Your Clean Beauty Questions Answered: A Chat with Tara Foley

How To Wear A Tunic Sweater
By Jess
29 Oct 2019
Jess Ann Kirby talks with the founder of Follain, a clean beauty store based in Boston.
image via follain

As some of you may know, it was my meeting with Tara, founder of Follain, last spring that prompted my full commitment to clean skincare. I had dabbled in clean beauty and had some products I liked but I was never willing to make the switch completely. Spend a few minutes with Tara, she will most likely change your mind. Her passion, enthusiasm, and incredible breadth of knowledge in the clean beauty space is captivating. A few weeks ago when I discovered a clean beauty cleanser I was using had phenoxyethanol in it, a substance you’ll find on Follain’s banned ingredient list, it sent me down a rabbit hole. I knew the one person that could help me understand better was Tara.

Diving into the world of clean beauty can be overwhelming. There is very little oversight in the skincare and beauty industry. It is essentially, a self-policing industry. The only government oversight is from the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, passed in 1938. The FDA doesn’t even require basic safety testing of ingredients in personal care products before they are used. So how do you make good decisions about products? Where do you start if you’re new to clean beauty? I sat down with Tara to answer those questions and more.

**It just so happens that today Follain launches their first ever moisturizer. I had the opportunity to test it over the summer before it launched and I LOVED it. If you’re looking for a great intro to clean beauty it’s the perfect lightweight, super hydrating, moisturizer. Use code JESSANNKIRBY for 15% off your Follain purchase. **

Clean Beauty Q&A with Follain Founder Tara Foley

Let’s start with this question because it’s what prompted this discussion and kind of left my head spinning. A lot of clean brands use phenoxyethanol (a preservative), which has a 2-4 rating on EWG and Polyethylene (a thickener), but both are on Follain’s restricted ingredient list. Why is that and what ingredients have you found to be a better alternative?

If we can do better at Follain, we will. Serious mission-based brands and retailers like us must push the limits on behalf of consumers, so that the ingredient and product manufacturers are in turn pushed to make better, safer, newer alternatives. That is why we ban ingredients like these two–and continue to evolve, and add more ingredients to our restricted list, all the time.

Regarding phenoxyethanol: most beauty products (definitely those with any form of water–including rose water, aloe juice, etc) need preservatives. And unfortunately there aren’t very many perfect preservatives to choose from. Fingers crossed that the green chemists out there come up with more soon. We will continue to push for them in the meantime! Phenoxyethanol was originally touted as the safer alternative to parabens, which is why you see it in a lot of clean brands. In recent years, though, there have been some studies pointing to the fact that it isn’t as great as we thought. It’s worse in higher percentages, but if you can go without it why wouldn’t you? Luckily we realized that we could have a complete portfolio of highly effective clean products without it. So we decided to ban it. Instead of parabens or phenoxyethanol, most products sold at Follain contain preservatives like ethylhexglycerin, pentylene glycol, potassium sorbate, rosemary oil, and others.

PEGs (polyethylene glycol) is another ingredient that for some reason has snuck into a lot of products–both clean and conventional. The purpose of this one is to thicken and provide a certain product “feel”. You see it most often in lotions, moisturizers, and conditioners. It also serves to help other ingredients in a formula penetrate deeper into the skin. The thing is, when you create a PEG, something called 1,4 dioxane is released and 1,4 dioxane is a known carcinogen. A very harmful impurity, especially in an ingredient intended to penetrate the skin deeply. There are almost always trace amounts of it left in any product with PEGs, which is why PEGs have been banned by Follain since day one of our business.

“If we can do better at Follain, we will.”

Is there such a thing as “clean/non-toxic” retinol? I’ve seen a bunch of clean brands come out with versions of it including bakuchiol, the supposed clean alternative to retinol.

I’m glad you bring this up. Retinol is super popular, but proven to be irritating and unsafe–especially during critical exposure windows like pregnancy. Because consumers were demanding better, safer, less irritating options to retinol, bakuchiol was recently rediscovered. Bakuchiol is just as good, if not better, than retinol–in it’s abilities to boost collagen and pump skin with antioxidants. It is a non-irritating alternative to retinol, and it is derived from the babchi plant. To say bakuchiol is popular right now would be a huge understatement. We wanted to do our research to ensure this ingredient was everything it was cracked up to be, before giving it our stamp of approval. I’m happy to say it does–and we’re starting to bring in products with the ingredient, including our own brand moisturizer.

