Dieux Co-Founder Charlotte Palermino on How Retinol Is Like Edibles
Reusable sheet masks aren’t by any means a new thing (they’ve existed in J-beauty for some time). But their rise in popularity shows a departure from the Instagram era’s overstuffed “shelfies” as consumers think a little more about not just what goes on their face, but what landfill it ends up in afterward. You’ve probably spied Dieux’s coveted teal patches on the faces of friends and celebrities alike, sometimes reshared to their Instagram with Dieux’s signature cloud background. However, the buzzy brand goes deeper than its heavenly marketing and cherub motifs. Thanks to its “clinically vetted and price transparent” ethos, Dieux—co-founded by CEO Charlotte Palermino, Joyce de Lemos, who serves as head of product, and Marta Freedman, the brand’s creative director—is perhaps one of the true breakout beauty brands of the pandemic (aside from Cerave).
You might also recognize Palermino from her viral videos on another product that exploded in popularity during 2020: TikTok. Often humorous—like how to correctly say French skincare brands after the app’s text-to-speech feature butchers them—and informative, Palermino’s content shows a shift to a more critical, conscious approach to the oversaturated and opaque beauty industry. “I’ve always been into skincare. I used to write about beauty for Hearst, but I would also write about the health and wellness space,” she says. “I find it fascinating how industries use shame, fear, and guilt to motivate women to buy, and how effective [that tactic] is.”
In between completing her aesthetician program, Palermino hopped onto Zoom to discuss Dieux’s blockbuster eye masks, social media “skin-fluencer” fame, and answer W’s skincare questions.
What motivated you to start Dieux?
I was working at Snapchat, and was in California all the time; I saw what was happening with cannabis—there’s very little science behind it, but companies are saying it’s a cure-all, a miracle cure. There are people selling this product on Madison Avenue, but there are still people in jail. I started a newsletter in which we looked at properties for skincare, so we started exploring cannabinoids since we saw so much potential there, and worked on articles with scientists and doctors. We began exploring our skincare line and met Joyce, who used to be a formulator at SkinCeuticals. She looked at the cannabinoid research and told us it was very promising. Because of so many Zoom calls, we’re all looking at our under eye areas, and seeing some stress. We were talking about how much we love sheet masks, but how we feel so guilty every time we use them, because it’s like a fortress of packaging.
How did you manufacture the product to be the least wasteful it could be?
Figuring out which parts of the beauty industry where we can make something a one-time purchase versus a single-use purchase was really important to us. We wanted to tweak things in our packaging to reduce our impact, in addition to making it recyclable and also asking for better recycling facilities. The Forever Eye Mask is fantastic because you don’t really need to replace it. I’ve been using mine for almost a year and a half now.
Were you surprised to find so much success for Dieux in the TikTok beauty space?
I’ve always had a small following on Instagram because I’ve always worked in audience development. As a woman on the internet, I just remember writing a few articles and just getting ripped apart by people on Twitter. I just want to take pictures of food then and not put myself out there because it gets really intense. But I started publishing content that Joyce taught me about. I used to write about beauty and I never really took into account that I was being marketed to by the brands when they were pitching stuff. I used to take their science and their statements as de facto truths until Joyce pointed out some inconsistencies. Then I started sharing that on TikTok, because we had a lot of spare time at the beginning of the pandemic. I hadn’t started my aesthetician’s license yet, and I wanted an editing tool for Instagram. So I was actually just editing content on TikTok to post to Instagram, but it started blowing up on TikTok. That’s when I realized that the TikTok algorithm was based on a gambler’s mentality, and random things will go viral. It’s an incentive to continue with posts, so it’s a lot of constant posting, but the content does well on Instagram too.
I think the way skincare TikTok has taken off is very different from the way influencers interact with skincare content on Instagram.
I couldn’t agree more. I feel like TikTok is a little bit of an outrage machine. It’s really scary to me how much misinformation is on the platform. I try to take a more nuanced approach with TikTok because I don’t want to be the person that’s scaring people, which I see happening quite a bit. I definitely toned down certain ways that I approach topics. But what I found interesting is that even when I bring that toned-down content from TikTok to Instagram, it will blow up on Instagram, but not do as well on TikTok. There’s a balance, but I owe a lot to TikTok because I would have never edited videos like that if it wasn’t for them.
Who are some of your favorite content creators right now, on Instagram, TikTok or otherwise?
I think @foodsciencebabe is incredible for anything. One example of a video today I posted on Instagram, it’s actually images from her Instagram where it shows the ingredient list of a peach. I love @theJeffreyMarsh on TikTok. He talks a lot about finding yourself and self-forgiveness. Everyone’s always freaking out over my eyeliner and I feel like I need to give credit to Mi-Anne Chan because she’s the one who introduced me to watercolor palettes. I love @themelaninchemist, and @kindofstephen is another one, he’s based out of Toronto. It’s so important to talk to formulators and understand perspective because they work with chemicals all day long and they understand dosings, they’ve worked with toxicologists. Working with Joyce has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, because she’s not only made me less scared about things, but she’s also given me the tools to understand and research. One of the things we want everyone to do, is just take a lot of the negative emotions out of beauty buying, which is typically what we’ve seen a lot of brands do—just go for the jugular to increase sales.
