At Clean Beauty Collective we love the work of the iconic Chemist Confessions duo – Victoria Fu and Gloria Yu – whom our founder Fleur met in the US on a beauty mission. Friends (and now business partners) Victoria and Gloria met while working as cosmetic chemists at a global beauty conglomerate in 2013. In 2016, they left their corporate posts to launch one of our favourite Instagram accounts, Chemist Confessions, with the goal of being fully transparent about skincare products, ingredient labels and cutting-edge research.
This made them the perfect people to talk to when it came to decoding your average ingredient deck without needing a Bachelor of Science, as well as to hear what they are loving about the industry right now.
You both used to work as chemists for a big beauty conglomerate, then pivoted to destroying beauty myths on Instagram. What prompted the move? Was it as a result of personal and/or professional frustrations?
Gloria: It was a combination of both for me. It felt like chemists didn’t have a voice. It felt like I had to transition to a completely different role to be more involved in creating products that I believe in myself. I was a bit lost on whether or not I even wanted to stay in the beauty industry.
Victoria: Definitely both. Professional frustrations in the sense that at the end of the day you formulated to meet marketing needs. Personally, our friends and family really had no clue in how to shop for skincare, and many of them ended up adopting the mentality of “I have to pay more to get good skincare”. We figured we could at least share our industry insider perspective in hopes it’d be helpful in making shopping decisions.
Why do you think your page still resonates so much with your followers?
Gloria: Probably because we’re chemists, so our viewpoint is a little different compared to most. We also do our best to keep things positive and focus on being helpful. We call out questionable things we see, but are really careful about not coming from a mean/condescending tone. There’s a bit of a culture of smack talking on social media and it can be really uninviting. It goes against our whole ethos of trying to help simple users. At the end of the day, it’s skincare and skincare should be fun. Enjoying it as a self-care journey is just as important as the science behind everything.
There’s more information than ever for the average consumer to educate themselves on ingredients. Why do you think there’s still such a lack of transparency in the market?
Victoria: There’s just way too much noise out there on the interwebs. With “information” coming from all kinds of sources, it’s hard for the average consumer to discern and figure out what ingredients are right for their skin. When consumers try to do their homework, they can find anything from “best ingredient ever” to “this causes cancer”. It’s madness.
Which common beauty claim frustrates you the most?
Gloria: Oof, I reserve an eye roll for “vitamin C – rich” claims.
Victoria: Ooh juicy. “Preservative free, chemical free, Non-toxic…”
Which ingredients would you say have been unjustifiably demonised by false claims and fake science?
Gloria: Mineral oil, petrolatum. This is still the gold standard occlusive for dry, compromised skin. We have seen false claims that ranges anywhere from skin suffocation to cancer…
The clean beauty movement has become a force to be reckoned with, how would you define the term ‘clean’?
Victoria: We don’t really have a “clean” list per se, we’d probably define clean skincare as skincare that has been responsibly formulated, marrying the right natural and synthetic ingredients that upholds the top standards of quality and safety. To be honest, we’re not actually sure what clean beauty means since most skincare ingredients used are generally safe. Clean beauty isn’t an industry regulated term which means it’s up to the brands to define what that means for their brands and it can all get very confusing. Ultimately, we believe that “clean beauty” standards are personal and should be defined by each skincare user by understanding what ingredients do or don’t work for skin.
What made you want to create your own line, and what as the criteria?
Gloria: When we first started, we wanted to try to bring more transparency to the industry with the blog. Ultimately, we wanted to capture that same sentiment in a simple product line that could meaningfully help people understand their skin better and solve their skin concerns. Some of our criteria includes selecting actives with robust data as an effective topical and sharing transparent percentages of all the actives we used. We really only want to launch what’s truly helpful than just put more product out there in an already oversaturated market.
You’ve said that part of your motivation to keep Chemist Confessions going is the belief that only an educated consumer base can change the market landscape. Is that still true?
Victoria: Absolutely. Look at how the market has already changed. Consumers are shopping by ingredients and you can see marketing starting to change their lingo. It’s exciting! That’s why we’re continuing to push educational content even while still developing our product line.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to a consumer faced with a baffling ingredients lists?
Victoria: Find brands that share %s of their active ingredients to simplify the decodes. Figure out your list of ingredients that don’t work for your skin. Simply skim the top ten ingredients to see what you’re getting the most of. (Full disclosure: If it’s an essays length…we stop reading.)
Gloria: Also, DM or email us! We’ll try to help!
What movement in your career do you look back most proudly on?
Gloria: For me, it’s moments where I’m putting myself out there and doing things outside of my comfort zone. Searching and vetting CMs in all sorts of countries, connecting with people at tradeshows, teaching master classes in China, building out our website, etc. It’s crazy how much we’ve done in just a couple of years.
Victoria: There’s definitely a few, but the first launch was a big moment. I remember Gloria and I getting almost emotional at the factory (our CM partners all standing around us totally unamused) seeing our products boxed and ready to ship. We’re just two simple chemists, so it’s always pretty cool to see our efforts culminate into real products that actually help people with their routines.