When it comes to beauty, the demands of the market are ever-evolving, and the production must meet them for them to stay relevant and purchasable. In this episode, Amy Galper speaks with seasoned beauty editor Megan Deem about how clean beauty has made an indelible impact on the beauty industry and market. Megan shares her experience in the media as a beauty editor for magazines like INStyle and O, The Oprah Magazine, and why “clean” is the term that has lasting power. Because even if the concept of beauty did not change in the past decades, how people see and accept beauty products is a whole different story.
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Clean Beauty And The Media – Beauty Editor Megan Deem Tells All
I’m excited to bring as our guest, Megan Deem. She and I had the blessing to meet each other many years ago. She has had quite the illustrious career in writing about beauty, beauty trends, and all things regarding beauty space and skincare. I’m thrilled to have her here. Let me tell you a little bit about Megan. She is a writer, editor and consultant. She’s held senior positions in Elle, InStyle and O, The Oprah Magazine. She also produced videos and wrote for Oprah.com. Her writing has appeared in publications such as ArchitecturalDigest.com, Cherry Bombe, Evening Standard, Harper’s Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue and WSJ Magazine among others. Megan is the coauthor of Beautiful Skin Workout, published by St. Martin’s Griffin. She lives in New York City and can never get enough sunscreen. Welcome, Megan. Thank you for being here.
Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.
I’m excited to have a conversation about clean beauty and the beauty space, especially within the media, from blogs to print. It’s great to talk to you because I know you’ve been doing this awhile, but you’ve also seen the shift from print to go everything moving online, especially with the pandemic. There’s this big shift from print to online media. I look forward to jumping into this with you. First, before we start talking, I’d love us to talk a little bit about your background so people can get to know you a little bit better. If you want to tell us a little bit about how you became a beauty editor. I know for a lot of young women coming out of college, who are fascinated and have romanticize this career, I would love to hear and have you share a little bit about your journey.
I was one of those people who also romanticized this career. I wanted to be a beauty editor since I was in junior high, maybe even before that. I was like, I want to be a beauty editor for a fashion magazine. That was my big dream. That was always on my mind. My first job out of college was for a bank. However, I took a little detour. I made it to New York to pursue my dream after leaving the bank. I first had an internship at Elle in the pictures department. That gave me a practical magazine experience, but I always knew I wanted to be in beauty. I was looking to get a full-time job in the beauty department for a magazine.
I shifted over to Mirabella, which is sadly no longer in print. I worked there, worked my way up from Mirabella to Self, and then I went to Elle. I was always doing beauty, then I made the shift to InStyle and then back to Oprah. Now, I’ve been a freelance for a few years working primarily in the beauty space doing some other writing as well, but my passion is beauty. That’s where I do the bulk of my work and where my interest lies personally.
Could you give a little more detail for us because you are sharing a story of a real dream come true and commitment, determination and hard work to make that dream a reality? What was it like when you say you worked your way up? What does that mean for someone who’s considering this career path?
You have to be genuine. If you say, I love beauty, that needs to be the truth. I was always reading about it, following products and trends. Before I worked in the industry, and once I got into the industry, I’m still following that and being curious. When you go to an interview and they ask you, What products do you like What interests you about this? You need to have a genuine answer that says, I’m passionate about skincare. I love hair. I know everything there is to know about how to do my own blow dry or get my skin glowing, and the best ways to exfoliate.
You need to have more than a passing interest in those things because you are writing about them every day, and asking questions about them, and doing reporting. If it’s not something that you genuinely enjoy, it will get old fast. When you’re interviewing, that comes out. It’s like any job or career path. You’re more successful if you have a passion for it because you’re more willing to put in the time and effort to be successful. It’s also being patient and waiting for the right opportunities to present itself. When I was working at Self before I went to Elle, I was there for a couple of years and waiting until the right job opened up. That was the next position on the ladder that I could move to, and then interviewing for that.
Not every interview ends with a job offer. It’s also not getting disheartened if something doesn’t go your way for whatever reason to say, I’m going to keep getting out there, keeps swinging and not give up. I think you have to have confidence in yourself, and know that this is what you want to do because sometimes there is rejection and you need to not give up. Instead, believe in yourself and keep trying. Nothing happens overnight. I interned in the pictures department at Elle for six months before there was even an opening for beauty assistant job that I could apply for. There were three all at once. It went from zero to three. It’s always that way. During those six months towards the end, my father said to me, Maybe this isn’t going to work out for you and you need to look at something else. I was like, I can’t. This is what I’ve been dreaming about doing. I don’t want to give up. It was at that point that all of a sudden, these jobs opened up when I was thinking that things were going to work out. Having faith is important too.
