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BLT Exclusive: Greg Starkman Founder of Innersense

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BLT Exclusive: Greg Starkman Founder of Innersense

Alexis Krauss

One day several months ago I spent a good 20 minutes perusing shampoos and conditioners at my local store. I picked up products, scanned labels, and put products back on the shelf dissatisfied until I came upon a bottle of Innersense Color Awakening Shampoo. I had never heard of Innersense before but this time I didn't put the bottle back on the shelf, instead I grabbed a bottle of their Color Radiance Daily Conditioner and proceeded to checkout. Why did I choose Innersense over all the other brands? To be honest I thought the products were a bit pricey (between $20 and $22 a bottle) but I was extremely taken by their ingredients, their sustainable packaging and their transparency. There were no fillers and no harsh chemicals, essentially everything was plant based. I was honestly a bit skeptical that their products would perform as well as I wanted them to. Let's just say that I've been a loyal Innersense user ever since. Their stuff really works and it really is completely free of #beautybullshit. So imagine my delight when a few months later we received an email from founder Greg Starkman saying he was a fan of the Beauty Lies Truth and eager to get involved. Greg and Joanne Starkman founded Innersense when they realized their professional paths were no longer aligned with their values. Greg left behind the world of big cosmetics and founded a company that doesn't compromise on ingredients for the sake of profit. Their products are exactly what they say they are and Innersense continues to grow as more and more consumers like me reap the benefits of their pure, safe and effective haircare line. Greg was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. We're thrilled to share his answers with you! Xoxo Alexis

1.Why did you decide to leave behind the corporate beauty and wellness world to start Innersense?

The whole evolution came out of a personal quest to find products that were cleaner and healthier. As I began to educate and acclimate myself to natural products, it became clear that the word natural was very grey and that there weren't a lot of products that could really substantiate their claims or levels of purity. It became a passion of ours to develop products that didn't rely on a marketing spin and addressed the needs of an emerging consumer looking for products that were cleaner, healthier and purer than what were available. 

As a result of working in big cosmetics and understanding the standards that companies operate by, I knew that there was no way a large company would be committed to this level of quality given the culture and cost parameters. The big cosmetics industry is a dollar and cents business, and the companies rely more on packaging and marketing spins to communicate a brand message. We rely on the integrity of our products. 

2. Tell us about your formulations and where you source your ingredients from?

Our commitment to ingredients is hyper-critical.  Let me say first that a lot of companies do use great ingredients. However, sometimes they are used more for label claim then for functionality. These same products are augmented with synthetic ingredients to improve performance, which is counter to our commitment. We actually utilize very rich ingredients at highly concentrated levels. This provides a performance benefit to our products and eliminates the need for us to augment with synthetic based ingredients. 

Coupled with our commitment to high quality ingredients includes our commitment to toxin-free ingredients that extends beyond the “free of” claims that are now popular. Consumers are seeing a lot of products making “free of” claims i.e. free of sulfates and parabens.  While we do compliment them for doing so, it's everything in between that really present high levels of toxicity, i.e. resins, silicones, plasticizers and petrochemical compounds. These cosmetic based ingredients are commonly used even in some of the better natural products to provide a luxury performance. 

At Innersense, we have eliminated the use of all those ingredients by upping the concentration level of plant based ingredients and emollient oil extracts.  The result includes all things consumers are looking for such as great shine, volume and bounce. At the same time, we address their desire to have products that are truly free of all man-made, synthetic ingredients.

We are proud of what we have accomplished.  Today we are at the forefront of green chemistry staying on pace with EU standards. Four years ago we reformulated our products and eliminated the use of all ethoxylated ingredients. Ethoxylation means that even though a product might contain a nice, natural sounding ingredient, it has gone through a synthetic extraction process to make it functional in a product. We've eliminated the use of any ingredients that have been exposed to any type of ethoxylation or chemical extraction.

A great deal of our ingredients are sourced from local farmers but we also source globally. We do like to work closely with our suppliers to ensure purity. We source honey and bee wax from an amazing bee farm in Virginia with socially responsible and sustainable operators, which promotes harmony.  It’s important to us that we source ingredients like palm oil from responsible sources so we're not contributing to deforestation, and support sustainability. Our ingredients come from sustainable environments so that we can ensure that we're being as environmentally sensitive as possible. 

Greg Starkman of Innersense Organic Beauty

Greg Starkman of Innersense Organic Beauty

3. How has the beauty industry changed since you started Innersense? Are companies formulating more responsibly?

The big cosmetics industry has not changed at all and they won't change. In fact, one of the most disheartening things about big cosmetics is its good ol' boys club culture.  The industry continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying congress to ensure laws are NOT passed to protect consumers. They work hard to make sure the FDA does not have or gain any type of oversight over the cosmetics industry.

