It was roughly four years ago when we first came across the little light blue tin. The very cute but no-nonsense packaging read ‘100% Pure’ at the top, followed by an image of what looked like red berries in the middle. The bottom of the tin read ‘fruit pigmented lip butter’. As we had come across many cosmetics in the past purporting to be super pure and super clean, most times a review of the ingredient list left us disappointed. Lipsticks and lip concoctions of all varieties may start out with natural-ish ingredients but as you progress down the list it becomes apparent that good intentions are not seen through to the end: red lake #5, carmine (derived from beetle blood), aluminum derivatives and other metals used for ‘sparkle’ or worse yet, lead. Given that most of us like to apply and re-apply cosmetics multiple times over the course of a day this can be a tad problematic in terms of toxin accumulation.
But this one was different. On the back of the little blue tin the ingredient list was readily available, short and easy to decipher. Starting with avocado butter followed by shea, cacao and rosehip seed oil it was immediately clear that this was the real deal. Following these nourishing butters and oils were the words real fruit extracts (in this case cranberries, strawberries, pomegranates and cherries). This was where it got interesting. Were these ‘fruit extracts’ used simply as flavouring or perhaps as ….pigments? In our opinion, no brand had yet convincingly managed to do this.
Still slightly skeptical but increasingly curious I opened the tin and applied a healthy amount of the vibrant, buttery pigment to my finger. I gently patted the formula on my lips and it was at once a revelation. Not only was the product intensely moisturizing, but the colour was divine and the perfect shade of red. Subtle and natural, it looked as though I had just eaten a ripe pomegranate. Clean, effective and reasonably priced, it seems as though I had just stumbled upon the holy grail of lip butters. Not only was the ingredient list indeed “100% Pure” as stated but the impossible had apparently been realized: a beautiful red lip butter pigmented solely with the extracts of berries. The color payoff was amazing and it could be applied to look very natural or intensely red for a night out on the town. Here was a completely natural product that was just as good as its conventional counterparts. Could this be true and who was the mastermind behind this?
This product was the brainchild of Susie Wang, founder and chief creative of 100 Percent Pure cosmetics. Now in its second decade of operations, no one brand comes close to doing what 100 Percent Pure does so well: delivering cosmetics and skin care that are absolutely cruelty free (one of her ‘pet’ projects), faultlessly clean in terms of their ingredients and formulation and very nearly vegan (with the exception of the occasional use of honey here and there). Peruse their website for just a bit and you will be presented with a line that is so clean, pure and free of the usual nasties found in mainstream cosmetics that you will be unable to find any suspect ingredients at all.
But a product line is and should be noteworthy not merely for an absence of negatives. Along with her signature ‘Fruit pigmented makeup’ such as her lip butters, stains and lipsticks, you will also find a plethora of cosmetics that are yes, non toxic, but that cleverly utilizes food and superfood elements to add value, substance and effectiveness in a transformative way. Their black mascara is not just your average mix of waxes, silicones and iron oxides but is a formula that mindfully employs black tea pigments and maracuja oil to both darken and condition lashes. Bronzers use cacao to achieve their rich brown color and mineral luminizers incorporate light-reflecting gemstones like opal and pyrite instead of harmful metals. Pure genius. Her body butters and lotions are equally skin food that smell so divine that you might be tempted to taste them (we especially love the coconut). Add to this a full hair and skin care line that incorporates an array of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and phytochemicals rarely seen on skincare labels: algae based shampoos and conditioners, resveratrol serums, fermented rice water cleaners, bamboo silica face powder, green tea soaked face masks cleverly made of actual plant cellulose that slowly dissolves as it sits on the skin… the list goes on and on. Rarely do we see a founder with such profound knowledge of skin health and how to and not to combine natural ingredients so that the resulting alchemy is just right. As she has before humbly stated, she gives the formula to the lab and then she goes in and tells the chemist how to do it. We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Susie about her oeuvre, the mission that is 100 Percent Pure and what is to come for her brand.
- Please tell us about your Korean roots and the Asian mindset in general when it comes to skincare and cosmetics.
South Korea is a very superficially motivated country and a lot of emphasis is put on physical appearance. They perform the most plastic surgery than any other country and are reputed to be the best at it. Koreans are also extremely innovative with regard to beauty treatments and produce some of the most advanced skincare formulations in the world.
Korean culture also emphasizes health. For example, groups and families from many different cultures like to dine together, while most social activities for Koreans involve physical activities like hiking and running together. Other countries may also accept or praise different body shapes, but it is a taboo in Korean culture to be overweight. Lastly, wellness and self-care are also baked into the culture, so as a young child I frequently visited onsens (bathhouses) and spas. I also started practicing yoga and meditation from age 5.
- Early in your career you developed a chemical free method of preserving cosmetics which you quickly patented. Can you tell us anything about what led to this discovery?
