The European Union has banned or restricted the use of 1,400 ingredients in beauty products due to their harmful implications on the human skin.
Of those 1,400 ingredients, the United States has banned a mere 11; and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no power to protect the more than 80 percent of Americans who are clueless to the questionable ingredients they're putting onto their bodies every day.
Harmful chemicals are present in many of the hottest beauty and cosmetic products on the market, and the damage caused by these ingredients, including phthalates and parabens, is wreaking havoc on the largest organ of the human body: our skin.
Beautycounter Founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew has made it her mission to effect change in the beauty industry, from community awareness to government action.
Through the 3-year-old beauty brand, which has exclusively banned 1,500-plus harmful ingredients in its products, Renfrew seeks to get safer products into the hands of women of all ages. Beyond that, she says,
My ultimate goal is to see that we see cosmetic reform; that we actually pass a health protective law on a federal level. To increase awareness, to actively advocate for the need for safer ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products; to get people on both sides of the aisle realizing this isn't a political issue, this is an American health issue. We can be a voice in Washington; we can mobilize our community at large to help us advocate for reform -- that is of utmost importance to me.
The New York native's passion to empower and support women through her entrepreneurial spirit started at a young age. Renfrew owes much of her success to the influence of her mother, who encouraged her to be both financially and emotionally independent, and to create her own pillar.
And in the form of tough love, Renfrew's mother motivated her to launch her first endeavor in college in order to pay for a semester abroad.
It was her cleaning service on Nantucket that would pave the way for a long line of self-made successes, from launching one of the first multi-channel businesses focused on women, The Wedding List, which later was acquired by Martha Stewart; to establishing herself as a sought-after New York-based consultant in the fashion and retail industries.
With such an extensive background, Renfrew is adamant about taking on projects she's passionate about and can find some connection to. She says,
I think a common thread in my career and life has been on women-centric businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors, with a nod of always trying to be disruptive and trying to do things that haven't yet been done. ... I take the path of most resistance as opposed to least resistance.
A brief stint on Wall Street during her years in Hong Kong between 1994 and 1995 would teach her not only a lesson in chasing passion over money, but also in the power of women in the workplace.
Renfrew found herself scrutinized more by male colleagues in the industry than in any other role she's held since. She came out of the experience with a more profound outlook on women than most even give themselves credit for.
To women who find themselves stuck in the grasp of male chauvinists or misogyny in their places of work, she says,
Use your femininity and your power as a woman to your advantage, don't look at it as a liability. Use it as an asset. ... We as women have great tools in our back pockets and I don't think we always use that to our advantage.
One of the greatest tools to which she's referring is humor. Renfrew finds it rewarding to outsmart the men who find it hard to view women on a level playing field within the office walls.
Having dealt with the patronizing, sexual, inappropriate remarks of male co-workers and colleagues, she adds,
Be super sarcastic. ... Make fun of them without them realizing it. ... Don't let it get under your skin.
Making light of a draining situation isn't always motivating, and it's generally easier said than done, but what's worse is letting the situation fester and reach a boiling point.
Though she believes the first order of business is to remove yourself from any work environment in which your superior is a man who hates women, Renfrew says,
If you need the job, figure out what makes that person tick and get good at being one step ahead of them. ... You can outperform or outpace someone and they will come to respect you.
Rather than to become bogged down by the cutthroat attitudes of oppressive colleagues, Renfrew suggests consistently asking yourself, "How can I be better?" Stay honed in; know what's coming before it arrives. Notice how your biggest opponents in the office operate and one-up them every time. As Renfrew says, "[Women] can circumvent a lot of these issues."
The first step to setting yourself up for unbounded success is to have unfiltered confidence, as it's a lack of confidence, rather than respect, which hinders women from reaching their professional potential.
Whether it's attributed to not being given opportunities or being told you can't achieve a goal simply because you're a woman, Renfrew says,
Confidence is a big impediment for success for women. ... It doesn't matter what men or other women think of you if you have confidence in yourself.