You mentioned some great things there that can apply for anything that we’re looking to follow. When you said that you were a kid and you had this dream about being a beauty editor, what do you think it was that captivated you about the beauty industry at such a young age?
I like all of the promises of what you would see in the pages and how much fun it was to try different makeup looks and experiment. The things that signify beauty like glossy hair, clear eyes and glowing skin are also the same things that signify health. When we’re looking for beauty, we’re looking for our healthiest self. It’s something that is attainable to anyone no matter what your size or skin tone. We can all want to be healthy. We can all want to have these markers of health and have radiant skin. That is something that is achievable for all of us.
I appreciate that too, and that beauty is something maybe more accessible than fashion in some ways, because fashion can be expensive. Fashion can only fit certain sizes. I love fashion, but fashion can be exclusionary in some cases. I feel like beauty is more open and something that anyone can dip a toe into. It’s much less expensive than buying a whole designer outfit versus going and getting a designer lipstick or eye shadow palette or even anti-aging balm. There’s more opportunity for experimentation.If you have a passion for something because you're more willing to put in the time and effort to do it, you will be successful. Click To Tweet
That’s a great way to look at it. Something that I’ve also believed in too is this deep connection with being our healthiest self, how that reflects, define and understand our own beauty. I think also what we’ve seen, which I wanted to talk to you about as well, is this whole movement towards what’s called clean beauty, and how clean beauty now is defining and positioned itself as this holistic experience of beauty. Meaning, that we’re not just looking at the ingredients, even though that’s a very important part of it, but we’re also examining where these ingredients come from, their impact on our health, wellbeing and on the environment. As you’ve been a beauty editor writing about this for many years, I’m sure you’ve seen trends come and go. I know many years ago, natural, organic, green, eco, nontoxic or other terms that were tossed around. It seems like everyone is settled on clean beauty. How do you see clean beauty now and its evolution? Why do you think this is sticking more than those other terms years before?
I remember when natural and organic came to the fore, and how we would try to write articles about that. It was so hard to define what is natural and organic ingredients. Not everything had the organic seal. Partly, that was because water is a primary ingredient of products and water is not organic, therefore products could have organic ingredients but not be certified as fully organic. Did it need to be organic? It wasn’t enough to be natural. What did it mean to be natural? Poison Ivy is natural. You go down this rabbit hole and it was hard to define for readers what was natural. Even then, people are looking for safe ingredients. It was falling under this natural umbrella. Now, sourcing is important, so you can get ingredients that are natural ingredients but perhaps coming from a non-sustainable source.
The question is, Do you want to be using this ingredient? Clean is here to stay for sure because it has allowed us to define what the parameters are of what makes a clean product in a way that is easy to understand and also translates across categories. We have taken what people wanted, which was safe ingredients, but we’re not excluding clean and synthetic ingredients, which can be safe. That’s made it a little more accessible and I would think from a formulation standpoint, a wider variety of ingredients to work with and not so narrow like, It needs to be this organic oil as the base ingredient. It has given more opportunity for what could be a clean product.
The idea of product safety reached critical mass. Many years ago, you had people, the early adapters who were saying, What I put on my skin is getting absorbed into my body. I need to be concerned about that link, but it wasn’t a widespread thought. Whereas now in 2020, we’re not just talking about clean beauty. People are eating organic. They’re more concerned about where their food is coming from. A lot of these events or influences are coming together and that has strengthened the clean beauty movement as well. I definitely would not launch a beauty line that was not clean because it’s here to stay. It would make no sense even in my mind to consider whether it was a makeup line or a skincare line that was not clean. That is something that consumers want and that they’re looking for. That become a deciding factor in their purchasing behavior. It’s something that you need to have now if you were starting.
We’re seeing a lot of these trends also in larger retailers like Ulta, Target and Sephora. Even Neiman Marcus is selling some clean products. We see also the growth of companies like Credo Beauty that are massively making an impact. I want to return back to what you said connecting wellbeing and health, and how that’s now becoming also integral to the products that we put on our bodies and making that connection, even how our modeling, even the food that we eat and how that makes us feel. For women, beauty product is an emotional connection as well. I feel that the clean beauty movement encompasses this whole wellbeing aspect. Do you feel that’s an important element for new brands to be able to embrace that perspective as well?
People are concerned a lot with efficacy of products. Something that made it easier for people to make the shift to clean beauty has been that they’re like, I don’t have to compromise on the efficacy of what I’m choosing. It’s not that I’m choosing a clean product and it’s not going to do as good a job at getting the dirt off my skin. That’s a primary focus in enabling people to make the switch to clean beauty. The secondary focus is the wellbeing, because especially in this pandemic time, people have been like, Go, go, go, and now we’re taking time to be a little more introspective.
