The Original Influencer, Paula Begoun, On Being A Modern Beauty Entrepreneur

The Original Influencer, Paula Begoun, On Being A Modern Beauty Entrepreneur

In a cosmetics world teeming with mysterious ingredients, strident claims of the efficacy of unknown substances and an almost spiritual belief in nature’s ability to cure all– who can beauty entrepreneurs turn to for a clear, honest understanding of skin care? Paula Begoun the Cosmetics Cop, long known in the beauty industry for her outspoken reviews and now CEO and Founder of Paula’s Choice Skincare, seems like the obvious choice.

Begoun started her career in the beauty industry in the early 1980’s as a makeup artist in Seattle, Washington. It was here the young makeup artist introduced herself as a cosmetic vigilante– appearing on a local news station as an investigative journalist of the beauty industry and self-publishing her first book Blue Eyeshadow Should be Illegal in 1982.

Photo Courtesy of Paula's Choice Skincare Instagram

The book gained national attention, leading to recurrent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Begoun’s column, “Dear Paula,” that diverged from the fatigued and archetypical advice column and instead featured the unprecedented honesty of Begoun over specific cosmetic products.

Begoun’s experience in the newspaper industry eventually developed into a larger venture. Like everyones’ cherished, fictional columnist Carrie Bradshaw, the young writer complied her column and published the first edition of Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me in 1992. This exposition on the cosmetic industry was an immediate sensation, and following its publication,“The Cosmetic Cop” became a household name.

Photo Courtesy of Paula's Choice Skincare Instagram

“Women used to literally take my book before it was online to the cosmetic counter,” laughs Begoun, reminiscing about women entering makeup stores, wielding literary protection against harmful face washes. And although the author faced some criticism over her candid assessment of the beauty industry Begoun describes herself as “a nonpartisan critic.” The credibility of her work was corroborated when it became a standard of every dermatologist’s office, “I remember when I started formulating my products I would walk into chemist’s offices and contact manufacturers, I would see my book on their shelves, and that was the best feeling.”

Determined to use her status as a conscientious makeup advocate, this writer-turned-entrepreneur launched Paula’s Choice Skincare in 1995. At first Begoun released ten products dedicated to the high standards she upholds now some thirty years later. Today her company continues to formulate researched products that provide a full spectrum of documented benefits.

Major makeup corporations constantly advertise new, fast acting skin care that despite promises of blemish free skin, are usually replaced by a newer, trendier product. Small, eclectic brands consistently launch new skin care lines that are just as quickly abandoned by their founders– well intentioned people who lack the knowledge to create what they envisioned. 

However, Paula’s Choice Skincare is neither an opaque company nor an impractical indie brand with unrealistic expectations.

“I didn’t do any of this because I wanted to be master of the universe– that I ended up being a successful business women was an accident. I didn’t have high expectations”, explains Begoun, who’s motivation to create a transparent and successful skin care line produced consumer cult favorites from her original ten products. Begoun was not driven by a desire for the beauty industry’s recognition, but rather an inclination to develop skin care that actually works.

Do the research,” is Begoun’s immediate advice to modern beauty entrepreneurs. “Do the research. It’s called medical dermatology science journals– one study is not going to tell you everything, you need to take a look at it all,” expounds the CEO. She credits her success to being involved in both the research and the formulating of her products.

Paula’s Choice Skincare was one of the first beauty companies to sell solely on the internet. However, in addition to viewing it as the key to modern marketing, she sees a dark side to the internet. Begoun is wary of the immense amount of incorrect information circulating, “It’s way easier to just reread the bullshit research that gets resaid in blog after blog. The information on the internet around skincare is still pretty damn fucking crazy.”

The internet is also a driver of trends, but Begoun credits her success to a habit of avoiding the latest thing. “One of the reasons we rarely jump on trendy ingredients is that I know that a trendy ingredient is going away when there’s not enough research or the research is just silly.” Marketing fads come and go quickly, “Just in terms of oils I’ve watched emu oil and tea tree oil and I’ve just watched trends come and go. Trends aren’t good skin care– it’s good for reporting but it’s not good skin care.”

The current affectation of natural skin care has prompted many of our favorite celebrities and influencers to come out with new green product lines. However, Begoun believes that the quick failure of these products results from a lack of knowledge and research about effective skin care, “The entrepreneur themselves aren’t usually chemists and they don’t know chemistry or biochemistry. They don’t have a fundamental knowledge of what makes for good skin care.”

Begoun feels that the need for her insights and careful analysis is greater now than ever, “I’m the only one saying that because it’s the truth. I always say to people that the truth in beauty is telling women things even when they don’t want to hear it, even when it’s disappointing.” The budding entrepreneur might well choose to follow the path of research, testing and formulating; this will lead to effective, quality products and will avoid the wrath of the Cosmetic Cop.

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