Skin Care Reality Check with Indie Lee

Originally posted on MYSA.


 It’s 2016 and wellness is all the rage. From plant-based protein-packed smoothies to Gwyneth-approved detoxifying supplements, we’re becoming more and more aware of what we put into our bodies. But what about what we put onto our bodies? Skin is our largest organ, making it an easy (and often overlooked) way toxins can enter our systems. So how can we make choose products that are good for us inside and out? We chatted with Indie Lee, founder and CEO of the eco-chic beauty line of the same name, to get the scoop on how to make healthy beauty choices each and every day.

Why did you decide to create your own skin care line?

On November 4th, 2008, I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain tumor that doctors believe was environmentally derived. (My successful surgery to remove the tumor was Earth Day, April 22nd, 2009.) When I questioned how someone like me—a fit, organic-food-eating woman with no family history of an illness of this kind—could wind up with a brain tumor, they highlighted the ingredients in the personal care and beauty products I may have used year in and year out. I was shocked to learn that up to 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that certain ingredients found in many skin care products may cause health issues such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infertility in some people, while others who are exposed to those ingredients remain unaffected. In that moment, I knew my mission: to create a line of natural products that was as effective as conventional products, looked really chic on a shelf, and empowered others to make healthier choices by highlighting that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it.


What was the first product you created and why?

Believe it or not it was a baby product! My sister was pregnant with my nephew and I didn’t want her using nasties on his skin. So what’s a type-A personality to do with a 750-square-foot greenhouse? Make a baby tush balm of course! Today, it’s evolved into our Calendula Eye Balm. Our Moisturizing Oil also was originally a massage oil for babies.


What are the biggest misconceptions about natural skin care?

I think the biggest misconception is that you have to sacrifice efficacy when choosing natural products. That just isn’t true, ingredient technology has come a very long way. There is no reason you need to sacrifice your health for beautiful and effective products.


Why is it important to be conscious of skin care ingredients? How do ingredients affect your health?

Here are a few key facts that can bring the importance of ingredients to light. Your skin is your largest organ. As I mentioned earlier, up to 60% of what you put on your skin can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. It can take only 26 seconds for that ingredient to be absorbed into your bloodstream. Think about it, 60% and 26 seconds. There is no real government regulation of the industry, which means no one is monitoring what is in your products and how safe they are. We know that companies are formulating [products] with ingredients that are known carcinogens, ingredients that have been tied to infertility, hormone disruptors, etc. Furthermore, there are no rules governing the testing of products on the market for safety. We need to be our own watchdogs.


What are some good ingredients for your skin?

I think the classification of “good” and “bad” ingredients comes down to toxicity and health. If an ingredient is nontoxic and, in my opinion, botanically based while having a purpose that adds value to the health of your skin, then for me it’s a good ingredient. Great examples of good ingredients would be seaweed extract, rosehip oil, squalane oil, jojoba oil, and vitamin E. Keep in mind just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s a good ingredient. Poison ivy is natural—that doesn’t mean I want to slather it on my skin!


What about bad ingredients?

If an ingredient used in skin care is shown to be detrimental to your health (e.g., known carcinogen or hormone disruptor), I’d put it on the bad list. The fact that there are products formulated with some of these ingredients when there are alternatives that are nontoxic and natural baffles me. I understand that some of these “bad” ingredients might make it cheaper to produce, but what’s the true cost? Are we really putting a low price tag on human health? A great way to get started is to look at the skin care dirty dozen list.

indie lee squalane facial oil


Can you give us some tips about how to read skin care labels?

Skin care labels are similar to food labels. Legally, they should be listing all the ingredients via their INCI name (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) in volume order; highest to lowest. Look them up become an empowered consumer.  After time, you will become more familiar with the ingredients as you start to read them more and more. Another interesting fact to note is that many ingredients may be lurking in the words parfum, parfume, or perfume. Fragrances are protected by trade secret laws (similar to the “secret sauce” in Coca-Cola). I understand that companies don’t want others to copy their scents, however, there are thousands of ingredients and chemicals that can be used and labeled with the one word: “Parfum”. Many of them are phthalates and are known hormone disruptors. I’m personally wary when I see that word and stay away from those products. Also, when it comes to picking the best skin care products for you, scrutinizing the symbols on the packaging can be just as informative as reading the ingredient labels themselves! There are labels that will tell you if a product is cruelty-free, organic, if the manufacturer contributes to the cost of recovery and recycling for its packaging, etc.

Transitioning to natural products can be hard. What advice do you have for people who want to make that change?

I would suggest starting small. Going natural doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing in the moment. As you are about to run out of a product, start researching and swap in a natural alternative for it. Before you know it you will have slowly switched out most of your products without being overwhelmed by the process.


What are some of your favorite natural beauty products?

I can’t live without our Squalane Facial Oil. It’s 100% olive-derived and it’s completely changed my complexion. I struggled with cystic acne into my late 30s, [and] using the Squalane Facial Oil daily has transformed my skin. I rarely break out and my skin has never been healthier. ILIA Lipsticks are always a go-to for me. They are so moisturizing and have wonderful pigmentation. I’ve been known to pick up two of the same shade so that I can have one on my vanity and another in my purse. Right now I’m obsessed with Viola (it’s the perfect shade to brighten up for the season). Another one of my favorite lines is W3LL People. Their founder, Shirley Pinkson (one of my faves) has perfected top-notch formulations, so that you don’t have to compromise your health for fantastic makeup. I wear the Narcissist Foundation Stick and Expressionist Mascara on a regular basis.


You’re also an organic farmer. What are great things we can eat to naturally improve our skin?

When people ask me what skin care products to use for blemishes, my first question is “Where are you breaking out?” followed by “Please tell me about your diet.” Asking about their diet is usually a surprise question and an aha moment when people realize the correlation between skin issues and food intake. Great foods for skin include berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries), fennel, avocado, and kale. I always suggest staying away from dairy and excessive sugar.


What are some other ways you like to take care of your body and mind?

Last year I made a commitment to start a meditation practice. I now meditate twice a day, once in the morning and then again at night. It’s made a profound difference in my life—those 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night allow me to practice self-care. I’m a better CEO, a better mom, and a better version of myself through this practice.


What’s next for Indie Lee?

World beauty domination! No, but seriously, it’s adding products to the existing line, as well as branching out in some other beauty categories. The end goal has always been to empower people to make healthier decisions.



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