"Wearing a face mask can cause friction, which in turn can compromise your skin's barrier."

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Beauty Boss: True Botanicals/Hilary Peterson
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True Botanicals founder Hillary Peterson didn't think twice about what was in the beauty products she was using until she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

When Peterson started reading up on studies about how what goes on your skin can be absorbed into your body, she came to the realization that taking a clean approach to skincare is equally important to diet and wellness. The only problem? At the time, there was a lack of beauty brands prioritizing clean ingredients and sustainable production practices to her desired standards.

So, she created True Botanicals. Today, the skincare brand is known for its natural, but effective ingredients that have garnered a number of celebrity fans including Olivia Wilde, Zazie Beetz, and Laura Dern, who serve as brand ambassadors.

"We really take a 360 approach to health, wellbeing, and wellness," Peterson tells InStyle.  "We're really thrilled that it matters to our customers as much it does because that helps to reinforce our commitment and have all of the incredible suppliers and partners that we work with."

This includes using sustainably-sourced ingredients, manufacturing with rigorous quality-control standards, partnering with distributors that create optimal working conditions for employees, and packaging products in glass contains for easy recycling.

"I'm a seeker of new solutions and doing things better, from taking sustainable farming to the next level by supporting regenerative farmers, or creating the best products on the market that work and serve the wellbeing of people and the planet," she shares.

Here, Peterson shares why multifaceted sustainability is the next frontier of clean beauty, the importance of clinically testing products, and her favorite products for fall.

Tell me about your journey to founding True Botanicals. 

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and always felt that, at some point in my life, I would like to take on my own challenge/opportunity and build a business of some sort. It's so interesting how life intervened and sent me in a direction I never anticipated, which was to the beauty industry because of my thyroid cancer diagnosis, and then my subsequent discovery that so many beauty products are made with toxins. I never knew that and had zero awareness of it whatsoever. I realized that I had been focusing on wellness and diet and never really considered the skin and how what you put on it goes into your body. So, in understanding all of that, I saw an opportunity for beauty brands to do better and I got very excited about jumping in and building my own brand.

Not all chemicals are harmful, but many clean beauty brands are guilty of greenwashing when talking about their products. How does True Botanicals define toxins? 

Some people consider, for instance, ascorbic acid [a form of vitamin C] a chemical, and that's a terrific ingredient for skincare. So, from my perspective, any chemical that is harmful to people, any form of life, or the planet is a toxin. And I think we apply that rigorous standard because we know it's possible to make incredible products that are in no way harmful. It definitely takes more effort and being extremely thoughtful, but we really think it's worth it. When you start thinking about the types of ingredients that are being used, it's like, "Oh, well, that makes sense they're applying that rigorous standard," because we're talking about known behavioral toxins, carcinogens, and developmental toxins.

Why is how your products are made equally important as the ingredients in them?  

When we think about our ultimate goal, we're very focused on how we are directly impacting people on the planet versus what we can market to a consumer. And I think this super thoughtful approach really matters to our customers, which is very exciting. As an example, we could talk about our natural ingredients all day long, but if they are not sustainably grown, then the fact that they come from nature is really only taking this part of the way.

So, from our perspective, it's critical that we consider the wellbeing of people and the planet at every step of the process of making our products. And that starts with the farmers who are growing our ingredients, including the processes being used to grow the ingredients and how that impacts the long-term sustainability of the soils that the ingredients are being grown on, and therefore, the long-term livelihoods of the growers. Then, it moves to our manufacturing process, and there are two sides to that too. We want to have products that are beautiful, effective, and have preservation systems that are as bulletproof as possible. Also, especially with COVID-19, we want to ensure our distribution partners are really considering the wellbeing of their employees and to sustainably continue to serve our customers.

Today more consumers care about how their products are made as well as their impact on the planet. What has it been like to see this shift and what still needs to be done? 

It's incredibly rewarding to see the kinds of questions consumers are asking, to see what they're demanding, how informed they've become, and the kind of change that they're supporting, whereas before, I feel like we were very much in the role of educator. And so, at the time of starting our business, it was clear to me that the beauty industry could much better serve women. And how do I feel about where things are today? I just feel like we've come such a long way and there are so many companies dedicated to the wellbeing of people on the planet. I would also say we have a long way to go because I feel that the evolution has really just begun. And I think that as we continue to succeed and grow, it will inspire more and more conventional brands to adopt this philosophy, which is really exciting to me.

Why is it important to you to do clinical testing on your products? 

We Made Safe certify all of our products to ensure that all of our ingredients and sub-ingredients in our products are confirmed to be safe for people and the planet. On the other hand, I think clinical studies are so important because we're coming out of a time where there has been a huge perception that the conventional beauty brands were the ones that delivered results and the natural brands were the ones that were safe for people and the planet. And we want to bust that myth. Our clinical trials have actually shown the opposite, which is our products dramatically outperform leading brands. We want consumers to know this and to be empowered with the information that they don't need to risk unnecessary exposure to toxins in order to get results. That's at the heart of it.

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The Best True Botanical Products for Fall

Clear Pure Radiance Oil

Best True Botanicals Products
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Wearing a face mask can cause friction, which in turn can compromise your skin's barrier. Peterson suggests incorporating a face oil specifically formulated for your skin type into your routine to support your barrier. The Clear Pure Radiance Oil will help acne-prone skin that is also experiencing breakouts from wearing masks, while she likes the Renew Pure Radiance Oil for additional anti-aging benefits.

To buy: $110; truebotanicals.com.

Resurfacing Moisture Mask

Best True Botanicals Products
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"I really love the Resurfacing Moisture Mask because it hydrates your skin and exfoliates," says Peterson. "Exfoliating a couple times a week is really supporting barrier function because all the nutritive ingredients you put on your skin are going to absorb well."  The treatment is formulated with lactic acid, an AHA that removes buildup from pores, and avocado oil, a rich moisturizer.

To buy: $65; truebotanicals.com.

Renew Repair Serum

Best True Botanicals Products
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Since the air tends to be drier in the fall and winter, a hydrating serum such as True Botanicals' Renew Repair Serum can help keep skin balanced by providing hydration and repairing a compromised barrier.

To buy: $140; truebotanicals.com.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Beauty Boss profiles the brains behind the brands making waves in the beauty industry. From the ideas that first inspire brands to how best-selling hair, makeup, and skincare products are made, find out how these leaders get it done.