“I could make that myself”.
“What’s so bad about my current skincare?”
“Organic beauty is just a marketing ploy”.
“It just won’t work as well as the products I’m already attached to”.
Artisan skincare maker /Holistic Esthetician Jennifer Devlin (of Celtic Complexion fame) has heard all this and more. Many, many times. Devlin stands up against these and other myths and untruths daily, while toiling endlessly to craft her high-end, non-toxic skincare by hand. And while the big brands are still pulling in the big bucks peddling chemicals to fountain of youth hopefuls, Devlin continues to spread the word about the value of clean, safe skincare. That can be a tough fight.
With a wide range of water-free moisturizers, sunscreens, cleansers and more, all of which are formulated with super-clean, truly beneficial ingredients like Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Shea butter and a variety of powerhouse essential oils, it’s no wonder Celtic Complexion is adored by bloggers and beauty consumers across the globe.
But that success doesn’t mean that Devlin has it easy. On the contrary, when she isn’t formulating or blending, she’s sourcing quality ingredients (not as easy as it sounds- there is always a good, better, and best), researching, or keeping on top of the ever-demanding social media tasks that a business owner today must perform. A Jill of all trades, Devlin aims to educate others on the perils of most mainstream skincare, and the benefits of the switch to safe skincare.
And she would know – Devlin herself worked behind the counter of one of the biggest names in cosmetic counter history. In fact, that’s what inspired the change- once she realized that the ingredients in these products were a complete horror show, she vowed to make a change. She has succeeded with Celtic Complexion, but she still encounters stereotypes and sceptics daily.
In this exclusive guest post, Devlin is coming clean (pun intended) on the myths and truths that lurk in the industry. Mostly though, she’s here to talk about what it’s really like to be someone who uses her hands to craft a non-toxic labour of love.
I’m pleased to bring you an engaging, informative and relevant guest post by the woman behind Celtic Complexion. Jennifer is someone I respect and admire as a business woman and artisan. I adore Celtic Complexion and am proud to consider her a friend of mine. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. Jennifer Devlin has a lot to say, and I bring this to you because I feel my readers are ready to listen. Yes, it’s a long read. Read it in pieces if you have to, but definitely read it. You won’t regret it.
“I had years to work on my formulas and perfect them. Corporate cosmetic companies don’t start off that way. It’s a business from the start. They look at the bottom line first, and work backwards.”
I find myself compelled to share a follow-up to my article entitled Confessions of a Retail Beauty Advisor a piece I wrote about my beginnings in the cosmetic industry, and why I left to start my own skincare company after spending many, many years in the industry. In other words, why would I bite the hand that fed me?
I wrote that article in my freshman year of business, I was still in the “honeymoon phase”. All I had were my formulas and a naivety. I am not a cosmetic chemist, a dermatologist or a celebrity, which are pretty much the tickets to entry one must have in order to step on to the national stage of being a cosmetic industry player. I liken myself more to a chef than a corporate cosmetic manufacturer. A chef uses their passion to source the finest ingredients, then experiments with the recipe, creating a masterpiece made with love – and that’s exactly the same process I go through.
I had been making products for myself for a very long time before turning it into a business. In fact, the evolution of the brand was; made products for myself, then a hobby where I made products for friends and family, then turned the hobby into a business. I had years to work on my formulas and perfect them. Corporate cosmetic companies don’t start off that way. It’s a business from the start. They look at the bottom line first, and work backwards to assemble a product and marketing strategy to fit their business model and make profits for the shareholders or investors.
Hey, there is nothing wrong with that.. it’s kind of the American way, but the corporate business model and a maker’s business model are as wide apart as the Pacific Ocean, and that’s important to keep in mind when deciding what products you will ultimately buy.
The Corporate Mentality vs. The Maker Mentality
“Most cosmetic companies are owned by the same three conglomerates, so if you think hopping from counter to counter is the answer, you are spending your money on false hopes”.
I educate you about the health of your skin so you can make your own intelligent decision about what’s right for you. They capitalize on your fears to sell you a product. Want to know a secret that you won’t hear at a cosmetic counter, THERE IS NO MAGIC CRÈME THAT WILL MAKE YOU LOOK 25 YEARS OLD! If you believe that, I have a pill to sell you that will make you lose 20 lbs. in a week. Skincare is only one piece of a larger puzzle.
