Scarlett Johansson has been named the highest-paid actress in the world multiple times and has found herself listed as one of Time’s Most Influential People, and now she’s making a new name for herself as the co-founder of skin-care brand The Outset. Yes, another celebrity skin-care line, but something about this one is refreshingly more accessible, approachable and affordable, making it a clear stand out. Johansson had the benefit of partnering with co-founder Kate Foster Lengyel who has in-depth knowledge and experience in the industry. Together the pair created a skin-care line that’s as laid back as the award-winning actress was as we sat discussing what we were watching on Netflix ahead of the interview.
While sitting around a large, chic table in her office, which she says was originally in her home, we dove into the heart of the brand. It seemed nothing was off limits with her. The newest launch from the brand is the Exfoliating Caffeine Micro Polish ($34). Johansson says it feels like getting a facial in under a minute. The idea of the skin-care line not being “glamorous” but rather targeted for those who want to get in and out of the bathroom while still maintaining healthy, beautiful skin felt fresh. They lovingly referred to it as “the white tee of skin care,” easy and universally flattering.
Do your friends love The Outset?
Scarlett: “Yes, of course. All my friends have tried it. I made it for them anyway. I was saying to Kate, it’s really interesting, but my friends that have a male partner they’re all like, ‘My husband’s skin is amazing.’ I was like, ‘We’re saving relationships and having tons of sex now.’ That has been really surprising. We have a lot of male fans, 30 percent of our customers from our online store are male. We had intended to make this for everybody, and it’s actually fitting, so that’s been really cool. Everybody loves it. Half of my friends and family live overseas. So now it’s the challenge of when are we getting over there? Because I just have to ship it out to them secretly, but you know, that’s hopefully our next step. How do I get out to my UK friends and family?”
Kate: “We’ve been ‘actually-ed’ a lot. You know, where they’re like, ‘actually, it’s amazing.’ When you have friends, and you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, God, I hope I like it because I have to see this person and say it’s great.’ I have friends who tried the line, and they’re like, ‘It’s actually amazing.’ It’s been a really gratifying experience for people to discover the products in the middle of a very saturated market and a crowded space and then be like, ‘Wow.’”
Scarlett: “It’s interesting because it’s a crowded space, but people are still looking for products. I have a set of girlfriends, and they’re all very into fashion and beauty, and they’re artists, and they’re creative. They have their own different brands and stuff they love, but they’re still looking for like a great cleanser or eye cream. Yes, it is a very saturated market, but there are people that are looking for their hero product.”
Kate: “And that was our aim to deliver. De-stressing the whole experience, I think, is kind of one of the key benefits.”
Earlier, you mentioned that you’re not trying to make skin look like a ‘glazed doughnut.‘ Now we’re discussing the saturation of the market. There are all these other celebrity skin-care brands. What sets The Outset apart?
Scarlett: “Going into it, we knew it’s a very crowded space, so that was something that we were hyper-aware of. I think, in a way, it was almost like an opportunity for us because the line is so pared back. It’s not about ‘Oh, can you attain my look?’ This is just about healthy skin.”
Kate: “You’re a pretty straight shooter. It’s no gimmicks, no BS, just great products, great quality, great skin.”
Scarlett: “I was like, ‘I know this whole shiny skin thing is in, but I’m too old.’ I’m at an age that if I do that, I’ll look like I got a laser peel or a procedure, and people will just be like, ‘Why so shiny?’”
How has what you’ve learned about skin care from experts, either on set or prepping for red carpets, played a role in this line?
Scarlett: “Honestly, it’s really been such a personal story. It’s really come from my own experience with skin care and growing up and having working [with] skin forever. When I was pre-adolescent, I would always kind of get skin care from makeup artists on set. There were a couple of those brands that were very like makeup artist brands. They were using a lot of like Kiehl’s at the time, or they would use Clinique. Old school, but it wasn’t necessarily targeted to what was going on with my skin.
