We caught up with clean beauty expert Robyn Watkins to hear about her experience as one of the most sought after clean beauty consultants and how her identity shapes her approach to inclusive formulation.
Navigating the beauty world is never simple. With the constant evolution of trends and buzzwords, finding products that are both functional and clean may start to feel like an endless cycle of Google searches and product trials. Understanding the parameters around these is partly what gives Robyn Watkins of Holistic Beauty Group her superpower. With almost two decades under her belt, challenging and introducing innovations into brands such as Arbonne, Smashbox and Estee Lauder, the beauty consultant has built an unassailable identity as a clean beauty authority. Watkins is a leading product development consultant and founder of Holistic Beauty Group, a consultancy specializing in clean beauty and wellness product development.
JVBCOM: Where do we draw the line between clean beauty and greenwashing?
Robyn Watkins: When a product’s only benefit is what it doesn’t have. Creating value based on fear mongering isn’t going to last because consumers need more than a ‘free-of’ list.
JVBCOM: What do you think is the future of beauty?
Robyn Watkins: Highly performance-driven, super-targeted products made by cool people with sustainable visions that both retailers and consumers align with.
JVBCOM: What’s your beauty regimen like?
Robyn Watkins: Very simple and intuitive. I try to do what my skin needs, nothing more, nothing less. Right now, I am typically using a gel cleanser or clay mask to cleanse, then I rebalance with rose water or a mineral-infused hydration mist. I like to follow that up with a treatment essence, a skin-calming serum, a lightweight moisturizer and SPF.
JVBCOM: What innovations are you most excited about?
Robyn Watkins: The new conversation around mental health and emotional wellness intersected with beauty products. Products like the Selfmade Secure Attachment Comfort Serum really have pushed us into a new and elevated way of experiencing new benefits.
JVBCOM: How do you feel about the current saturation of the industry?
Robyn Watkins: We are continuing to grow, expand, and challenge ourselves. I feel optimistic about the industry however I acknowledge that we still have a lot of work to do to really bring truly authentic products to genuinely meet the consumer where they are.
JVBCOM: What’s your day-to-day like?
Robyn Watkins: Many, many meetings with my ingredient suppliers, labs, manufacturers, and of course, my wonderful and beloved brands who entrust me to bring their product concepts to life. Product development is extremely hard work. We are at the center of product launches- continuing to tweak every detail, ingredient, texture and package until the product has reached its most perfect reflection of the brand’s promise and mission.
JVBCOM: What’s your earliest beauty related memory?
Robyn Watkins: The smell of egyptian musk swirling around my home in the 80’s. Red lipstick on my mother and the first time my best friend’s sister applied black eyeliner on me and told me how beautiful I was. I’ll never forget watching Naomi Campbell on TV as a chocolate little girl, so mesmerizing! Beauty is very sensory and lovely if we allow it to empower and inspire.
JVBCOM: How has your personal journey to self-acceptance and self-love evolved working in this industry?
Robyn Watkins: My first 15 years or so in the industry, it was like I was invisible. I worked hard and landed great jobs, however, I wasn’t making products for me or reflected women like me. It wasn’t until the post-Fenty moment when being a woman of color became relevant to mainstream product development cycles. My self love and worth comes from an internal space that is connected to my own divinity. Having the freedom to travel to places like Bali have really grounded me throughout this journey to hear my own voice and see my own worth regardless of what is happening around me. Trends come and go, so I try my very best to stand on my square connected to my values, integrity and sacred purpose.
“In today’s landscape, being an indigenous woman of african descent has become a point of view that is required when launching products, especially products that are targeted to folks like myself. I love that I can do this for a living.”
JVBCOM: How does your role in product development intertwine with your identity as a Black woman?
Robyn Watkins: Wow, I honestly feel like my DNA being traced back to the motherland has really helped me see things differently, ahead of time and in a way that is close to nature. In today’s landscape, being an indigenous woman of african descent has become a point of view that is required when launching products, especially products that are targeted to folks like myself. I love that I can do this for a living.
JVBCOM: What was it like working on Pattern Beauty so close to the BLM movement?
Robyn Watkins: Pattern Beauty is so great because just the idea of being free in your hair is a radical form of revolution within itself. I really resonated with that and continue to. I have also been able to support Rizos Curls, who does a lot of work on the ground in indigenous communities of color supporting black and brown people globally. My heart was so full by witnessing all of the love and expression that came out of the movement last year. Black lives have always mattered to me! It was nice to see others acknowledging it too and feeling supported was huge.
JVBCOM: Consumers typically define clean products, as ones without “chemicals”. How do you define a “clean” product?
Robyn Watkins: A clean product is intentionally non-toxic, intentionally transparent, and is created with intentionally sourced ingredients with ethical supply chain partners with upstream and downstream sustainability practices. Brands need to be conscious about the narratives that they’re selling to consumers. I take it a step further by also saying any products that have a healing intention whether it be through formula, social activism, or the narrative. This is also known as the conscious pillar.
JVBCOM: What is your take on the negative connotations with active ingredients?
Robyn Watkins: I don’t subscribe to internet discourse over active ingredients. Everyone is gaining knowledge and reading labels…but more education is required to help consumers truly understand the benefits of active ingredients. Like wine, they are not all the same or made of the same quality.
JVBCOM: What makes you passionate about the intertwining of health and beauty?
Robyn Watkins: They go together naturally. Your beauty is a reflection of your internal state. The quality of skin, hair, radiance, glow, clarity of your eyes and so much more come from liver, organ, stress and gut health.
JVBCOM: When looking for these kinds of formulations, what are key considerations consumers should keep in mind?
Robyn Watkins: Look for essentials that cleanse, hydrate, treat, exfoliate and protect.
JVBCOM: In the EU, claims such as “clean”, “natural” and “organic” have no regulation. How does that vary in the US and the rest of the world?
Robyn Watkins: Globally, the claim “Clean” doesn’t have a regulation, however brands cannot claim natural or organic without substantiation in the US.
JVBCOM: What negative effects can the growing popularity of herbs and plants in cosmetics have on the planet? How can the industry mitigate it?
Robyn Watkins: Deforestation and the growing demand can create scarcity resulting in higher pricing and unethical botanical adulteration practices. This is why we have to test the quality of many of our extracts within our product development process. We can mitigate it by switching to biotechnology and lab-made ingredients that can be made with more purity in some cases and are less taxing on the environment.
“I take it a step further by also saying any products that have a healing intention whether it be through formula, social activism, or the narrative.”
JVBCOM: Active and synthetic ingredients get a bad rep but they can actually be healthier and more effective for the skin. Why do you think that is?
Robyn Watkins: During the molecular process of creating an active material, labs isolate key active compounds within an ingredient that give the most benefit to the skin and remove any naturally occurring irritants or allergens which give you efficacy in the most targeted way. Not all active technologies are clean. Some are made using toxic solvents, so it’s best to really purchase products from a brand who’s ethos you align with.
JVBCOM: How do you believe clean ingredients will evolve within the next few years?
Robyn Watkins: They are becoming more and more technical, scientific, efficacious and sustainable! I love the new trend I’m seeing around upcycled actives too.
JVBCOM: What are some hero ingredients that you swear by?
Robyn Watkins: I love snow mushroom, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (oil soluble vitamin C), ashwagandha, sea moss, brown algae, and one of my newest favs is Tucuma butter, as a wonderful silicone replacement for hair and body applications.