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3 Women Who Are Literally Changing the Beauty Industry from Within

How these dynamic women are building successful brands on pure ingredients.

Flowers Courtesy Shutterstock

If a booming Botox industry and the endless images of airbrushed celebrities are any indication, women are being sold the idea that aging is something best done with fillers and filters. But that’s all about to change. Over the past year, the “natural” beauty category has been the fastest growing category of skincare products, with natural products comprising a quarter of all high-end skincare sales, according to the NPD Group. Leading the charge are three innovators who are embracing a different approach to aging gracefully and naturally, building successful brands on the idea that beauty comes quite literally from within, starting with the purity of ingredients you put on—and into—your body.


Nyakio Grieco and a mask from her eponymous skincare brand.  Courtesy: Nyakio

Gregg Renfrew founded her Beautycounter empire as part of a mission to get safer and cleaner beauty products into the hands of everyone, banning 1,500 potentially harmful ingredients from being added to her nontoxic makeup and skincare line while ensuring that her cosmetics will perform and are “as indulgent as any other luxe shampoo, lipstick, or oil in the market.” It was a risky move, but one that has paid off. Today her Santa Monica–based company is valued at $400 million.

Over the past year, the “natural” beauty category has been the fastest growing category of skincare products, with natural products comprising a quarter of all high-end skincare sales.

Taking what is “green and clean” is also the foundation for Los Angeles–based Nyakio Grieco’s eponymous skincare brand, Nyakio, and giving back to girls is part of the business model. “I always had such incredible mentors. We are currently partnered with Girls Inc. and work as mentors in its Operation SMART initiative to inspire a love of science, technology, economics, and math (STEM).” As a young girl, Grieco looked to her grandmother, a coffee farmer in Kenya, as inspiration for aging gracefully. When she was eight, her grandmother shared her first beauty secret: to use Kenyan coffee and sugar to gently exfoliate her skin. “It left my skin so soft, and that’s really where this journey began. When I founded Nyakio in the early 2000s, Africa wasn’t being celebrated in prestige beauty,” Grieco says. “The brand is based on family secrets, but really it’s about taking ingredients that come from the earth that other cultures have been using for thousands of years.” Hydration and using natural ingredients, she believes, are far more effective for timeless beauty than medical interventions.


On left, Victoria Tsai, founder of Tatcha.  Thor Swift Photography San Franc

“Sometimes I worry that in the U.S. women feel they have an expiration date,” says Victoria Tsai, founder of Tatcha. “In Japan, there’s a belief that when you’re young your beauty shines on the surface, but as you experience life, your beauty becomes much deeper. You develop a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart.” Tsai, who divides her time between San Francisco and Japan, was working in finance when on a chance visit to Kyoto she met a geisha and asked her about her makeup. “I had acute dermatitis with scarring and blistering on my face and I was looking for makeup to cover it up,” she says. “I thought if anyone would know, it would be a geisha. But instead she took me to an apothecary and I began learning about skincare rituals and ingredients they had been using for centuries.” She began studying with scientists and geishas to develop her skincare brand, which is a favorite with those who have sensitive skin like Tsai, whose skin healed after she started following a geisha beauty routine. The ingredients Tsai uses are the pillars of the antioxidant-rich Japanese diet: green tea, seaweed, and rice.

So what is Tsai’s definition of beauty? “It’s at the heart of everything we do.  If we are going to spend the waking hours of our life away from our family to start this company, what is our greater goal? Is it to get rich or make a difference?” To that end, Tsai donates a portion of every Tatcha purchase to Room to Read. To date, she has funded more than two million days of school for girls around the world. “When I thought back about what I’ve learned over the years, I realized beauty is really in the heart and the mind,” she says. “When you are happy and healthy, your skin glows. I wouldn’t have any opportunities in my life without a family who supported education.  I’ve been watching my daughter grow up and [have noticed] how her life has changed thanks to education and libraries.”


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