Here is the absolute truth about how to look younger in one simple sentence: Eliminate processed foods from your diet, drink water, take a daily probiotic and omega 3 fatty acid, get at least eight hours of peaceful sleep, exercise, manage stress with yoga or meditation, and use plant-based skincare. That’s the secret. The reason you will never hear that, is because if you believe there IS a magic bullet, you will search the ends of the earth to find it, and empty your wallet in the process. Most cosmetic companies are owned by the same three conglomerates, so if you think hopping from counter to counter is the answer, you are spending your money on false hopes (and making one company very, very rich).
The War on Wrinkles…
“Comparing yourself to a beauty standard which doesn’t exist will only leave you disappointed.”
It’s not your fault, you have been conditioned by Madison Avenue to believe that skincare is the magic bullet, and that aging is “bad”. Let me tell you something, as an esthetician who has worked on thousands of clients, I can tell you without a doubt, the most beautiful people are those that are the happiest in their own skin. Nothing ages you faster than chasing youth.” The corporate message is this: “You aren’t good enough. If you looked younger, you would get that man, that job and have the best sex of your life”. Please note: there is no such thing as a poreless complexion. That’s called Photoshop. Comparing yourself to a beauty standard which doesn’t exist will only leave you disappointed.
Navigating the Matrix of Smoke and Mirrors…
It’s no wonder people are confused. There are so many contradictory stories out there. Who can you trust, and who can you believe? In my experience, the short answer is to find out where the money is coming from. Let’s look at where most women get their beauty advice from:
Beauty Magazines: A magazine earns revenue from selling advertising. If a big corporate company is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some case millions of dollars) on advertising in the magazine, which products do you think will appear as an editor’s must-have list?
Celebrities: More often times than not, a celebrity is being paid by a company to talk about a product, even conversationally. I experienced this first hand when I sent my products to celebrities who I thought would be a good fit for my product. I would get letters back from publicists with a “sponsorship” fee schedule attached, “for your consideration”. Celebrities look great because they have the income to support a glam squad; makeup artists, hair stylists, personal stylists, personal chefs and trainers. Additionally, every promotional picture you see in a magazine is retouched.
Doctors: It’s so hard to dispute an authority figure in a white coat. After all, they went to school for years and years and they are the experts. But are they? (Allopathic) doctors are trained to treat symptoms only. They aren’t trained in nutrition or disease prevention. The healthcare industry as a whole has a mentality of “a pill (or crème, or injection) to fix it”.
When it comes to skincare education, theirs is mostly obtained by vendor reps who are selling the products, not from the doctors actually researching ingredients.
Early in my career, I worked as a vendor rep, and worked many trade shows catering to physicians, and the bottom line is, they are looking for additional revenue streams for their practice. Some of my best clients back in the day were physicians. Skin care was an easy sell for them because nobody really questioned their recommendations.
Consider this; not too long ago, doctors endorsed cigarettes because they were paid to do so.
Who Do You Believe?
“Just because something is toxic or bad for you, doesn’t make it illegal. If that were the case, just about everything in the grocery store would be illegal.”
At this point, you are probably wondering what a small artisan skincare maker like me could possibly know about skincare and ingredients that the industry experts don’t, and that is a very valid question. The answer lies in motivation and education. If you read my first article, you know that I left the corporate cosmetic world because a holistic aesthetician educated me about the toxic ingredients I was putting on my skin. Let’s stop right there. Just because something is toxic or bad for you, doesn’t make it illegal. If that were the case, just about everything in the grocery store would be illegal.
I was motivated to heal my own skin by the knowledge I acquired from this holistic esthetician. I was so intrigued by her advice (mainly because it was so different than my own training), and amazed at the results I experienced that I became curious to learn more. I quit reading beauty magazines and began to read books by others that shared her philosophy. It’s self-education vs. institutional education. These experts were not celebrities or doctors, they were nutritionists, naturopaths, aromatherapists, and healing experts in the fields of meditation, qi gong, Reiki, etc. I have read at least one book every month for the last 5 years and have amassed quite an impressive library. These authors became my teachers and their words and findings have become the foundation from which I built my own company.