You post a lot about predatory marketing and misleading branding language, especially as it pertains to “clean” and “nontoxic” beauty. Why do you think talking about the misrepresentation of products and ingredients is so important right now?
I feel really bad for brands that actually are trying to be honest, trying to be nuanced, trying to educate consumers and not go for the easy emotion. It’s super easy to get somebody to buy something when you’re like, “The product you already have is killing you and your family.”
Many clean beauty brands start marketing during women’s pregnancies, making women think they need to find pregnancy-safe skincare. They’re freaking out pregnant women and then making them throw out all their skincare products to replace them with these other products that aren’t necessarily more safe, or even tested for pregnant women. They create this spiral where they misinform the consumer and get them to throw out products that are working for them. That’s bad for the environment. A brand once told me they have to put “paraben-free” on their product otherwise their entire day is spent explaining to people that there are no parabens in the product, rather than focusing on what is in the product. That’s just one example of just how far off the plot we’ve gotten. I want people to just ask questions that push products to be better, more efficacious, more safe, more transparent, but also very critical of brands that use these predatory words and blanket statements that aren’t really backed up by anything.
You also talk extensively on your pages about general myths in skincare (i.e. that 60% of products get absorbed into your bloodstream). What is your least favorite skincare myth?
When you go swimming in a lake, do you not have to drink water for the rest of the day? No. You have to drink water because you’re not just walking around like a sponge. It’s like, okay, I guess you don’t need to eat oranges anymore because you can just rub it on your skin—you’ll get all of your vitamin C for the day.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out with retinol?
When I started with retinol, I was writing a story for Into the Gloss and I just was so cocky. I started using it every day, and it was the SkinCeuticals 1%, which is very, very strong because they nitrogen fill it and they encapsulate the retinol. If you’ve ever taken an edible—everyone’s done this—you take it and you’re like, it didn’t hit, and then you grab three more. That is what people do with retinol. They think they beat the retinol. They did not. Retinol is just as unstable as vitamin C. With retinols, tretinoin, whatever you’re using, it’s a pea size amount, one time a week. Do that for two weeks. Then you work your way up. Purging is very different than irritation and redness. Irritation and redness is very common when you first start tret or retinol. The only way to dampen it is—if you’re using it for aging and you’re not prone to breakouts—apply Vaseline or Aquaphor at night on the nights that you’re not using retinol, just because it’s a barrier. I think people just want results so fast that they end up overdoing it. With tret and retinol, consistency matters way more than how many times a week you’re using it. Using it one time a week is better than using it every night for a week, ripping your face off and then stopping for a month, because you messed with your barrier. Now I’m up to retinol tretinoin 0.25%. I use it every other night, but I would not recommend that for a novice. Low and slow, and be consistent.
Your serum is very, very highly anticipated. What will be in it?
It’s going to have a blend of some peptides that we love, cannabinoids, and then a few antioxidants that we really are fans of. It’s just meant to be a hub for your face. It’s a calming serum that has some additional benefits to it as well. We’re also going to continue price transparency. We’re really excited to talk about the different products and also the clinical aspect. With CBD, what people don’t realize is that it’s a highly unstable molecule. If you have it in a dropper bottle, it’s probably going to last for a few months in terms of stability. And if it’s in a clear dropper bottle, I don’t know, even less. So when I see a lot of these luxury CBD skincare brands in clear dropper bottles, it’s still going to work in terms of moisturizing, but you may not be getting any benefits from the actual cannabinoids.
Aside from your Dieux products, do you have a beauty product you can’t live without? I know you talk about Vaseline a lot.
I would never live without an SPF, but I don’t buy any SPFs in the U.S. I just really wish that we had more filters here. When I’m in France, I stock up on the Avene SPF, because they’re just so much nicer to put on the skin. I do love tret. And SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid—that’s another one that, in the winter, really works for my skin.
What’s your least favorite skincare trend?
One that bothers me is when people say “skincare as a scam.” People are like, “Don’t use anything, your skin does everything it needs to,” and that is true to an extent. But especially as you get older, this idea that your skin is going to just magically take care of itself is not true. You need some level of protection. You absolutely don’t need as much as what people are selling to you, but this idea that your skin should just be a hundred percent left alone, for me, is a no. I would like to glow and please don’t shame me for wanting that.
It’s similar with those who tell others to treat acne with a bar of soap. If it works for you, great, but some people want salicylic acid.
Some people have skin conditions; I think it’s minimizing. Another trend that really bothers me is how we describe skincare products, and when people use language that leads to really unrealistic expectations. I would say another general trend that bothers me is the overuse of filters on social media. It’s creating skin dysmorphia across the board.
And on the flipside, is there a trend you actually find to be beneficial?
I feel like there’s a trend of minimalism going on right now with brands like Jordan Samuel Skin and Krave Beauty. It’s a really healthy approach to skincare, and it’s something that we’re going to be striving to do, which is having healthy skin versus trying to become a poreless piece of glass. That’s not going to happen, but you can achieve healthy, balanced skin. I think making sure the integrity of your skin is intact and that your barriers are working at optimal capacity is more healthy. It also requires you to buy fewer products, which is a very sustainable thing to do. I love that movement because it just gets you in the mindset that you don’t need that much, because right now we’re in hyper-consumption mode. You don’t need a 20-step routine.
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