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Indie Skincare Disruptors

by Nora Zelevansky

 “The future is female” may have started as a slogan, but it’s become a movement. All around the country, women are taking office, taking names, taking charge.

So, what’s the practical impact of this collective girl power? If the latest crop of indie natural beauty creators is any indicator, it’s not only about taking ownership—it’s about changing the game.  

“We’re playing by a different set of rules than traditional beauty,” says April Gargiulo, founder of cult favorite brand Vintner’s Daughter, “and we’re proud to follow our North Star of uncompromising efficacy, quality and safety.” 

These female entrepreneurs are drawing on personal heritage, scrutinized science, exceptional ingredients and disruptive business strategies to reimagine entire categories, creating some of the most intriguing and coveted beauty products available today. They’re starting small to grow big; and they’re supporting each other in the process.

Vintner's Daughter: Nutritional Skincare

Backstory Founder and CEO April Gargiulo comes from a family of Napa Valley winemakers, so, by adulthood, she was intimately acquainted with the “transcendent experience that can occur when high-quality ingredients are paired with exacting formulation methods.” When she became pregnant with her oldest daughter, she realized that the “luxury” skincare products she was using contained low-quality ingredients and toxic fillers. No, thanks. So, she set out to source the most active natural elements for meticulous formulation. Thus, Active Botanical Serum was born—and quickly became a cult favorite with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Rachel Weisz.


Why It’s Special Gargiulo’s mission is simple: She only creates category-defining products. Never mind the intoxicating smell and feel of the company’s inaugural creation, which makes daily rituals feel luxurious. And put aside the “multi-correctional” efficacy of this dreamy blend. The care that Vintner’s Daughter puts into their products is reflected in their unique business model: Gargiulo introduced her award-winning Active Botanical Serum in 2014—and, despite resounding success, only just launched her second product in early 2019! She took five years because “transformational products take time to develop.” There are no shortcuts when creating what she calls “nutritional skincare,” designed to be universally effective and powerful.

What’s New Her second product is Active Treatment Essence, which she says is like nothing that’s existed before. The hypercomplex formulation—which Gargiulo says she thought, at times, she might not pull off—is designed to offer hydration, nutrition, micro-exfoliation, brightening and firming at once. The core is the same Photo Radiance Infusion from Active Botanical Serum, comprised of 13 of the world’s most nutrient-rich botanicals, coupled with unique fermentation to amplify absorption. Other ingredients include vitamin C, micro and mini hyaluronic acid, probiotics, plant stem cells, marine microalgae and micro-exfoliating acids and enzymes. 

On Girl Power “It is amazing and important!” she exclaims. “The community of other women founders is incredibly supportive and inspiring. There has never been a better time to be a female business owner, and I do everything in my power to ensure that momentum keeps growing for the women who come after me.” 

The Nue Co.: Nutritional Skincare

Backstory Jules Miller is the granddaughter of a celebrated British pharmacist, who helped discover vitamin B12 at Cambridge University. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that—after years of working in advertising and at London’s Detox Kitchen—she found herself gravitating to that healing space. In her mid-20s, Miller turned to supplements in hopes of treating IBS and was sorely disappointed with what she found: None of the products appealed or addressed her specific concerns—and many had questionable ingredients. Then and there, she began envisioning a supplement line that would fit seamlessly into a person’s life, prioritize transparency and become part of a happily anticipated daily ritual.

Why It’s Special The Nue Co.’s mission is to change the way people feel about supplements—and that starts with the fusion of science and nature. Each simple, but beautiful package offers a functional, benefit-led product, which targets a certain concern. For instance, the Prebiotic + Probiotic is a popular choice, targeting IBS symptoms and long-terms digestive issues by working with spore bacteria—as opposed to live strains—which is room-temperature stable and doesn’t activate until it reaches the small intestine.