We do have more time being at home all the time to be involved in rituals of self-care. Whereas someone may have made a choice for a face cream initially because, This works. It’s going to help plump my skin. The secondary thing is, I like how it smells. When I use it, I enjoy it and it makes me feel good. That is becoming more important as people spend more time taking care of themselves. They see that there are these secondary effects of products that may not be what was the initial selling point, but is the secondary benefit. They’re like, I like this. I’m going to look for more of this benefit, this wellbeing focus. It comes into play also. We’re concerned with things like climate change and things that seem out of our control that we look for places where we can do good and feel good that we do have control over. That can be in our daily care routines.
Since clean beauty is here, it’s not going anywhere. If anything, it’s building bigger momentum. Do you see other trends coming looking towards 2021 at all that you find are potentially influential or shifting the way that we think about things, or anything like that as you’re writing about it?When looking for beauty, you want to look for your healthiest self. Click To Tweet
I do think that clean beauty itself, the definition has always been there, but people are taking more interest in other parts of it like sustainability. It’s gone from being that ingredients are from a certain list or exclude ingredients from another list to the sourcing, to the packaging. Is it recyclable or did it come from recycled materials? Is this ingredient being grown in a place where there aren’t heavy metals in the soil? Is it being farmed in a responsible way that’s not leading to deforestation? People are asking more questions about what makes a product than they used to. Before, it was enough to say like, It’s not formulated with this list of ingredients. It’s clean. Now they are saying, Okay.
That definition is expanding and people are becoming more interested in sustainability in all of the ESG factors and environmental, social governance of a company. That’s becoming important. I’ve seen CBD’s popularity. It’s still being figured out because there are a lot of questions. Everyone that I hear about says, My ingredients are better. They come from this farm. I’m getting my ingredients from this place. There’s not a standard yet that’s accepted across the board to establish what makes a quality CBD oil. It seems like there’s been a gold rush of people getting into that area.
I feel as a consumer, it’s hard to know, Am I getting the best ingredient or am I getting the second best, and how do I know? I feel like a lot of the CBD brands are going to shake out. We’ve seen a lot of investment in CBD by big companies. I don’t think it’s going away, but I do think that there are going to be winners and losers in that as we’ll see. There will be some that rise to the top and become established brands, and then others that will fade away because of questions about ingredient, quality and sourcing. As it becomes more of a standard or becomes easier for the consumer to evaluate between brands, and to know what he or she is getting, that will make a difference.
Ever since this gold rush, as a product developer, I have been approached by numerous CBD companies. Even for some of these companies and brands, they’re still struggling with that. As you’re saying with this interest from the consumer to understand the sustainability, the farming practices, the health of the soil, and all of these kinds of things, in the beginning with CBD, people were rushing to get it out there. Now, they’re backstepping to say, We were extracting it not in such a great way. They’re having to step back a bit. We’ll see what happens with all of that.
We used to joke it at work that if a day went by, that we didn’t get a pitch for a CBD line, did the day happened? It’s because there were so many. Every day, there would be another email with another brand coming. If I was launching a brand and I said it would be clean, I don’t know that I would do a CBD brand because that is a market that is very full.
Talking about being a beauty editor, how does a brand get the visibility? What hoops do they have to jump through in order to grab someone like you, your attention to be able to write about it? Once you get all these pitches, how do you then choose which products to write about? Where’s your gauge? Where is your little meter of saying, This is the one I’m going to write about, rather than the twenty others that you got to pitch for.
Something you said at the beginning of our talk was about digital and how that has become important. The rise of digital has been a great equalizer for brands that are launching and trying to get visibility because that is free. It is free for you to set up your own Instagram, post beautiful pictures of your product and build buzz that way through social media. That is helpful now for a young brand. When we were doing print, it was like, The magazine had to be the first place that anyone had ever seen the product. It couldn’t have been something that had been out for a while.
Now, we need to be covering it at the launch. The difference is in 2020, products can be from small brands, be out and be building a groundswell before they’re covered in a magazine’s online or print publication. That’s how brands are launching now. They’re bootstrapping it, making a social presence, getting the word out there, maybe approaching influencers. I don’t think that’s necessarily important or effective all the time, but that can be a path to get attention. It’s something that how can a beauty editor for an online publication ignore when his or her readers are talking about this product that they’ve seen on Instagram. You’re like, I need to check that out. Everyone is buzzing about X. I need to do research, find out about that product, how it works, is it effective and then feature it.People are asking more questions about what makes a product than they used to. Click To Tweet
It’s something that you as a brand can do. It’s not like you have to have a million followers of your brand before a magazine is going to notice you. You can have a smaller but passionate following, and get attention that way. It’s an important way to build visibility. Sending your product samples to editors to get your product in their hands is also effective if you have the budget for that. That’s another way that editors discover products is getting sent something and trying it and being like, This is fantastic. I need to tell the world about this great face cream that I used.
