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These beauty entrepreneurs are cooking up products to right industry wrongs


TextSophie Benson

MDMflow’s Florence Adepoju, Club Clean Beauty’s Simone Walker and Beauty Kitchen’s Jo Chidley break down their personal recipes for tackling diversity, allergies, and sustainability

“There is a genuine need for beauty to be more bespoke,” says Florence Adepoju, cosmetic scientist and founder of beauty brand MDMflow. “We’re all so different. We have different skin; we have such different needs.”

Realising her ambition to become a doctor wasn’t the right choice for her, Adepoju changed tack and, after seeing a London College of Fashion student formulating beauty products on YouTube, bagged the last place on the Cosmetic Science degree at LCF. “Having a scientific background helped get me onto the degree but my favourite part was colour,” Adepoju says. When she first started studying, Adepoju felt colour was considered tacky (for beauty products) but her love of bold palettes linked to her Nigerian background and steered her vision for the brand she had planned to launch from the offset. 

It also answered a long-held frustration with the make-up that was already out there. While working on a Benefit make-up counter to support her studies, she was dissatisfied with how certain products looked on her versus her white co-workers. “They brought out a bronzer and it would look amazing on all of my white colleagues and literally look like greyish mud on me. It was horrible,” she says. Most would have given up and tried another brand, but Adepoju’s degree gave her access to the information she needed, and she found out exactly what the issue was. “I realised that a lot of issues with colour weren’t actually the pigment but the formula,” she explains. “A lot of formulas have filler pigment that makes it cheaper. On lighter skin tones, the pigment looks clear… but then on a darker skin tone the filler looks grey or ashy and it dulls the colour.”

“A lot of the books that were written to formulate make-up were not written by black or brown women. When you look into Geisha culture, they use a lot of pure pigment. Also, in a lot of African beauty cultures, it’s crushed berries and crushed beetles and that, again, is pure pigment. As the make-up industry has developed for the masses in the west, fillers have been used to bulk out the formula and, because it’s looked fine on the majority of the market, the development hasn’t been done to improve how it works.”

Armed with a specific vision for colour and quality, Adepoju set up a DIY lab in her parents’ shed and began to formulate her own line of lipsticks that were designed to look perfect on every skin tone. Her brand has now expanded to include multi-use glosses and liquid lipsticks and, while colour is a technical facet of beauty formulation, Adepoju thinks it’s more accessible than ever. Where she once struggled to find small batches of equipment and moulds for her shed lab, she says suppliers have now caught on, answering the needs of individual makers. 

“I realised that a lot of issues with colour weren’t actually the pigment but the formula. A lot of formulas have filler pigment that makes it cheaper. On lighter skin tones, the pigment looks clear … but then on a darker skin tone the filler looks grey or ashy and it dulls the colour” – Florence Adepoju, founder, MDMflow

Perhaps the most important move forward, though, for those who don’t have the capital or time for a degree, are the online resources available that allow people to learn about the legislation around what ingredients you can and can’t use, something Adepoju considers to be particularly important. She points to Cosmetic Business and the CTPA as key sources for information, and highlights accredited suppliers like Formulator Sample Shop and Mystic Moments as go-to ingredients shops.

Want to make products yourself? Adepoju suggests starting easy and following advice and existing formulations. “There’s a lot of sample formulas out there done by ingredient suppliers to steer you in the right direction,” Adepoju says. “Lipsticks aren’t the easiest but maybe start with a lip gloss. It’s just a few raw materials, you can make it from natural oils and then you just add a pigment.”

Striding out on your own is tempting for people frustrated with the range, quality or suitability of products that are already out there, but the prospect of making a mistake and damaging your skin can be scary. Simone Walker set up DIY beauty workshop business Club Clean Beauty to teach beginners the ins and outs without the risk.

Her love for making her own products came from the range of food intolerances (dairy and certain citrus fruit) and allergies (coeliac disease) she had. “(They) led me to think about how I could simplify and guarantee that all sorts of products would be OK on my skin and in my system – and making them from scratch was the perfect solution,” Walker says.

“The first product I made was a really simple and fresh oil cleanser. I have quite a naturally greasy t-zone, which I really wanted to do something about, but nothing I used adjusted to my combination skin. I discovered the oil cleansing method through some quite extensive Googling, and it was relatively easy to experiment and learn what worked for me from there,” she says.

