Clean beauty destination Credo just launched the most inclusive line of clean foundation to date. The 43-shade foundation collection and primer by Exa, the retailer’s new in-house cosmetics brand, were formulated without controversial but common ingredients such as cyclical silicones, PEGs, parabens, synthetic fragrance, talc, mineral oil, and preservatives like trieodium edta. The launch of Exa signals a huge step forward for the clean beauty niche in its efforts to make non-toxic cosmetics available to all.
Clean and non-toxic beauty brands have been trailblazers in their efforts to advocate for a new ethical baseline in the beauty industry, making values relating to ingredient transparency, wellness, sourcing, and sustainability pillars of their business models. This is noteworthy considering the beauty industry is alarmingly under-regulated in the United States. (For reference, while the United States bans just 30 ingredients, the European Union bans over 1,300, while Credo bans over 2,700.) But clean beauty’s efforts to “clean up” the industry have been limited when it comes to complexion products, with the most expansive clean, liquid foundation range numbered at just nineteen shades—until now.
The industry-wide call to develop inclusive ranges of complexion products began in earnest in 2017, with Fenty Beauty‘s record-breaking initial launch of the Pro Filt’r foundation in forty different shades. In 2019, Uoma Beauty then redefined the “shade-matching” status quo by introducing a new methodology for selecting the best fit for your “skin kin” and undertone among their 51-shade collection. As conventional beauty brands raced to launch forty shades or more, most clean beauty brands lagged behind.
Now, Exa’s 2020 launch of the High Fidelity Semi-Satin Foundation range marks a new beauty milestone as the first inclusive and clean complexion launch in the industry. Infused with hyaluronic acid, maqui berry, and brightening peach extract, as well as anti-pollution micro-algae to fend off free radicals and urban grime, the launch was in development for two years. During this time, the brand devoted approximately a year to studying shade ranges and perfecting undertones, making it a priority to include cool, medium, and warm undertones for each shade family. Their initial photo shoot was a focus group on shade matching, allowing them to add additional shades where they found gaps in coverage. The result? 43 shades of buildable, medium-to-full coverage in a dewy-natural finish, available for $38. Overall, the foundation is an easy, longwearing pick for someone with a dry or combination skin type, while the use of blotting sheets and a setting powder will suit those with oily skin.
The label of “clean” beauty is legally unregulated, which means brands can identify themselves as such regardless of their actual product composition. But the term is meant to refer to those brands that exclude commonly used, controversial ingredients from their product formulations. As Annie Jackson, Credo co-founder and COO explains, “We at Credo have a comprehensive restricted substance list called The Dirty List.” In order for a product to be sold at Credo, it must adhere to their stringent, pro-health values as outlined by their restricted ingredient specifications banning over 2,700 ingredients. In complexion products alone, Jackson identifies butylparaben, cyclopentasiloxane, and fragrance as problematic culprits that are banned by Credo—but that are frequently found in mainstream foundations in spite of data from studies connecting them to issues like immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, reproductive concerns, organ toxicity, and allergic reactions. Exa’s foundations and primer are formulated to Credo’s rigorous clean standards.
Up until now, clean-leaning makeup artists were unable to work with beauty kits made entirely from non-toxic brands due to a lack of shade availability for various undertones—particularly on clients with deeper skin tones. “It’s in a makeup artist’s blood to mix and tinker to get that perfect foundation shade and undertone,” explains Katey Denno, celebrity makeup artist and lead makeup artist at Credo. “Until Exa’s launch, the available options in the deeper skin tone end of the skin tone spectrum were slim at best, and I would constantly turn to conventional brands to find a variety of shades and undertone hues.”
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This lack of inclusivity in the industry has far-reaching effects on all involved. Not only is this experience disheartening for Denno as a professional, but it is devastating for Black customers seeking out clean cosmetics to supplement their beauty regimens. “Women should be able to see themselves in every facet of the product,” explains therapist Kaye Robinson, LMHC, of DRK Beauty Healing, a mental health initiative seeking to provide 10,000 hours of free therapy to women of color impacted by COVID. “Representation will always matter.”
Influencer and digital content creator Tacha John explains how in instances when she has been singled out as a result of her appearance, she has felt “like I didn’t belong there, like I needed to censor myself and shape-shift into a more digestible version of myself.” The psychological impact of her time spent in a non-inclusive environment “made it difficult to show up as my authentic self.” This is why it is especially important for the beauty industry to recognize, challenge, and reform instances where a non-inclusive status quo is revealed.
Clean beauty purists would further argue that this lack of access to clean cosmetics is a political issue, as Environmental Working Group (EWG) research indicates that women of color are exposed to a higher toxic load via their personal care products. Yet considering the emphasis that clean beauty brands place on making transparency and ethics pillars of their business models, this delay in developing inclusive foundation shade ranges seems almost hypocritical. A genuine understanding of why this step took so long relative to the mainstream beauty market requires a deeper look into the industry’s business structure and the expenses associated with launching inclusive cosmetics collections.
As cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat.com assures us, the difficulty in creating foundations and concealers for deeper skin tones is not one of formulation. “The process for formulating makeup for darker skin tones is similar to the process for creating lighter shades—and [formulating clean formulas for deeper skin tones] is just as easy, too,” he says. “The challenge for manufacturers is cost and supply chain.”
So why has it taken so long to get here? Robinson explains that for many brands, offering a 40-shade collection of foundation would amount to doubling their stock keeping units, or SKUs—an accurate estimation, as Credo’s most extensive foundation range prior to Exa’s launch consisted of only nineteen shades. All of this entails a financial burden that more established conventional beauty brands can more easily manage, while smaller, indie beauty brands have a difficult decision to make: whether to enter the complexion space with a limited range (and plans to expand later), or to forego this area of the market altogether. The right choice, though challenging, should always be to represent customers of every skin tone and shade from the jump.
This is where Credo’s established pre-eminence within the clean beauty space provides them with a distinct advantage. As a chain retailer carrying 135 brands, they have access to ample market research and possess the funds necessary to conduct in-house R&D. They also benefit from extensive customer data and feedback from their nine (soon-to-be eleven) brick-and-mortar locations in California, Texas, Massachusetts, and New York, utilizing a mutual give-and-take with their clients. With these internal resources, the R&D process they pioneered can be used to further perfect the functionality of their first in-house, private label makeup line with respect to their consumer base. As the name itself implies—Exa refers to an exajoule, a unit of measurement for 10^18—they do have plans to expand in the future, acknowledging inclusivity as a goal with nearly infinite potential to perpetually strive for in years to come.
To donate to DRK Beauty Healing, a mental health initiative raising 10,000 hours of free therapy for women of color that have been impacted by COVID-19 in the United States, do so at their Go Fund Me page. DONATE
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