Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu used to be skin-care chemists at L’Oréal. Now, they tackle ingredient misconceptions via their growing Instagram account, Chemist Confessions.
Less than a year after launch, Chemist Confessions has racked up a following of more than 40,000 by sharing ingredient-focused educational content and decoding the ingredient lists of popular products by buzzy brands such as Drunk Elephant, Dr. Jart and Summer Fridays. The account, which doesn’t feature paid advertising or brand partnerships, is an outlier on a platform where beauty posts are often entertainment-based or of the sponsored variety. And, unlike aspiring influencers, Fu and Lu don’t have to play the algorithm game to establish credibility with their followers. Their degrees — from The University of California San Diego and Cornell, respectively — do that for them.
“After working for several years in the industry, we were pretty frustrated with the general skin-care market,” said Fu. “Skin care is highly marketing-driven and the marketing communication lacks transparency that helps consumers make an educated decision when they’re shopping. It’s become really difficult for someone to navigate and figure out what they actually need for their skin.”
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A desire for transparency inspired the account and, about a month ago, Fu and Lu launched a line of four moisturizers. The products are sold exclusively on Chemist Confessions’ web site, with prices ranging from $29 for Balm Voyage to $39 for The Better Oil to $90 for The Moisturizer Toolkit.
“Everyone’s always on the hunt for the best moisturizer, but they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for,” said Lu. “We’ve seen a lot of multifunctional skin care on the market — everyone is crazy for retinol, acid. We also love active ingredients, but because these types of ingredients are now sprinkled across different categories, it’s easy to overload your skin. We decided to create a solid moisturizer line with a soothing focus.”
Here, Fu and Lu share their thoughts on ingredient transparency, the content their followers want to see most and why they’re “meh” about the clean beauty movement.
WWD: Why do you think your page resonates with your followers?
Gloria Lu: We never spend money advertising a page, we interact with the community, we write the content. Certain accounts talk about the science behind skin care, but few are dedicated to it, or it’s written in a way that’s still hard for laypeople to understand. We try our best to make our posts simple, readable and pair them with fun graphics so everyone can understand skin science.
WWD: There’s more information than ever for the average consumer to educate themselves on ingredients. Why do you think there’s still a lack of transparency in the market?
Victoria Fu: A lot of [information] is coming from a marketing angle versus the facts, the science. As skin-care chemists, we’re the ones that make the formulas and we know the inner workings of what ingredients are efficacious, how well they play with each other in the formula, so we can provide that transparency.
WWD: What kind of content do your followers like to see?
G.L.: Every time we write about sunscreen and sun damage, the response rate is very high. Our following is open-minded about ingredients that have been demonized by the marketplace, like parabens, but ingredients that are common sensitizers, like alcohol, they are passionately against.
WWD: Which ingredients would you say have been unjustifiably demonized by the market?
GL: Parabens is not justified. If you don’t want to use parabens, you can avoid it and that’s fine, but there’s also a push for preservative-free, which is actually very dangerous. That’s something that we strongly disagree with.
V.F.: When you opt out of paraben-free products, you have to resort to other preservative alternatives and that’s not necessarily better.
WWD: What are your thoughts on the clean beauty movement?
G.L.: Part of the reason we feel kind of meh about the clean beauty trend is the best definition of clean beauty seems arbitrary and it’s buzzworthy. I don’t think anyone will tell you, “I use unclean beauty.” Everyone wants clean beauty, but the definition is pretty much up to marketers.
V.F.: Things like phthalates and sulfates are not necessarily common to skin care. But when you talk about silicones, silicone can be a great occlusive. Because customers can’t quite differentiate based on the name, the whole category gets demonized. That sometimes is unfortunate because they can actually get formulas that possibly play better with their skin types. There’s a lot of confusion, hence us trying to help do some of the myth-busting with our Instagram.
WWD: Having reviewed many popular brands on your page, have you come across any in particular whose marketing doesn’t line up with their ingredients?
V.F.: I don’t think anyone is out to be disingenuous. The concepts are well thought out and they have their angles. For us, our standpoint is we’re chemists, we’re not marketers, so we know what we know, which is ingredients and that’s our branding.
WWD: Are there brands you’ve seen that are aligning their marketing well with their ingredients?
V.F.: One that we like is Stratia. We’ve found that their ingredient choices are great.
G.L.: La Roche-Posay is a pretty reliable one.
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