The Greatest Skincare You’ve Never Heard of…
“Celtic Complexion started with 10k, in my kitchen. Being true to my convictions of making the best product I could, all of my money was spent on ingredients.”
Once I garnered enough self-education and confidence in my formulas to actually start my own business, I was soon awakened from my idealistic slumber when faced with the task of marketing my products. How could I share my passion, my message, my products with the world without an Estee Lauder budget. Here is the irony. The very magazines and TV shows that send women the message they aren’t good enough are the very same vehicles you need to get the word out about your products. It’s a catch 22. This game requires something I didn’t have, deep pockets. Very. Deep. Pockets.
I have worked for several start up cosmetic companies in my career and I am privy to certain knowledge that the general public isn’t, like “how much capital does it take to start a cosmetic company?” One company I worked for started with three million dollars. Within ten years, she had silently sold her company for a huge profit, and the company has since been sold four times and is now owned by a corporate conglomerate. Hey, more power to her.
Contrast that with my own humble beginnings. Celtic Complexion started with 10k in my kitchen. Being true to my convictions of making the best product I could, all of my money was spent on ingredients. I feel I have a social responsibility to deliver a product I can be proud of, and one that my customers can feel good about spending their hard-earned money on.
With a bare bones budget, it doesn’t leave a lot left over for marketing. So, I put Plan B in effect; build this company one complexion at a time, and rely on word-of-mouth advertising. It’s much slower growth but that’s ok, I am here for the long haul. We are conditioned to buy what we see most often, and I thing that comes from us being so busy. We don’t have time to do research ourselves on what’s good for us, so we rely on the media to tell us what’s good. Just remember, you are given suggestions made for financial reasons, not necessarily because something is good for you.
Remember that the next time you wonder “if this is so good, why haven’t I heard of it before?” There are many, many wonderful artisan brands out there that have not gained national brand recognition. Open your mind to these smaller brands and be impressed on results, not advertising.
Why Should You Spend Money on Products You Have Never Heard Of?
“My own process takes time, and is labor intensive, but it’s made with love and intention”.
I think the perception of consumers is that artisan skin care makers should simply charge for the raw ingredients plus a little bit more; that somehow we don’t deserve to make a living from making products. It reminds me of a story about Picasso that I once read. Picasso was in a park when a woman approached him and asked him to draw a portrait of her. Picasso agreed and quickly sketches her. After handing the sketch to her, she is pleased with the likeness and asks how much she owed to him. Picasso replies $5,000. The woman screamed, “but it took you only five minutes”. “No, Madam, it took me all my life”, replied Picasso.
I have this quote from Rolls Royce on my desk, it reminds me that some people still value craftsmanship: “Every Phantom is hand-built at the Home of Rolls-Royce at Goodwood in England. From seamstresses to surface finish technicians and French polishers, it takes 60 pairs of hands to design, craft and construct a Rolls-Royce before it’s ready for its owner.”
If I can make a comparison to the food industry, the difference between corporate brands and artisan brands is like the difference between factory farming and your local organic farmer. The factory farms want to make as much profit as possible in the least amount of time. The local farmer on the other hand, takes pride in his animals, allows them time to grow and develop how nature intended, without altering their biology with growth hormones and steroids. He has a hand in raising the animals and interacts with his customers. You know who is making your food.
In a cosmetic manufacturing plant, everything is done by machine and products can be made by the thousands. Ingredients are added (preservatives) to ensure a very long shelf life. The formulas are variations of water (up to 80%), synthetic chemicals and fragrance.
Contrast that with an artisan skincare maker like me, whose hands touch every batch and each batch is made fresh weekly. My own process takes time, and is labor intensive, but it’s made with love and intention. I know to some that sounds funny and maybe a bit “woo-woo”, but I love what I do, and so does every artisan skin care maker I’ve met. My intention is to delivery an amazing product that will have a positive impact on your skin.
Again to make the contrast to food, the best meals I have ever eaten were prepared by mom, who made the meal with love, not a meal I’ve had in a trendy restaurant. The source of the raw ingredients. I can choose from many different sources different qualities of base oils and essential oils. It’s my job to research and to do my own quality control tests to determine which ingredient will make it into my formulas. I am not looking for the cheapest ingredient I can find, it’s usually the opposite, I look for the best quality.