It's confidence to which Renfrew owes her success, complemented by perseverance and hard work, as well as being resourceful and scrappy when necessary.
So how does a woman of her work ethic go from cleaning business, to Wall Street, to retail consultant, to founder of Beautycounter?
Back in 2006, a documentary starring Al Gore as its commentator, "An Inconvenient Truth," hit viewers with a haunting enlightenment of the realities of climate change and the need to protect our planet. It was this film that sparked Renfrew's own advocacy for the environmental health movement and lessening our exposure to toxic chemicals through the specific medium of beauty products.
Renfrew tells me about the process of uncovering the idea for Beautycounter, which was influenced by her own frustration with finding skincare products and color cosmetics that suited her needs. She says,
I could find everything from the mass market brands to the luxury market that were high-performing brands. They were effective; they were aspirational; they were chic; they were sexy. But they were filled with all these ingredients that I knew were either definitely harmful to health or potentially harmful to health. … But then when I looked at the alternatives, [they] were very sort of earthy and crunchy and didn't necessarily work very well; didn't necessarily smell very good. They weren't packaged in a way that I thought was commercially viable. … I saw a real opportunity to bring products into the marketplace that were both high-performing and significantly safer for your health.
Aside from sparking her entrepreneurial spirit once again, Renfrew felt the necessary connection to the mission of the business; the passion point which became the driving force behind what is now a full-force e-commerce operation, with roughly 16,000 consultants across all 50 states.
The female-focused -- and primarily female-run -- company aims to provide customers with a solution to an overwhelming issue they may not even be aware of. Renfrew speaks to the Beautycounter commitment, telling me,
[The goal is] to educate and to increase awareness around what I believe to be a very important issue of our day, which is that we are being exposed to thousands of toxic chemicals through a variety of means, and we should be more keenly aware of what we're putting on our bodies, in our homes and on our children.
The aforementioned community of independent consultants, also predominantly women, is ever-growing; having recently expanded to Canada, its current network will nearly double by the end of the year. In addition to e-commerce and online retail relationships with J. Crew and Goop, it's the independent consultants who are driving revenue and building the brand image.
And for this pro-women woman, Beautycounter's unique business model is also a huge win for budding female entrepreneurs. Renfrew explains,
We've been able to provide women with a great opportunity to build a business and also to have significant social impact. ... I think there's an opportunity to help people earn an income while being students, and also to get safer products into their hands. The power of mobilizing and creating opportunity for women is exponential. ... If you think about microlending -- empowering women with an opportunity, so they can then change a family, a village, a committee -- I think we're doing the exact same thing with women, and you're just going to continue to see the ripple effect of that.
Though her work in the beauty marketplace is environmentally-conscious, solicitous and admirable, it's not all chocolate-covered with a cherry on top. Even the most charitable, awe-inspiring brands and their founders struggle with the competition and growing pains of business. To that, Renfrew says,
When you start a new business, there's no one to pave the path. So everything we're doing is disruptive; the way in which we distribute our product is disruptive and innovative; the way we've created the product is disruptive and innovative. Nothing has been easy for us. Every day presents a new challenge. ... Everything is constantly new. As an entrepreneur, you're never able to rest on your morals because you're always trying to figure out what's next; what am I missing.
What's next for Beautycounter is to focus more on age-specific demographics, now that they've appropriately attracted women of all ages who are simply hoping to lead healthier, consciously cleaner lifestyles.
Projects are soon to launch, which appeal to the Generation-Y market, where women are discovering the best ways to care for their changing skin, and to young teens, who are just beginning to acknowledge skin care. And if you're on the East Coast, you'll have the exclusive chance to check out Beautycounter's first-ever pop-up shop in Nantucket during summer 2016.
In the meantime, Renfrew -- mother, wife, daughter, friend and serial entrepreneur -- will continue living true to her passions, grounded by her family and the goals that keep her driven. With that, she tells me,
I hope that I can pave the way for people to reach beyond where they thought they could go; that I can inspire them to be a better or the best person they can be.