. I’d love to hear your views, so do subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss an episode and can leave us your comments.
I’ve placed the episodes into loose categories, with sustainability issues leading the list. The podcasts are not in a top 10 order.
Making sense of sustainability
The microplastics hiding in your cosmetics
This episode proved to be shocking and fueled a record number of podcast comments on our social media. The fact is that there are thousands of liquid microplastics in the formulations of personal care products we use daily. Of the 7,000 products surveyed by the environmental organisation The Plastic Soup Foundation, almost 9 out of 10 contained microplastics. Who knew this? And are we right to be worried? My guest Madhuri Prabhakar, project leader and campaigner for the Beat the Microbead (BTMB) campaign by the Plastic Soup Foundation, joined me to unpack the data and campaign for a serious debate on microplastics in cosmetics. Her revelations are startling.
Are beauty samples sustainable?
We all love getting something for free, but have you ever stopped to consider how those little plastic vials, sachets and mini-size samples contribute to the world’s plastic waste mountain? Each year, the beauty industry creates 122bn units of sample sachets, most of which have no clear-cut way of being recycled and often end up as ocean plastics. But do we use them? Did we ask for them? There are alternatives to samples as a way to reward customers and tempt them with new products, as I discovered talking to Mia Davis, the forward-thinking, innovative VP of Sustainability and Impact at Credo Beauty, the largest clean beauty retailer in the US.
How sustainable are essential oils?
This episode doesn’t shy away from controversy. At Formula Botanica, we love essential oils. They play an inherent role in fragrancing, our wellbeing and as skin- and hair-beneficial cosmetic ingredients. So, to put a different perspective on the growing, harvesting and increasingly liberal use of essential oils in our lives, I invited environmentalist, conservationist and skincare brand founder Dr Sally Gouldstone onto the podcast. Sally paints a less than rosy picture of essential oils and mentions, for example, their low yields given the land they use and their detrimental effect on biodiversity as monoculture crops. I wanted to know how natural formulators can square the circle by using essential oils more mindfully rather than missing out on their benefits altogether. Did I get the answers? Listen in to find out.
Biodegradable beauty: a licence to greenwash the beauty industry?
Biodegradability is one of the most complex concepts to define, let alone grasp the science of. As such, the term “biodegradable” is open to misuse, and nowhere more so than in the beauty industry, whether it is talking about packaging or the cosmetic product within. Everything biodegrades over time, even if it takes hundreds of years. With the term “biodegradable” appearing on so many cosmetics these days, I decided it was time to dig deeper into the term and invited the school’s Education Manager Ana Green to join me in unearthing the truth, dispelling the myths and discovering why the biodegradable label has so much potential to greenwash us.
The big beauty picture
The next podcasts take an industry-wide viewpoint on topics from beauty industry history to trends and inclusivity.
The history of the beauty industry
If history wasn’t your favourite subject at school, then prepare to be enthralled by this episode on the origins of the modern cosmetics’ industry and how its past is still shaping beauty’s future today. In this podcast episode, I interviewed Geoffrey Jones, author of an in-depth and fascinating book “Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry,” who is Isidor Straus Professor of Business History at the Harvard Business School. Professor Jones connects the dots to show how, for example, early-20th century industry personalities like Helena Rubenstein and Max Factor still influence our perceptions of the industry today (Rubenstein is credited with indelibly linking white coats with advanced cosmetic products). Listen in and then read the book for some fascinating insights into, among other topics, the myths, lies and makeup that helped shape the modern beauty industry we know today.
The age of skinimalism
It has been two years since we aired this episode on skinimalism, and it’s as relevant today as it was then. The word was coined to cover both a trend for cosmetics with minimal ingredients and minimalist skincare and haircare routines using fewer products. In essence, it is the concept of “less is more.” However, are we really putting minimalist personal care regimens into practice? Can we resist the latest shiny new product out there? With statistics showing that the average beauty consumer has around 16 products on their shelves and in regular use, there is clearly a disjoint between trend, term and consumer habits. Ana and I took a long, hard look at skinimalism, which has a core role to play in helping reduce beauty consumerism and promote sustainable practices.
Is the beauty industry disability friendly? A panel discussion
Terms like inclusivity, diversity and accessibility get bandied about liberally these days in the beauty industry. Just when you think you have grasped the concepts and are acting on them, you get jolted into realising that you are skimming the surface of issues and making assumptions. This was very much the case when I interviewed three incredible women – two beauty brand founders and a blogger and journalist – all of whom were not only challenging the beauty industry to address the needs of all customers but also doing something about it themselves. Had you ever stopped to consider how visually-impaired people interact with beauty brands? What about the simple act of putting on mascara if you don’t have the dexterity in your hands? This episode challenges us, yet is also uplifting. It is a must-listen for all of us involved in beauty.
Beauty founders and pioneers
Here, I highlight just three of the many pioneering indie beauty brand founders and personalities that took the podcast hot seat over the past three years and more.
Naughty Alchemist, Stella Nisreen Kanaan: graduate and brand story
Once you’ve heard the name Naughty Alchemist, you are unlikely to forget the brand. This was just one reason the Formula Botanica graduate and indie beauty founder chose the brand name. Among other reasons were her decision to open up her formulation lab by creating glass walls for her clients to see her at work and as a symbol of her products’ transparency, and her sheer determination to do things differently. Stella’s love of botanicals goes beyond launching a successful product range. Her latest initiative is a project with local farms in her home country, Denmark, to produce the plants for her organic extracts within a few miles of her base in Copenhagen. My interview with Stella Nisreen is a tale of just how far-reaching and career-building a course with Formula Botanica can be.
Dija Ayodele on why Black skincare matters
For decades, the dominant portrayal of beauty has been through the lens of white and lighter skin tones. Beauty editorials, advertising and marketing – and of course, product formulation – have typically failed to represent, let alone understand, the needs of Black and darker skin. One woman stands out in particular in bringing the voice of Black women and their beauty needs to the fore. Dija Ayodele has made it her life’s work to educate the industry and advocate for all types of beauty products to be accessible and relevant to women of colour. Simply put, Dija Ayodele is making Black skincare matter. In this interview, Dija, an aesthetician and champion and pioneer of Black and darker skincare and beauty, has plenty to say about how the beauty industry – and its training in particular – has ignored the needs of women of colour. I interviewed her just after the publication of her book ‘Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide,‘ which was published in late 2021 to international acclaim.
Nopalera – the brand mission of indie founder Sandra Velasquez
At Formula Botanica, we have a hard time keeping up with the news of Sandra Velasquez, the award-winning, energetic, and driven founder of US-based, Latino-heritage brand Nopalera. Barely a week passes without the beauty media reporting on Sandra’s latest award. However, the brand’s success is based on a story of long hours, a start-up financed on a shoestring and above all, an incredible vision. In this interview with Sandra, we focus on the overriding and guiding mission for her brand, one that has been fundamental to Nopalera’s success. Sandra spent a whole year honing her core philosophy and getting her branding to reflect her vision for Nopalera as an upmarket Latino beauty brand. She bucked perceived norms that said Latino products were cheap, stunned and silenced her critics, and grew a community around her mission. Now that Nopalera is stocked in leading stores around the States, Sandra’s story demonstrates the power of having a clear-cut mission. The advice Sandra serves up in this episode is a goldmine for anyone starting out on their own indie brand journey.
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Lorraine Dallmeier is a Biologist, Chartered Environmentalist and the CEO of Formula Botanica, the award-winning online organic cosmetic science school. Read more about Lorraine and the Formula Botanica Team.
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