The availability of raw ingredients. Synthetic chemicals are inexpensive. Whole raw ingredients are expensive. Their price is determined by conditions beyond my control such as weather. For example, last year there was a shortage of jojoba oil, and the price more than doubled due to a bad crop thanks to the weather. It was very challenging to get my hands on certified organic jojoba oil, since I don’t buy in large volumes. My option was to pay the going rate, or substitute that ingredient for something else. I ultimately decided to pay the price because I didn’t want to alter the formula that my customers were used to.
Research and Development. It takes time to develop a great product to bring to market. I have been tweaking some of my formulas for about a decade to get the results I wanted. I am often asked why I only have less than a dozen products, when some companies have over a hundred products. The truth is, if something works, why would I need to introduce another product just for the sake of “new”?
The Problem with New…
“The so-called “ancient-wisdom” of Chinese Medicine has been around for five thousand years, yet people question the validity and success rate of it because they put their trust in the “better living through chemistry” paradigm that has been prevalent since the 1930’s” .
The media is constantly on the lookout for the “newest-greatest-breakthrough!” Here’s the problem with that; skin care companies constantly have to reinvent the wheel and introduce more products. During my career in retail cosmetics, every 2-3 years, a “new discovery by our cosmetic scientists” was “discovered” and a media blitz would ensue and we would sell an obscene amount of products. Shortly thereafter, every company in the cosmetic department introduced their version of that product, complete with the new buzzword emblazoned on their label. As soon as the “new car smell” wore off, women began searching for the next big thing, and the cycle continued.
The biggest concern I have with new ingredients is safety. Sure, it’s deemed safe in the beginning, but years later we find out it was cancerous after all. The question is, do you want to take the risk of being a guinea pig? This happens in every industry, especially the pharmaceutical industry. A new drug is introduced and is promoted on TV like toys to kids in December, and then about 5 years later, you see ads from lawyers saying “Did you ever take the drug (insert name here). We are forming a class action suit…” You get the point.
The so-called “ancient-wisdom” of Chinese Medicine has been around for five thousand years, yet people question the validity and success rate of it because they put their trust in the “better living through chemistry” paradigm that has been prevalent since the 1930’s.
I practice the precautionary principal when selecting ingredients to put in my products. I look for a long history in the safety of raw ingredients, not the latest fad. Essential oils (plant essences) were mankind’s first medicine. They were mentioned in the Bible over 1000 times. They have a vetted track record! Contrast that with current synthetic chemical ingredients, over 100,000 are used in our industry and only 10,000 have been tested for safety. That’s concerning because your skin absorbs up to 60% of what you put on it, and it goes directly into the bloodstream, not filtered through the liver like food.
The Problem with Fast…
“Fast” is the flip side of the coin to “new”. It claims results to be delivered in weeks. Plant-based skincare products *do* work, but it takes time. Your skin didn’t become damaged overnight, and the repair won’t happen overnight either. Consistency is the key when using any new product. I tell people you will feel a difference in a few days, but the most dramatic changes occur in about three months.
You have to be the judge of what is best for your skin. Remember: price is what you pay, value is what you get. In the end, what you are paying for is trust in the company, the product, the level of customer service you receive and the respect you get as a customer. I ultimately answer to my customers, because if they aren’t happy, I don’t have a business. I can say without hesitation that I am doing what I was born to do. My “company policy” is simple: Treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. That philosophy has pointed my compass north, keeping me on the right track.
If you asked me ten years ago “how will you know when you’ve made it?” I would have answered (without skipping a beat) “to be in Allure Magazine”. It was for me growing up in the 80’s, the penultimate “seal-of-approval”. That magazine defined my industry. Being accepted and endorsed meant you had arrived. If you ask me that now, I will open a drawer full of the hundreds of testimonials I have received from my customers, telling me how my products changed their lives, and I would tell you that I already have arrived.
Jennifer Devlin is the founder, artisan crafter and C.E.O of Celtic Complexion, and obviously a total wordsmith.