Seeking Natural Beauty: Fighting The Tide Of Organic Marketing


Every time you shop for cosmetics you’re surrounded by a sea of green. Promises of gentle, organic skincare that will return you to your pristine, healthy state are ubiquitous. Confused by the labels, how do you choose the product that is actually naturally best for your skin? Unfortunately, it may be that all these wondrous products are nearly identical and not very natural at all.

This is the mantra of Deborah Burnes, CEO and Co-Founder of SumbodySkincare,and author of Look Great, Live Green and Natural Beauty Skin Care. Burnes entered cosmetology school following her career as a model during which, posing for surrealist painter Salvador Dali drove her to develop an appreciation for makeup and fashion. But for the young model cosmetology school was not a lesson in beauty trends, but rather the beginning of her conversion from a makeup enthusiast to a leading authority in skincare.

This “passionate love affair with skin”, as she affectionately describes it, started the entrepreneur’s fruitless search for transformative, natural beauty products. “Everything was just chemically filled,” says Burnes reflecting on the nineties, a decade obsessed with silicon-based products and pore strips— a painful application used by all relatable girls on all favorite TV sitcoms.

Burnes, disillusioned by the contemporary skincare market of the nineties launched Sumbody, a natural product line designed to transform skin with its fast acting and organic formulas manufactured by the CEO herself. To a modern consumer, a commitment to creating pure skincare is perhaps the most enticing quality. However, Sumbody began advertising in 1999 long before anyone was concerned about what was in their face wash.

"Everything is about results and solution driven, luxury driven, skin transformation. I think that is the true story with beauty" - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

“We never really had the conversation on our packaging, on our labels or anywhere about being a natural or organic brand,” Burnes contemplates. She recognized the benefits of all-natural skincare years before it captured the market’s imagination, “At the time I started, it wouldn’t have worked. I really wanted to create this modern, fresh, cutting edge, highly effective skin care— but if I had done too much advertising with that it definitely would have come off too hippy.”

“We never really had the conversation on our packaging, on our labels or anywhere about being a natural or organic brand. At the time I started, it wouldn’t have worked" - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

Despite (or possible because of) the company’s limited campaigns broadcasting their all-natural formulas, Sumbody was an immediate success, “Everything is about results and solution driven, luxury driven, skin transformation. I think that is the true story with beauty—that’s what we’re ultimately looking for,” she explains, “And, as it so happens, being natural helps you get there faster than the chemicals.”

Following the establishment of Sumbody and the publication of Burnes’ first book in 1999, like-minded members of the beauty industry began advocating for conscientious advertising and healthier products. And as all trends do, the organic beauty movement captivated everyone. But Burnes knew that there was little or no credible information behind this trend, “It was all the rage, everybody was looking into it and were like, ‘Hey natural skin is actually effective and does amazing things.’”

However, Burnes insists that this superficial interest in “green” products is not actually changing the beauty industry in any substantial way. “It became such a comedy of itself,” she groans, “Everything is supposedly all natural and organic, but we’re greenwashing the planet—and everything is still filled with chemicals.”

Although there has been an increased demand among consumers for organic beauty products, most brands continue to use the same formulas— disguised behind green advertisements boasting organic properties and natural compounds. The number one factor that sustains these false proclamations Burnes argues is a lack of knowledge regarding manufacturing among brand creators. “I believe that people have the highest amount of integrity to think that they’re creating an all-natural, green brand but they have to buy into what some chemist is selling them,” Burnes reflects, disclosing that almost all of our favorite small, “indie” labels are actually manufactured by the same three labs. “It breaks my heart when I look at their ingredients and I have to tell them that their brand isn’t any better than what’s already out there.”

Despite these companies chasing the zeitgeist Burnes maintains that the only way to have created and sustained Sumbody’s success was controlling every aspect of the line and preserving brand transparency, “As the chemist behind all our products, I make each and every formula,” she states, effortlessly naming the sources of each ingredient in her line. “Being the chemist, having our own manufacturing facility and sourcing each and every ingredient really makes us unique and our products extremely powerful.”

While typical beauty companies have altered their brands various times since their launch to match contemporary trends, Sumbody has largely remained unchanged. “When it comes to skin, it doesn’t change. Skin hasn’t changed, skin is the same,” remarks the CEO, “If you really know skin, and know what you’re doing, you really don’t need to change that much.” And although you won’t find Sumbody entering the contest between the major labels over who’s the greenest, the company continues its mission from the beginning to be environmentally friendly, “We don’t have any secondary packaging. When we started the company, we had three stores as well. We still have bamboo floors and recycled lumber. All of our plastic is PET and is recyclable, and we use glass whenever we can.”

“Being the chemist, having our own manufacturing facility and sourcing each and every ingredient really makes us unique and our products extremely powerful” - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

Burnes took the next step in promoting a truly environmentally conscious line, with the publication of her second book Natural Beauty Skin Care: 110 Organic Formulas for a Radiant You!In 2016. With recipes, tips and tricks to creating DIY skin care products Burnes aims to both contribute to the no waste movement and, “empower women so that they can make effective and transformational products in their own home.”

In 2018 Deborah Burnes fulfills the same role that she did when she started 20 years ago. The CEO of Sumbody is still a leader to those concerned with what they’re lathering on themselves, providing an honest and clear path to organic skincare.

3 min read

Help! I’m Dating a Jerk!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! I'm Dating a Jerk!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I've been dating my boyfriend for a year. After spending some vacation time with him and realizing he is not treating me the way I like I'm wondering — what do I do? I need him to be kinder and softer to me but he says simply, "chivalry is not his thing." I believe when two people decide to be together they need to adjust to each other. I don't think or feel my boyfriend is adjusting to what's important to me. Should I try to explain to him what's important to me, accept him for what he is, or leave him as I'm just not happy and the little gestures are important to me?
- Loveless Woman

Dear Loveless Woman,

I am saddened you aren't getting your needs met in your relationship. Intimacy and affection are important to sustain a healthy relationship. It's troubling that even though you have expressed your needs to your boyfriend that it's fallen on deaf ears. You need to explore, with a therapist, why you have sought out this type of relationship and why you have stayed in it, even when it's making you chronically unhappy? Your belief that couples should adjust to each other is correct to some degree. These things often include compromising and bending on things like who gets the bigger closet or where to go for dinner. However, it's a tall order to ask someone to change their personality and if your boyfriend is indeed a jerk, like you say, who refuses to acknowledge your love language or express kindness and softness, then maybe you should find a partner who will embrace you while being chivalrous.

- The Armchair Psychologist

Update to HELP! My Date is Uncircumcised and I'm Grossed Out!

Hi Armchair Psychologist,
Just wanted to let you know that your article was really offensive to read. Do you refer to women's genitals as: "gross," "ghasty," "smelly," or otherwise? Humans are not perfect, each of us is different and you should emphasize this. I hope that man finds a partner that will love and accept him rather than tearing him down. Which gender has a whole aisle devoted to their "special" hygiene needs? I can tell you it's not men.
With love,
Male Reader

Dear Male Reader,

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback to my Armchair Psychologist column. My email response bounced so am writing you here. I am so sorry I offended you. It wasn't my intention. I actually meant to be sardonic and make the writer see how ridiculous she sounded for the harsh language she used to describe her date. I obviously failed at this sneer since you think I meant to be offensive. Many apologies. I'll do better. Have a wonderful day and keep writing us with your thoughts.

- Ubah, The Armchair Psychologist

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