It can be very confusing and difficult to navigate what is safe to use during pregnancy. I was pleasantly surprised that since I had already made the switch to clean beauty, I didn’t have to give up anything I was using with the exception of salicylic and glycolic acid. Is there a certain percentage of those ingredients that are safe?

I’m so happy that you had already converted to clean beauty before pregnancy. That overhaul can be daunting for many women. If someone isn’t using safe products, there is generally a lot of change to make when you become pregnant. We get SO MANY customers who’ve just found out that they’re pregnant–and we’re the first they tell, before most of their family and friends! It’s such an honor, and once most women discover clean and effective beauty during pregnancy they rarely go back to their old products.

It’s totally unethical to study the effect of ingredients on pregnant women, so there are very few hard studies out there that support the direct connection to skincare ingredients that should be avoided during pregnancy. In light of that, we encourage women to just keep things as clean as possible. Everything at Follain is better than conventional options.

One area you might want to avoid, or try to use less of during pregnancy, are treatments with BHAs (salicylic acid). There was a study with pregnant women who took BHA in it’s oral form (aspirin) in high concentrations–that led to birth defects. While the dose was extremely high and taken orally (different than low percentages and skin absorption) we still recommend limiting these during pregnancy. Personally I was regularly using some clean serums and masks with BHAs before pregnancy and only used them a handful of times during my entire pregnancy–very limited.

Glycolics (AHAs) are less of an issue because they just don’t penetrate into deeper layers of your skin like BHAs do. Some people also like to avoid clary sage essential oil, which has been linked to early labor–but is only in a handful of bath products. Ultimately, like with everything, you should do whatever feels best to you

If someone is just starting out switching to clean, what do you think are the most important product swaps to make?

SOAP: Liquid hand and body soap contains some of the most harmful ingredients (tons of SLS, fragrance, unsafe preservatives etc) and you use it the most frequently throughout the day. This means that the ingredients have a greater chance to harm you, and to then eventually harm the planet (when they go down the drain and into our water system). Our refillable liquid hand & body soap is obviously a good option–and we carry many others at Follain, too.

DEODORANT: This one gets a lot of attention, because of the connection between the main ingredient in conventional anti-perspirant, aluminum zirconium, and long term illnesses. The thing is, that’s not even the worst offender in conventional deodorants; they usually contain tons of synthetic fragrance, unsafe preservatives and other harmful ingredients. It’s like a toxic cocktail that you’re applying in a very sensitive area–the beginning of your lymphatic system! There’s been a ton of innovation in the clean deodorant space though. I need a pretty hardcore deodorant, and right now find Love Fresh Extra Strength to be the best option for me. It’s a super personal journey finding the best clean deodorant for your body chemistry–but worth the commitment.

MOISTURIZERS: Conventional face and body moisturizers are also pretty bad offenders in the preservative and fragrance department–along with a host of others. Plus, they sit on your skin all day long, so harmful ingredients have that much greater an opportunity to absorb in. The thing is–the real, powerful, and often plant based active ingredients in clean moisturizers help them work even better to hydrate and smooth your skin. We just came out with an amazing moisturizer that is great for the season transition.

I’d encourage anyone to look at what you use most in your life. For some that is makeup, and others it might be hair products. It’s a lot to change all your products at once. You could begin by swapping out the above, and/or swap out products as you finish the ones you’re using currently.

“Any brand or product can claim that it’s clean. Everyone has a different reason for trying clean beauty for the first time…you have to determine what it is you are looking for in clean, and find the best place to get it. Not all clean is created equal.”

I always love your product recommendations, what are your holy grail skincare/makeup favorites right now?

That’s a tough one! I’m constantly testing new products and ingredients. I also firmly believe that everyone needs a consult to find the best products for their own personal skin type and concerns. What works well for my super dehydrated, still hormonal skin might not be the best for others. All that said, some that I’ve kept coming back to recently:

  • Naturopathica manuka balm cleanser – I think we share this one! This is great for my dry skin because it seriously hydrates while cleansing, and smells amazing.
  • Josh Rosebrook hydrating accelerator – A light mist that helps bring the hydration back into my skin post-cleansing. 
  • Osea essential hydrating oil – The high percentage of macadamia oil in this brings serious hydration and I like the citrusy scent!
  • Follain moisturizer – Seals in all my hydrating steps from before, and has added plumping and smoothing benefits too. Also makes a great primer if I’m using any kind of concealer or foundation afterwards. 
  • RMS buriti bronzer – I love the glow this provides, all year round! I blend it with my fingertips and the coconut oil base continues to hydrate my super dry skin.
  • Ilia essential brow gel – I’m a dark brunette, but bc of my fine hair I prefer the blonde shade in this awesome clean brow gel.
  • Kari Gran lip whip – A super hydrating, super thick lip gloss. I love the shine, and the colors–especially Cora Gold at the moment.