What’s New The latest addition to the collection is a Functional Fragrance—what Miller considers an “anti-stress supplement in the form of a scent.” The company worked with data from the University of Geneva’s Brain & Behavior Laboratory to definitively prove that fragrance can also have a function. Their perfumer, Frank Voelkl, used this research to inform the fragrance notes, designed to help calm and recenter. Miller’s ritual? She sprays it on her neck and wrists, breathes in for four counts, holds for eight and then exhales for four. 

On Giving Back “I believe that real change comes from being part of the conversation, which means running the race and changing our approach from the inside out (a bit like taking a supplement),” she says. “The Nue Co. prizes efficacy and ethics in equal measures. Our ingredients are always sustainably sourced and all of our food-based formulas are organic and approved by The Soil Association. We also limit the use of plastic packaging wherever possible and are committed to being zero-waste by 2020.”

Le Prunier: Skin Superfood

Backstory Raised on a large organic plum farm in Northern California (established in its first incarnation by their great grandfather in 1916), Jacqueline, Allison and Elaine Taylor understood early what it means to connect with the land. They each went off into the world, collecting experience in industries from business to lifestyle. Allison, in particular, spent a chunk of time in the fashion and beauty worlds, supporting companies from Mother Denim to Rodarte, and learning the art of building brands. That experience would prove invaluable when—after traveling through Asia and learning how the plum is valued there as a superfood—the sisters had the idea for their simple but potent Plum Beauty Oil.


Why It’s Special The sisters took three years to develop their first product, based around the healing power of the plum. Their Plum Beauty Oil—which has melanin-inhibiting properties and offers natural sun protection while reducing hyperpigmentation and calming sensitive skin—is created completely in-house—they grow, harvest, press and bottle it at their own facility. Their family values sustainable farming practices (like their Bio-Filtro recycled waste water system) and works to minimize their carbon footprint, always avoiding parabens, sulfates or synthetics. In fact, their oil is made from upcycled plum kernels, which were previously a waste product. 

What’s Next Like Vintner’s Daughter, these ladies are only interested in launching products that are truly innovative. Two new products are currently in development (based on their family farm’s plum byproducts), launching this fall.

On Sisterhood “We take a great deal of pride in continuing the family tradition, but in our own way,” says Allison Taylor, creative director. “And while it might come with challenges, the reward is that much sweeter when working together as sisters. As women, part of our goal is to lift others around us up and empower each other. We’re excited to continue along this journey while hopefully inspiring other women to take a chance on themselves and their dreams, as well.”

Zugel Oil: Mighty Multitasker

Backstory For Karen Fox Wolfe, the process of creating her oil was like cooking an incredible meal—she only used the best ingredients. Having suffered from eczema as a child, she knew firsthand about the challenging nature of skin. But it wasn’t until she was pregnant and contending with the dry Colorado climate that she began to think about playing alchemist and creating a beauty product of her own—something without toxins and preservatives, but that actually did the job. She began experimenting with combining responsibly sourced vitamins A, C and E with a hydrating oil. The idea was to create a single product that could do it all. Ultimately, after four years of experimentation, she harnessed her Stanford economics degree and Harvard MBA to launch Zugel Oil.

Why It’s Special Zugel Oil is a single-product business because Wolfe is only interested in quality products that truly work. And she has considered every detail: The product has only four whole ingredients—but they’ve been painstakingly chosen and formulated for optimum benefits. As she envisioned, the product works in place of a daytime moisturizer, night cream and serum—all for a reasonable price point. As she says, going organic is not just about not harming yourself; it’s about doing good!

What’s Next The product is still new! But stay on the lookout. 

On Strong Women “Zugel Oil is named after my Austrian great grandmother, Anna Zugel, who sailed to the US by herself in 1908 at the age of 16,” she explains. “I wanted to honor her independent, courageous spirit. I envision her as the ultimate Zugel user—a woman unafraid, embracing life and enjoying every step.  The flower on the bottle was painted by her daughter, my great aunt, Alma Zugel Ruedi.” 

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