Walker prefers to focus on the benefits of botanicals, rather than creating a list of what to cut out, but she does avoid what she’s already eliminated from her diet looking out for lactose in active ingredients, and ensuring any oat-based products are gluten-free. She also makes sure not to use nut oils and favours vegan ingredients in order to limit exposure to common allergies in her workshops.

Having previously worked in the City, Walker retrained at Formula Botanica before launching Club Clean Beauty in order to share her knowledge. “It would have been more ‘normal’ to start a beauty brand (but) having the ability to make something that impacts you and your skin personally just felt more me,” she says. “We’re evolving into a society where information is so accessible, so facilitating people making their own choices is really important for me.”

“It would have been more ‘normal’ to start a beauty brand (but) having the ability to make something that impacts you and your skin personally just felt more me. We’re evolving into a society where information is so accessible, so facilitating people making their own choices is really important for me” – Simone Walker, founder, Club Clean Beauty

No lab coat, CSI-style kit or complicated formulas are needed to get involved, just a clean surface and some basic equipment you probably already have in your kitchen. Walker says beginners will need rubbing alcohol for sanitising surfaces, glass bowls and jugs (or plastic to start with), scales, a whisk, a blender or hand mixer, and spatulas and spoons. You can also buy some pipettes if you feel like being extra precise. 

In terms of ingredients, Walker recommends ‘carrier oils’ such as jojoba, sweet almond, avocado, argan or coconut, butters including shea, cocoa and mango, waxes (beeswax or soya), and essential oils like lavender, frankincense and tea tree. Epsom or rock salts are also good additions to beginner kits. Creams, scrubs, facemasks, toothpaste, deodorants, cleansers and moisturisers are all on the cards but Walker points to sun protection, which needs comprehensive testing for consistency and efficacy, and AHAs and BHAs, powerful acids that can cause both immediate and longer-term damage, as products that are best left to the experts.

For Walker, knowing what goes into your products is the key to making skincare that works for you, regardless of intolerances and allergies. For Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen, there’s another positive: knowing what impact it has on the planet and animals.

A herbal botanist, chemist and aromatherapist, Chidley founded Beauty Kitchen in a bid to make the most sustainable beauty products in the world, an extension of something she’d been doing for herself for years. “I’ve always had a passion for natural beauty,” she says. “I searched for years to try and find beauty products that were totally natural, sustainable and effective but when I found nothing completely ideal for me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and began creating my own beauty products. This sparked the idea for Beauty Kitchen, and encouraging people to look closer into what goes into their products.”

Cruelty-free beauty is something that is very important to me and all Beauty Kitchen products are Leaping Bunny Certified with Cruelty Free International,” Chidley continues. Some brands, like Formulator Sample Shop, are upfront about their non-animal testing status, for example, but others aren’t, so Chidley recommends that we always reach out and ask, pointing out that those who don’t answer might well have the kind of ethical stance that they wouldn’t want to shout about.

Alongside the ability to monitor the ingredients used and their impact, she also considers cutting down waste another major draw for going DIY. “Waste Zero is my motto… when you make your own products there is minimal to no waste.”For Beauty Kitchen products, Chidley offers a return and refill option but when it comes to making your own, it should be all about reusing, she says, saving jars and pots from the kitchen and using them again and again. 

“I searched for years to find beauty products that were totally natural, sustainable and effective but when I found nothing completely ideal for me, I decided to take matters into my own hands... This sparked the idea for Beauty Kitchen, and encouraging people to look closer into what goes into their products” – Jo Chidley, founder, Beauty Kitchen

From colour to allergies and ethics, the reasons for embracing homemade beauty differ but what links them is the ability to have a real say over the quality, efficacy and sustainability of what we use. With going DIY more accessible than ever, beauty could be about to get a lot more personal; the scope expanding beyond basics like scrubs and face masks to include more complex formulations for make-up. 

Big names following the lead of indie brands and offering DIY kits seems inevitable but at an industry level, as consumer knowledge spurs on scrutiny, brands could well be expected to account for what ingredients they’re using and why. Such a spotlight on ingredients might well lead to big moves like allergen labelling, tighter regulations and a new era of transparency in order to match the level of control and knowledge DIY-ers increasingly have.

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