A lot of companies and brands use the phrases like “clean beauty” and “all natural” but there’s a varied spectrum of what that actually means since there’s so few restrictions and standards in the beauty industry. What tips do you have on how to be a conscious consumer and look beyond the buzzwords brands use to market themselves a certain way?

Exactly. Any brand or product can claim that it’s clean. That’s why there’s still a lot of pressure on consumers to research, and find brands and retailers they trust. Everyone has a different reason for trying clean beauty for the first time, and until the government defines that term you have to determine what it is you are looking for in clean, and find the best place to get it. Not all clean is created equal. This is how we define clean at Follain.

Follain’s Clean Beauty Definition:
Clean beauty prioritizes human and environmental health, featuring nutrient-dense ingredients as much as possible, and safe synthetics where necessary (for preservation or performance). Follain has a long, evolving list of unsafe ingredients that are banned from our portfolio, and we work with scientists and doctors to update this list regularly; but clean beauty is really about so much more than the absence of unsafe ingredients. It’s about feeding your skin with real vitamins, minerals and nutrients that will truly work better; delivering healthier, stronger skin. Because of the abundance of real, nutrient dense ingredients in clean beauty products–it provides a pleasing experience, one that smells and feels like you’re doing something great for your health and wellbeing. Because you are.

My Favorites at Follain (use code JESSANNKIRBY for 15% off)


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  1. Rachel wrote:

    I’ve recently started switching over my skincare and beauty products to clean alternatives but the process is so overwhelming! This interview has been so helpful and I can’t wait to go into my local Follain to chat more with their team about how I can switch out all of the products I haven’t updated yet!


    10.29.19 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s so great Rachel. I totally agree it is overwhelming. I have to say the Follain team is AMAZING, particularly if you bring in products that aren’t clean and want to know good alternatives. They are super helpful. Good luck xx

      10.29.19 | Reply
  2. Caroline Carper wrote:

    Do you mind sharing which product you were using that had this ingredient? Or other ‘clean’ brands that actually are not? I know most bloggers don’t care to bash brands but it would be helpful to see if I have it in my own arsenal! It’s difficult to remember every ‘bad’ or ‘good’ ingredient when checking products at Sephora or other stores. I don’t have a Follain in my city but happy to have a Credo Beauty.

    10.29.19 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes of course it’s the Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm. And I really do LOVE Farmacy and use several of their products. I was just really bummed to find that ingredient in their cleanser. I plan on finishing the product but I won’t be repurchasing.

      10.29.19 | Reply
  3. This post was so helpful! Tara truly seems like a wealth of knowledge!

    I have been in the store here in Dallas and can attest that it is INCREDIBLE. What struck me the most was how few products they offered. Not in a bad way, in a very good way – there was no overwhelm! Normally stores carry every. single. thing. and it’s hard to know what’s actually good and what’s not. By only offering a handful of items in each category, I felt sure that they did the work and stood by these recommendations and I appreciated that.

    xo Mary-Katherine

    10.29.19 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I totally agree. I love that they don’t just carry full product lines but test every single product before it hits their shelves and only sell the ones they feel make the cut. It makes for, in my opinion, a very pleasant shopping experience. Thanks Mary-Katherine. xx

      10.29.19 | Reply
  4. Emily wrote:

    I only started getting serious about clean products after listening to Tara on the Getting Curious podcast. I don’t know why but hearing her speak about all these things, as opposed to just reading them–it really made to think twice about everything I was using on myself and in my home. I’ve started seeking out clean products at some local retailers, and I’ve also loved discovering clean brands made locally, like Java and Farmaesthetics. I wish Follain would open a store in Rhode Island! Why does Boston get TWO?!

    10.29.19 | Reply
  5. Stephanie wrote:

    Thanks so much for this post! I find it very hard to make good decisions on products because of the “self regulating” part of the business and so much “greenwashing”. I’ve been stressing over making changes and feel like I’m getting closer but this helps me make better decisions about my next purchases. Hopefully you’ll do a similar post on baby/child skincare options!? I’m working on cleaning up products for my 4 & 6yo as well!

    10.29.19 | Reply
  6. Sarah wrote:

    Thank you for this! The world of clean beauty is pretty confusing. I’m so grateful Tara for leading the charge in asking more from beauty products and their manufacturers.

    11.2.19 | Reply

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