Within the natural products channel, there are a lot of people doing many good things, but there are also a lot of people that don't do great things. Innersense is among a handful of indie companies that are putting forth ingenuity, time and investment to bring about products that really meet this emerging consumer demand. The bottom line is natural products and toxin-free products are really a narrow niche of the marketplace, and require a substantial commitment. Consumers need to become more aware and savvy when they see something that looks organic, healthy or clean. The next step is really turning over the package and reading the label. The consumer must become self-educated and become their own advocate in selecting products that meet their expectations as far as clean and pure.  A consumer cannot solely assume a product is clean or pure because it has a beautiful package or because it utilizes nice, natural imagery. All those things are window dressing. 

At the end of the day, you need to judge a company by the quality and detail of information they are willing to share, normally on their website. There are a lot of companies that make some great claims, but when you get on their websites, it's very difficult to find their ingredients.  Since the cosmetics industry is largely unregulated, there are companies that don't even list their ingredients. This is a major red flag. 

There are many extremely well marketed so-called "natural" companies that are still using lots of technology. I recently came across a company that said, "We use formaldehyde, but we use it at legal levels."  Well, why and what does that mean? Any exposure is not acceptable. These are the sort of things that drive me crazy.

There are a lot of products available that are inexpensive and have very strong, natural position but they are extremely heavy in water, which allows them to maintain a fairly inexpensive price position. Currently this is a phenomenon that the educated consumer is getting fed up with. The bottom line is in order to use clean, healthy, really pure products, you need to use really good ingredients, and that's why the products do cost more.

 

Innersense Organic Beauty products

Innersense Organic Beauty products

4. What are the biggest obstacles natural beauty brands face?

The biggest obstacles are misinformation and misconception. But that's changing. When I look at our business today and I see the rate at which we are growing I'm inspired. The consumers and salon professionals that I speak with on a daily basis are getting educated and they're getting angry. They're angry because they are just now beginning to do what your followers are doing as a consumers. They are just now beginning to see the problem and read the labels. It's like the Moroccan Oil problem. Everybody thinks that their products are natural, but when you actually stop, read the label and begin to educate yourself you see it completely differently.

5. What do you think about companies and journalists that defend the use of synthetics such as parabens and silicones because they are being used at "legal levels" and because in the long run they claim low doses aren't problematic. I personally find these arguments infuriating and shortsighted. Thoughts? 

After approximately 50 years of engineering in both food, cosmetics and other industries we're just now beginning to see the real effects. When you look at todays rates of cancer, autism, childhood puberty it's very clear that all these things are advancing, they're accelerating and something in the environment is causing that. Just look at the Oakland Tribune's Body Burden study. Their investigative series showed how 50 plus years of exposure has impacted our DNA.  The results are now being passed on to future generations. I believe that if there is science that says there are links, then we must change. Unfortunately there are many people out there trying to spin things and often times big business prevails. It's hard for us to compete in a mass setting because our price point is much higher. But anytime I think, "OK I'm gonna go back to work in the corporate world," I get a call from a customer or a salon that is so committed to what we are doing that it's like heroin in my veins, it keeps me wanting to go. As consumers educate themselves, they will not only make much better decisions, they will make informed decisions. We want to be a part of that process. 

The bottom line is that people are taking a much more progressive stance when it comes to what they consume and how they care for themselves. Everything from meat, poultry, agriculture, to this whole GMO movement. I really think it's a rebellion and it's about a consumer education that's beginning to occur. Consumers need to become their own advocates. I hate to say this but you can't walk into a natural product store and assume that everything in inventory is all-natural You have to do your homework and the conversation needs to be had. One of the things I'm really proud of is that we are a part of that conversation and we want to be a part of educating and empowering consumers to make smarter choices.

5. Tell us some more about the Innersense line.

I'm really excited about our hair baths (shampoos) and conditions. The foundation of Innersense is our craft; we use rich amounts of certified organic and biodynamic ingredients at concentrated levels in order to provide great performance. Our hair baths use a wonderful mixture of coconut, palm, shea butter and pumpkin seed oils, which provide great cleansing benefits to the hair.  The result leaves hair in its most natural condition since we've removed all man-made synthetic ingredients without leaving residue. The same can be said for our conditionersWe're utilizing very rich ingredients such as shea butter, quinoa, bran, oats, black rice, emollient oils, pumpkin, orange flower and tamanu oil that provide incredible hydration, resilience, and shine. We’ve eliminated the use of  plasticizers, resins, silicones and waxes, that are typically used to create these performance attributes. We're achieving the same results as synthetics but just using high quality, plant based ingredients.

6. What's next for Innersense?

Our biggest passions include growth of our base and consumer education. We’ll continue to identity new product opportunities within our hair care range.  As a long-term aspiration, we are looking to introduce some wonderful skin and body products to complement our existing line. Additionally, we’re also looking at some unique color technology with a much more green and environmentally friendly base. It’s a number of years away, but it is something that could really have a huge impact, especially for consumers who are want the safest way to color their hair.