It sounds like the start of a joke: A rock star and a Harvard business school student team up and start a beauty blog. But Beauty Lies Truth is a real site started by Alexis Krauss, one half of the band Sleigh Bells, and Harvard Business School student Jessica Assaf. Their goal? To advocate for a beauty industry that is inclusive to getting dolled up, but with makeup that has safer and more natural ingredients.
The site (BLT for short), is a part blog, part beauty guide of products that are free of or have fewer artificial ingredients and toxic chemicals. Assaf and Krauss research labels and test products, offering themselves up as guinea pigs. They profile small beauty business owners and interview experts, and feature posts on Krauss’s musician friends and their beauty routines. The site focuses on products that cost $40 and under to make their recommendations affordable to a wide audience.
BLT was born from frustration at the natural beauty movement, which Assaf and Krauss say engaged more with women who preferred minimal makeup—think lip balm and hand cream. "We want to connect with young women who didn’t want to feel guilty using products," Krauss says.
BLT covers more than just cosmetics and skincare, diving into areas their readers, some of whom turn out to be men, ask about. So far, they’ve tackled problems or highlighted alternative solutions for aftershave, tampons, and even tattoo aftercare. "Lathering an open wound with petroleum-based lotion and then wrapping it in plastic doesn’t make sense," Krauss says.
Krauss got interested in the beauty industry in 2013 when she read an article in the New York Times about plastic microbeads, a common ingredient in exfoliants—since banned—that were showing up in waterways and marine life. Looking for alternatives, she got in contact with a friend at Fair Trade USA who told her about S.W. Basics, an organic skincare company in her neighborhood in Brooklyn. She emailed to request samples and Assaf, who worked there at the time, replied. They met in early 2013 and clicked. By the middle of 2014, Beauty Lies Truth was born.
Assaf has been a beauty industry activist since she was 15, when she learned that her mascara had a chemical in it that was also used to clean airplane wheels. "I say it was my first real breakup," Assaf says. "When I broke up with my first beauty product."
Assaf had people telling her through the years to just stop using makeup, which she insists is not the answer. "We love putting on makeup, giving our friends makeovers, getting our nails done," she says. "We shouldn’t have to choose between makeup and our health."
Krauss also doesn’t want to give up makeup—she’s a rock star, after all. She now asserts herself at photo shoots if she doesn’t want certain products being used, even bringing her own supplies.
The United States lags behind other Western countries in testing and regulating the beauty industry. According to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the European Union bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm, or birth defects. The FDA has only banned or restricted 11.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Environmental Protection Agency can in some circumstances test consumer products and regulate ingredients. In 40 years, it has regulated five. And since women in the U.S. put an average of 168 chemicals—which is not to say they are necessarily unsafe—on their bodies every day, according to research by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, this leaves American women exposed to more unknowns.
"It’s the Wild West when it comes to cosmetics," says Margie Kelly, a spokeswoman from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Like organic food before it, natural beauty products are having a moment. It’s the fastest growing segment of the global personal-care industry, according to one study. H&M is starting an organic beauty line. The Environmental Working Group has a mobile app on which users can look up the safety score by scanning the barcode of beauty products.
Assaf and Krauss are taking part in the new opportunities this interest is creating and are slowly expanding BLT to—if not quite a full-fledged company yet—a more diverse business to extend their message.
Last summer, Assaf and Krauss did a Kickstarter that got 500 backers for two goodie bags full of natural supplies, a makeup kit, and a skincare kit. They bought the products in bulk and sold them at cost, which they say didn’t result in any profit for them.
And next month, Assaf and two classmates from Harvard are launching RAW IS EVERYTHING, a skincare line using one cold-pressed, unrefined oil per product. Krauss is their spokesmodel.
Krauss says they aren’t asking people to lower their standards, but are promoting a change in the way women think about their beauty routine. "You can’t look like Kim Kardashian with natural beauty supplies," Krauss says.
Even so, they say they aren’t trying to shame anyone into giving up their favorite lipstick. "We all make choices that aren’t healthy," Krauss says. "That’s okay."
Assaf and Krauss say their primary goal is to be a resource for women, so when they do go for that liquid eyeliner (a product that to date does not have a good natural beauty replacement), their purchase is an informed decision.
"This is a feminist issue," Krauss says. "It’s about control over our bodies."