“If I thought that reading labels and memorizing a list of no-no ingredients was enough, I never would have started my online beauty boutique,” says Spirit Demerson, from her Apartment Therapy-worthy Park Slope workshop that doubles as her apartment. “You often can’t really tell what effect the demand for the latest exotic South American ingredient has on the people living there, for example, or whether or not the company making the products is really green,” she says. So Demerson founded Spirit Beauty Lounge to do the homework for you.
On the spectrum of organic beauty apathy and alarm, Demerson, 31, is a voice of reason. She knows her parabens from her phenoxyethanol (they’re both preservatives) and her summer reading list includes chemistry reports. But she won’t vilify a single ingredient or even shop with the list of those to avoid. (Not that she stocks anything on her site that uses the controversial chemical ingredients.) The reason? Shopping for organics just isn’t that straightforward.
To that end Demerson interviews the brands she considers selling with Consumer Reports-like rigor. (She’s partial to indie brands with a great story, loads of love, and gorgeous packaging—like Skinny Skinny soaps, Organic Apoteke skin care, Tsi-La perfume, and Vapour organic makeup.) With the bargaining power of someone who buys in bulk, Demerson plays the Katie Couric role with beauty companies, asking for total ingredient transparency.
She learned early on that companies who work hard to procure organic ingredients give up that information eagerly. “Companies that don’t really walk the walk just repeat the marketing copy back to me,” says Demerson. One company offered to cancel her wholesale order, rather than identify the ingredients that made up the “100 percent all-natural formula” or where the product was made. (She suspected China.)
The terms green, natural, and organic have been “misused to the point of irrelevance,” says Demerson. She’s developed a scoring system she calls the four Ps to evaluate products:
Performance: A product has to actually do what it says it will.
Potency: It should have a high concentration of organic active ingredients at the top of label, not just organic waxes or base ingredients or a few organics listed at the bottom.
Packaging: Demerson only stocks brands that use recyclable or biodegradable packing. “It’s not enough to have a great organic product, then put it in mylar,” she says, referring to a recently vetoed brand of facial wipes wrapped in the light-weight aluminum. But she also insists on a certain level of attractiveness. “We’re fighting a huge stereotype that everything natural is granola-y,” she says.
Principles: Demerson looks into the parent company of a brand. “The whole company that I do business with should be green. Large companies are doing a good thing for getting organics into drugstores everywhere, but is that really where you want you money to be going? Into a company where only one of its 20 divisions is green?”
Beauty brands don’t have to be perfect, stresses Demerson. But she wants to know the ones she’s representing are as concerned about the big picture as she is. “The owner of the company should know the conditions of the farms or forests where the ingredients come from, the labor conditions, and the sustainability and transportation issues,” she says. “Natural is not always green.”