Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
Ilia Beauty founder Sasha Plavsic wants you to know that SPF does belong in makeup products. Take her brand's Super Serum Skin Tint for example. The innovative formula combines three products into one step: a lightweight foundation, mineral SPF 40, and a smoothing, brightening serum. Since its launch earlier this year, the tinted serum has quickly become one of the brand's best-selling products — and it can be found in virtually every makeup flat lay on Instagram.
For Plavsic, fusing makeup and skincare products together was born out of practicality. "Life got busy. I had my first kid and I didn’t have time to do a full skincare regimen in the morning," she tells InStyle. "So, I started mixing skincare with a complexion product together to speed things up."
As one of the pioneering clean makeup brands, Ilia's products were also some of the first formulas to combine clean ingredients with safe conventional ones. "I think there is still a lot of confusion around synthetics," she says of the clean beauty category. "When a lot of people see a synthetic ingredient, they think it's automatically bad and that's not necessarily true. Even in certain families like silicones, there are good silicones and bad silicones."
Mixing natural ingredients with synthetic ingredients may have put Plavsic in other organic brands' "naughty corners" when it launched nine years ago, but now, Ilia is the number one clean makeup brand at Sephora.
Here, Plavsic talks launching a clean beauty brand before clean beauty was a thing, why skincare belongs in makeup, and more.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
I didn’t have a lot of experience in the industry before starting Ilia. For most of my 20s I worked as a graphic designer and creative director in London and New York. I ended up in Orange Country with a boyfriend and worked in the eyewear industry. I took a sabbatical to travel in Asia and South America around the time the last recession hit. My work gave me the option of coming back before my trip was over or being let go. So, I told them to let me go. When I got back to the states, I ended up getting a freelance job at Urban Decay, which is where I got a peek at the beauty industry. It was a great team and they offered me a full-time position, but I was at a point in my life where I felt lost. I had just turned 30 and I hadn’t been home in over 10 years, so I decided to go back to Vancouver, Canada. Shortly after I got there, my mom — who has been interested in wellness since the early ‘80s — suggested I needed to start paying attention to what I was putting on my skin. So, I really looked at the ingredients in the products I was using and realized there were a lot of things in them that didn’t make sense to me. Ilia started with the goal of making a more organic but luxe version of my favorite cherry-tinted lip balm. It took two years, living in the little student suite next to my parents’ garage, and a $25,000 line of credit I co-signed with my dad.
Clean beauty didn't exist when you started Ilia Beauty. Did this make it challenging to make products the way you wanted?
Clean beauty didn’t exist nine years ago when I started the brand. I wanted to make the formulas as natural and organic as possible, which was considered “green beauty” at the time. I had many labs turn me down, including a big one in Canada we work with today. I ended up back in the U.S. because I found a lab in the L.A. area that would work with me. In the first five years, I tried to make everything as natural and organic as possible. On this path, I realized that not every natural ingredient is good for the skin, nor is every synthetic ingredient bad. To me, the definition of clean is where safe levels of synthetic and non-comedogenic ingredients meet and align together to create an efficacious product that performs and lasts.
"Clean beauty" can have different meanings between brands. How can you tell what's clean and what's not to you?
Most brands are defining their own guidelines. Our definition is in alignment with a lot of other brands today, but they’re not all the same, so that can be confusing. The consumer has to do their own research. Once they become educated, they can make their own decisions on what they feel comfortable with and what they want to support. We have been the number one clean makeup brand online at Sephora, and I think that goes to show that people have come to trust us because of the transparency we provide. I think there’s other brands that are also on this pathway.
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What Ilia products are fan favorites? Why do you think they're so popular?
We launched the Multi-Stick in 2012 and it’s become an excellent performer for us. I believe people really came to know us for our multi-purpose color products in the past five years. Then, we launched the Limitless Lash Mascara. It’s our best-selling products and the number three mascara on sephora.com — clean or not. I wanted to make a mascara that would be safe for sensitive eyes and not thick or clumpy. The Super Serum Skin Tint has been rivaling our best-seller since we launched it earlier this year. It’s skincare, makeup, and SPF all in one step, and it comes in a number of shades. It’s about simplifying our makeup routines with effective products that work.
A lot of people are going back to basics while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think this is going to effect the way we wear makeup once life starts to feel "normal" again?
The past couple months have felt like the sky is falling and there are real horrors that go along with the current situation. However, I think there’s something really beautiful about the way people are connecting online through Instagram lives and even on walks by saying hello to someone from a safe distance. When it comes to product, I think people are looking to supplement their needs in a really simple way by spending less time and using something that doesn’t feel complicated.
The 5 Must-Try Products from Ilia Beauty
Color Block High Impact Lipstick
Major color payoff? Moisturizing ingredients? A smudge-free long-wear finish? This creamy lipstick checks off all three boxes. It comes in 15 intensely pigmented shades, from nude to berry.
To buy: $28; iliabeauty.com.
This multi-purpose stick can be anything you want it to be. Swirl it on the apples of your cheeks, blot it on your lips, or even swipe it across your eyelids. The mix of shea butter, avocado oil, and orange peel wax hydrate and provide antioxidant protection, but also melt the color into the skin for an effortless look.
To buy: $34; iliabeauty.com.
Limitless Lash Mascara
Ilia's cult-favorite 99% natural mascara does the impossible: It curls, lengthens, lifts lashes and doesn't smudge or flake off.
To buy: $28; iliabeauty.com.
Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40
For anyone who would rather hit snooze than have time for an extensive morning skincare and makeup routine, this one's for you. On top of lightweight, dewy foundation coverage, Ilia's serum has ingredients like niacinamide and squalane to improve skin texture and tone, as well as non-nano zinc oxide for mineral SPF 40 protection. It's available in 18 shades.
To buy: $46; iliabeauty.com.
DayLite Highlighting Powder
Although it's a powder, this talc-free highlighter goes on smooth like butter. Both shades add that covetable lit-from-within-glow to the high points of the face, whether you want a bit of shimmer or a full-on highlight.
To buy: $34; iliabeauty.com.