Having a story or something that helps you stand out and be memorable is important too. I think everyone has a story. It’s just how you tell it. It’s thinking about, what is the messaging of our brand? What are we trying to represent? What do we want to get across to the consumer, but also to the editor? What about our creation story? You are not going to win any editors or consumers if you’re like, We started this brand to make money because we want to retire on a beach.
You need to think of something better than that, but to draw people in and make them feel excited to support you as an editor or as a customer because people are able to buy into your vision. They get excited and they want to support you. There have been plenty of times that I’ve met with people and have been excited about what they were doing, wanting to help them be successful, and use my platform in that way. Now, meeting with people is not happening. Zoom meetings, but not the in-person like we used to have. It’s getting people excited and getting them to share your vision.
I see a lot of young beauty entrepreneurs who are coming out that way. It comes back to exactly what you were talking about, their passion, authenticity and excitement about what it is that they’re doing that can be super infectious. Before we say goodbye, I have a couple of little questions to ask. We were talking before we started that these have definitely been stressful days and stressful months for all of us. I was curious, since you write about beauty, the connection with wellbeing and all of these other things, what are you doing? What are your daily self-care rituals or practices that you’re doing to help keep yourself and your family healthy and sane with a positive attitude, and all of that?
I have a rescue pug named Manuel. We go out on walks to get fresh air, but also spending time with him in the apartment playing. It’s fun. I know a lot of people got dogs or puppies during the pandemic and lockdown. I had him before, but I highly recommend getting a dog if you don’t have one yet. They’re very loving. Spending time with him is one way because I’m like, I need to see the world more like Manuel does. Manuel is very friendly, open and enthusiastic. Those are good qualities to remember when life is feeling oppressive, and we’re never going to be out of this pandemic time. I look at my dog and I’m like, I need to be more open and positive. He helps remind me of that.
Another thing is still connecting with friends. We’ve had some nice weather here in New York. Going out to eat outside and meet friends has been great. I try to get out as often as I can to breathe fresh air whether it’s walking the dog, going to brunch and running errands. That’s important as well. I’m guilty of not doing as many self-care beauty routines. The expression, The shoe maker’s family never has shoes. I’m writing about beauty all the time. I have access to all these products and I’m always trying things, but I don’t have an evening self-care ritual. I do like essential oils or adding them to bath, taking that time, but I don’t take that time all the time to do that.
I do use essential oils all the time throughout my day, but I could use a little more self-care as well to integrate that more into my daily thing.
It’s do as I say, not as I do.
Is there any product that has come across your desk that you’re super excited about, that you think people should give a try?
I’m a fan of Drunk Elephant, which I know I’m not alone in that. I do enjoy some of those products. I’ve gotten into Luma Oil. This is a random product, but Taos AER is a clean deodorant and the scents are good. It’s lavender myrrh and Palo Santo. I’ve found that those are effective. Deodorant is one area where I’ve been nervous to make a clean switch because I’m like, If I give up antiperspirant, am I going to be sweaty or smelly? Taos AER I found that it has been effective and helped ease that transition for me.
How can people find out about you? Do you have an Instagram you want to share or a website?
I’m on Instagram, @MeganDeem. My website is MeganDeem.com. On social and the web, it’s the same. It’s easy to find that way, definitely reach out. If people have more questions and want to DM me on Instagram, I’m willing to answer as best as I can.
It was such a great conversation. I love talking about this stuff. Thank you for coming on the show and sharing your experience and your thoughts on all this. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me.
- Beautiful Skin Workout
- Drunk Elephant
- Luma Oil
- Taos AER
- @MeganDeem Instagram
About Megan Deem
Megan Deem is a writer, editor, and consultant. She’s held senior positions at Elle, InStyle, and O, The Oprah Magazine, where she also produced videos and wrote for Oprah.com. Her writing has appeared in publications such as ArchitecturalDigest.com, Cherry Bombe, Evening Standard, Harper’s Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and WSJ., among others. Additionally, Megan is the co-author of The Beautiful Skin Workout (St. Martin’s Griffin). She lives in New York City and can never get enough sunscreen.