When Gregg Renfrew began examining the products in her bathroom, she was sur­prised by how many toxic chemicals they contained. Switching to nontoxic household-cleaning products was relatively easy. But she struggled to find beauty and personal care products "that were high performance and aspirational but also safe."

So two years ago, Renfrew, who sold her bridal registry company, the Wedding List, to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for an undisclosed sum in 2001, created Beauty­counter, which makes skin care products and makeup without the chemicals found in many cosmetics brands.

Renfrew assembled a team versed in makeup, including Mia Davis, the former organizing director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and celebrity makeup artist Christy Coleman. Beautycounter keeps track of ingredients that have been banned by other countries, and abides by a "never" list that includes synthetic fragrance and lead.

"It took us years to create that first tube of lipstick," says Renfrew, citing the difficulty of finding ingredients that met the company's standards both for safety and for performance.

Beautycounter makes the contents of its cosmetics as easy to understand as possible. "Part of our goal," Renfrew says, "is being transparent and telling [customers] what's in our product and letting them decide."

Beautycounter has earned a B Corp certification for superior accountability and transparency. It has a celebrity following, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Connie Britton, and Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio touting the products sans endorsement deals.

"Our mission is to get safe products into the hands of everyone," Renfrew says. "I don't think we need a big celebrity contract to do that."

Beautycounter sells through a network of more than 7,500 independent consultants. "We think this story is best told person to person," says Renfrew. It looks like it's working: The company won't reveal revenue, but Renfrew says first-quarter 2015 sales were up 325 percent over those of Q1 2014.

 

From the July/August 2015 issue of Inc. magazine