I had struggled with acne for such a long time. I was using all these products that I think, looking back on it now, were probably interacting with one another. There was a lot of resurfacing and doubling down on that. It was just leaving my skin so raw and not helping the problem at all.
Your skin affects the way you feel about yourself. I found that the best version of my skin was, after a lot of trial and error, when I was very consistent about my skin care and was using a gentle cleanser, and then something to prep my skin like a micellar water, and then a very gentle daily moisturizer and night cream combo and that was it. That was sort of to reset my skin back to basics. I was kind of cherry-picking from a lot of different drugstore brands and American pharmacy brands. Then pulling it all apart and looking at it, I realized how much stuff was in everything, how many toxic chemicals were in everything, but then I also couldn’t use natural products because they also had a really harsh effect on my skin. And I kind of came to this. I’ve been interested in skin care and other people’s skin care and trading stories and woes and tips and all of that with my friends for such a long time that this space has always been something that has personally interested me.
I think as I got older and had my daughter and I started producing my own projects and had less time for stuff and really just wanted to do the things that interest me and matter to me and spend time focusing on that—that’s where this [came from]. I suddenly had the space to create a startup like this. It wasn’t until I met Kate that I really could put all of these ideas into practice and figure out, ‘Okay, how do you do it?’ Because it’s an industry I don’t know. Having a startup is one thing and then learning this new industry is another thing. There’s just so much to it, so it’s been very rewarding and adventurous and challenging. But yeah, here we are. It’s everything that I envisioned.”
Kate: “From the first moment we met, I was excited by her idea. She had this very clear concept of what The Outset became, simplifying luxury skin care, making it gentle, accessible and kind of going back to the basics of skin care, as effortless as your perfect white tee. The first thing we did was we turned to research and talked to the consumer. We saw skin sensitivity was really on the rise like never before because there are so many active ingredients in products these days. When customers are mixing all of these different actives with the great intention of self-care, they could be unknowingly creating skin sensitivity in the process. It felt like there was a real opportunity for a brand that could be a companion to anything else. We really kind of took this concept of skin care more as an everyday wellness regimen like taking your vitamins and brushing your teeth.”
Scarlett: “We say it ‘plays well with others,’ and you may have a lot of other steps in your skin-care routine, but this should not be something that’s going to conflict with any of them. For me, I’m not going to sit there and overanalyze my skin like when I was younger. I want to be in there the same amount of time as my partner. We can use the same products. We both have skin. It’s just uncomplicated and fragrance-free. We both have different skin sensitivities.
My husband has more dry, patchy, eczema-prone skin. I have acne-prone skin, but we can use this all together and then if we want to have our other little things that we do, we can. I was talking to Kate the other day, and I was like, ‘It’s funny because it’s not glamorous or trendy. It’s just about having healthy skin.’ Then everything else is just accouterments.”
How did you two end up as partners?
Scarlett: “We met through a friend of mine. When I was kind of putting this together, I was like, ‘I need my person.’ An acquaintance to this friend of mine in the industry was like, ‘You know, there’s this girl Kate Foster.’ We ‘dated’ for a while. We met in person and had a really cute lunch, and we were like, ‘Did you hear about this Covid thing or whatever? A week or something later, it was lockdown, and we were just on Zoom like, ‘Oh my God, we have kids, and they’re crazy.’
It actually helped me tremendously get through that time by being able to create and dream big. Having the support of one another just as two moms at home together was also great. We would just complain and freak out.”
Have the beauty standards in your industry affected how you look at skin care?
Scarlett: “I don’t know what the beauty standards are anymore. It’s such a different conversation now. It was so homogenized for such a long period of time. Now I feel like being the best version of yourself is what is the new standard, thankfully, and that’s what our products are really about. Have your best skin, be different looking and feeling than anybody else. It’s unique to you. So in that way, it is kind of reflective of what’s going on.”
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