When I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, I saved up enough money to buy a vitamin C serum. Soon after I noticed that it started to oxidize and turned from a white color into a brown one. When I found out that oxidized vitamin C turns into a free radical (which damages skin cells) I was shocked that a huge cosmetic company would sell an ineffective product to millions of women. This inspired me to spend my free time figuring out a way to stabilize Vitamin C from oxidizing in skincare and file patents for it.
- You have worked with some of the largest and well-known cosmetic companies around. How did your experience working with these brands ultimately lead you to start 100% Pure?
After I filed patents for my discovery on how to stabilize Vitamin C (and other natural ingredients) from oxidizing, I was recruited to work for some of the world’s largest cosmetic companies. During my time there, I learned about all of the different carcinogens that go into cosmetics. I also discovered that a “no animal testing” claim meant that even though the final formula may not have been tested on animals, each individual ingredient could have still been tested; this meant it wasn’t truly cruelty free. After I discovered that cosmetics were harmful to humans and animals, it became my life mission to create the healthiest, purest formulas for humans and to save as many animals as possible.
- Your brand is one of the only ones to use fruit pigments instead of artificial colors as the basis for your cosmetics. Can you tell us how this came about and what are the challenges in creating lip colors based on the natural shades of fruits and berries?
I once had an organic garden with lots of different fruits and vegetables. One day, as I was picking blackberries, strawberries and raspberries to make a fruit tart, I noticed how pigmented my fingers got from them. I later learned that not only could these pigments be used for cosmetic purposes but that fruit pigments contained valuable vitamins and antioxidants, so I was inspired to create cosmetics out of these pure, healthy pigments. What people perhaps don’t realize is that working with fruit pigments instead of artificial colors is that unlike a red dye #40, fruit pigments are not readily available. I cannot just ‘order’ these pigments, they must be made and that is a whole process. First the fruits must be pressed and the excess liquid extracted, then it must be dehydrated and heated, then humidified and de-crystallized and soaked in oil. This whole process is very time consuming and so that is why in many cases we run out of our pigments and out of our products very quickly.
- What are some ingredients that you use in your formulations in place of conventional ones that people would be surprised about?
A lot of red lipsticks contain “carmine,” which is a red pigment from beetle bugs. Our reds come from strawberries, pomegranates, raspberries and other red fruits.
- What do you consider to be the top 5 most harmful ingredients currently being used in skincare and cosmetics?
There are so many, but my top 5 include:
1) Formaldehyde (formaldehyde-releasing ingredients) – a toxic chemical that is used to preserve dead bodies.
2) Coal Tar – a petrochemical and is the same material as the tar used on roads and rooftops of buildings. Coal tar is used as a colorant and often found in mascaras and hair dyes.
3) DBP – it’s in most nail polishes and can cause birth defects, so expecting mothers should avoid them at all costs.
4) PEGs – when I used to formulate for a very large cosmetic company, I spilled a PEG onto a lab table and it made the table warp. If PEGs can damage a lab table, consider the kind of damage it can do to your skin and health.
5) PTFE – this is the same material as Teflon, which coats your cookware to repel food from sticking to the pan or Goretex to repel water on your rain jacket, etc. PTFE is used in some matte lipsticks and waterproof mascaras to repel moisture.
- Some higher end brands are moving towards more natural formulations while others are definitely not. Where do you think the skincare/cosmetic market is headed?
It makes me very happy to see that more companies are being conscientious about providing safer products. As with everything, the greater the demand for natural products, the greater the chance for the market to shift to accommodate the demand.
It’s not easy to formulate natural products. Not only are there formulation challenges with preservation, stability and efficacy, but many inexperienced chemists make the mistake of mixing natural ingredients that either cancel each other out or are not compatible, which can actually turn into a toxin. For example, a simple salt mixed with certain acids can turn into benzene. So, even when formulating “natural” products, it must be done in a very careful way.
- Your brand seems to be constantly in flux with some products here today but gone tomorrow (our favourite hair mask a case in point). What is the reasoning for this?
Admittedly, this is my fault. I am constantly improving and innovating, which means I’m always interested in introducing better, improved versions of what exists in the product line. I am, however, starting to be more conscious of it since so many people fall in love with the formulas and get outraged when we discontinue their favourites.
- What are your top 5 favourite 100% Pure products that always make it into your skincare routine?
I love so many, but my top 5 include:
- Multi-Vitamin PM Serum
- Retinol Restorative Overnight Balm
- Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream
- Collagen Boost Sheet Mask
- Bright Eyes Mask
- You are passionate about animals and 100% Pure is strictly against animal testing. What is your experience with testing in a lab and when is animal testing necessary?
Animal testing is never necessary and there are so many better, more effective ways of testing chemicals, such as using human cells.
- What is in the future for 100% Pure and what are you working on next?
We will be opening up three more stores in the U.S. over the next two months and just opened up a pop-up shop in NYC with Banana Republic, which has been great. There are some other projects in the works that I can’t speak of yet as I’m bound to confidentiality but more to come!