The mystique of the French woman’s beauty routine continues to lead all others to believe that there’s something in the water or the gene pool that sets femmes françaises apart. More likely, though, is that in France, high-quality skin care and beauty products are readily available at the neighbourhood pharmacy. Canadian drugstores have started to take the hint when it comes to skin care: you can pick up high-end French brands like Caudalie and La Roche-Posay at your local Shoppers Drug Mart these days. The mindset, however, hasn’t quite followed suit when it comes to cosmetics. Many still believe that innovative ingredients and reliable efficacy are only to be found on the shelves of Sephora, or behind a department store beauty counter. On the precipice of transforming consumer expectations is beauty aisle underdog, Burt’s Bees, whose expanding range of natural cosmetics are bringing a luxury beauty trend to the drugstore.
High-end brands like Bite Beauty and Kjaer Weis are defining a new wave of “clean” cosmetics and skin care that focus on organic ingredients and eschew synthetics in favour of botanicals. But Burt’s Bees has only produced natural products—that is, products containing ingredients that have not been created by an artificial chemical reaction—since the inception of the company, which started in 1984 as a small beeswax candle operation run by the brand’s namesake, beekeeper Burt Shavitz and artist Roxanne Quimby. The Maine-based duo made the move from candles to personal care with their first lip balm formulation in 1991, and subsequently opened up a large-scale production facility in North Carolina, where the brand’s head office and laboratory still sits today.
Known for their signature all-natural lip balm—which still features the Shavitz’s endearing bearded face—the brand also offers a solid range of body and skin care, and is currently planning for a 2019 release of new additions to their line of colour cosmetics, launched last year. It’s Burt’s humble use of thoughtfully sourced ingredients and natural formulations that sets its beauty line apart from other drugstore brands. Take the forthcoming liquid lipstick: it’s easy enough for a low-end line to offer a dupe for a Kylie Cosmetics or Fenty Beauty product, but Burt’s took the challenge one step further and created a liquid lipstick with a formula that stands up to the luxe brands, using only natural ingredients like apricot oil and iron oxide pigments.
“It’s colour with care and that’s what differentiates Burt’s Bees from other colour cosmetics companies.”
Burt’s chemist and associate research fellow Abena Antwi, notes that the company’s commitment to natural ingredients presents an extra hurdle when formulating products that can stand up to tried-and-true synthetic-based makeup. Mascara presented a particular challenge—according to Antwi, many on the market use synthetic ingredients to ensure long-wear, and eliminate flaking. “To only use waxes, oils, and iron oxide, and for it to be comparable with other brands’ products, there was a lot of formulating and reformulating,” says Antwi. “I would say it took almost a year. But the mascara is [now] our number one seller.”
Products like the bronzer, highlighter, and ultra-moisturizing All Aglow cheek and lip stain are coloured with mica (miniscule crystalline minerals) sourced from mines all over the world. Sourcing ethically-produced ingredients is a high priority for Burt’s Bees, and Antwi herself is often out of the lab visiting international production facilities and farms. “We’re getting our beeswax from Tanzania, and we use beeswax in every product we use, so we want to make sure we’re sourcing from the right place, paying workers fairly, and seeing how they’re treating workers,” she says.
Burt’s quietly offers the kind of quality that consumers should demand of all products, regardless of their price point, and is a standout on the drugstore shelf when it comes to clean beauty. “It’s colour with care and that’s what differentiates Burt’s Bees from other colour cosmetics companies,” Antwi says. With cutting-edge formulations, and effective results, Burt’s Bees sets a high standard for North American drugstore beauty. While the heart of the brand is a little granola, its foundation of research and innovation puts Burt’s on track to become the kind of everyday luxury taken for granted in a French beauty routine. It’s beauty essentials, elevated, au naturale.
Photos by Ronnie Lee Hill.
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