Meet Susie Wang, Founder & Chief Creative Of 100% Pure
While the rest of us were chasing fleeting fashion trends and cramming for midterms, Susie Wang was filing patents for her cosmetics company, 100% Pure. Combining her innate passion for self care and her academic pursuit in chemistry, Susie was partway through college when she stumbled on a way to prevent natural ingredients from oxidizing. When she started being pursued by the world’s leading cosmetic companies, Susie walked away from school to work as a formulator where her eyes were opened wide to the dirty side of the cosmetic industry. We recently connected with Susie to learn more about the influence of her Korean background on her professional pursuits, her own skincare routine, and the launch of her company 100% Pure.
In college you discovered how to prevent natural ingredients from oxidizing and had the foresight to file the patents, which ultimately launched your career. Where did your interest in natural products stem from?
Beauty, self care, and pampering are a BIG part of my Korean culture. Ever since I was three years old, I used to forage for fresh berries and herbs in my garden to make myself facial masks. I spent my weekends in onsens, bathing and steaming while masking and relaxing. Fast forward a decade or so and it came as no surprise that I eventually walked away from college to work as a cosmetics formulator.
Tell us about the simple spill in your lab that inspired a deeper investigation into the dirty side of cosmetics. What did you discover about traditional ingredients that you wish you would have known sooner?
I was formulating an eye cream for one of the world's largest and most prestigious cosmetic brands when I accidentally knocked over one of the chemicals onto the lab table. The spill made the hard plastic table warp. I was shocked! I wondered what kind of damage the chemical could do to human skin if it could damage a hard plastic table.
Whenever a chemical would get sent to the lab, it would be accompanied by a booklet that was usually never read and just filed. After the chemical accident, I started opening up the booklets and was horrified to read that a lot of the chemicals were tested on animals showing that birth defects and tumors were formed after application on animal skin. When I frantically notified the head chemist, they tried to assure me that the human immune system was a lot stronger than a rodent’s. It was then that I decided to create a brand that was truly natural, safe and cruelty-free.
In a long list of culprits, what are the top three things we should look out for when purchasing cosmetics?
Avoid formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
Avoid petrochemicals—there’s even teflon in cosmetics (to repel moisture for matte lipsticks, water resistant sunblock, and waterproof mascara).
Avoid chemical preservatives—they're not only harmful because they mimic estrogen and are linked to cancer, but they are also pollutants to the environment and a large reason why half of the world’s coral reef is dead.
In addition to toxic ingredients, the cosmetic industry has a horrible history of animal testing as you discovered. Are cruelty-free products really cruelty-free?
This was one of the hardest things for me to witness. Small animals are squeezed into plastic tubes without any room to wiggle and fragrances are sprayed into the tube for 12 hours at a time for weeks on end; chemicals are spilled into rabbits’ eyes, etc. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. A lot of times, "cruelty-free" or "no animal testing" means that the final formula wasn't tested on animals but each individual ingredient was tested. At 100% Pure, all of our ingredients are natural and none of them need testing on animals. Unlike most of the industry, we’re a truly cruelty-free company.
It’s true! 100% Pure is a cosmetic company with some of the cleanest products on the market. What gave you the courage to start your own company?
A long time ago, cigarettes used to be advertised as a health product with doctors and athletes endorsing them. As ridiculous as cigarettes being touted as a health product sounds, I think of cosmetics in the same light with ads today that show off beautiful, healthy looking women and celebrities that endorse cosmetics that are full of carcinogens. Most people are unaware of all the toxins in cosmetics. I want to educate women so they can make a conscious choice. Whatever choice consumers make, they should be aware of the risks associated.
Today 100% Pure gets asked by so many companies to partner with them, but I only partner with companies where I feel a personal connection. I love Anthropologie. I shop there all the time so it was amazing to partner with them! Our next partnership is with Banana Republic, which is another retailer I love!
What ingredient in your line might our readers find most surprising? What qualities or ingredients do you prioritize in all of your beauty products?
A lot of people would be surprised that we use the pigments in cherries to color our lipsticks. Also, we micronize black tea leaves to a super fine powder and mix it into a lash-conditioning base to make our mascara.
Personally, I always use cold pressed, raw, unrefined ingredients that have the most nutrients. The oils I like using are the first pressed/cold pressed seeds which in turn contain the absolute maximum nutrients.
What does your own beauty routine look like these days? How has it changed since you started your business?
My routine changes. It can sometimes get intensive with a very elaborate morning and evening routines that include lots of masking and time in the steam room. Other times, it can be very simple. No matter what though, at minimum, I always stick to wearing a mineral SPF during the day and using a facial oil at night.
Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One K Creative. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.