Inside The World Of Natural, Inexpensive Beauty Products

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Clutching a bag of Go Raw Spirulina Super Chips and an oversize container of kale cauliflower salad because your yearn for preserved lemons cannot be sated, you make a vow: You will now check out at Whole Foods. You will not pass Whole Body. You will not spend $200.

You’ve come to this hub of carob snacks for a few modest treats and Marcona almonds. You already have all the witch hazel and aloe vera lotion you could wish for in your bathroom. You do not need baobab oil. But you are powerless. You are in Aisle 10, arms laden with Dr. Hauschka products and soap that smells like Mother Nature and you don't know how you got there.

Maren Giuliano is thrilled. As the Executive Global Coordinator for Whole Body, it is up to Giuliano to make sure that a Yerba Prima Tampico Skin Brush seduces you. And she is very good at her job. She knows the allure of Jason Smoothing Coconut Oil. Giuliano started at Whole Foods almost two decades ago, scoring a job on the floor at the Beverly Hills location. Now, she oversees how stores all over the world choose which personal care products to stock on shelves.

When we spoke, she gushed over luxurious oils and talked Whole Body standards and shared a DIY lip scrub. She wondered what kind of a person is not in love with avocados, winning my heart forever. No matter your stance on the best invention since and for sliced bread, you should read this.

What are the criteria for a product to be considered for Whole Body?

In all Whole Foods stores, we have standards for each department. In Whole Body and in the personal care area, we have baseline standards for ingredients that are required. Before we even have a conversation with a brand, we make sure that they’ve done their due diligence and that they don’t have any of those ingredients that we don’t allow in their products. We won’t even look at a product unless it meets the baseline standards. Right now, we have about 50 ingredients that we don’t allow at all. And then we have a second-tier higher standard of about 500 ingredients that we don’t really want to see. And actually, that’s our preference—that brands go for the premium standard.

How often do you revise the standards? Do they change from year to year?

It’s like a living, breathing document, really. Since Whole Foods has been around, the standards are always evolving. We have a team, and that’s really all they do. They focus on the quality standards. They do research all the time, especially when new ingredients come to market. We never just bring them in. We see what studies have been done and what they’ve proven about the safety of the ingredient.

Formal guidelines aside, how do you decide what makes it onto your shelves?

Well, the other part, too, is we also are very, very picky about label claims. If you claim you’re “organic,” you have to be certified organic. If you claim that the product does something, we want test results or clinical studies that back that. But what makes a product something we want to carry is we really want a brand to align with the values and mission that we have here. We really like for there to be a bigger purpose behind the brand beyond the function of it. What’s the story? Where are they sourcing their ingredients from? Do they give back?

Alaffia, for example, is a big brand partner that we work with. They source all of their shea butter from Togo, Africa. They support women’s co-ops and women’s empowerment. They use the sales of the products to build schools. They give a percentage back. Those kinds of stories are very important to us, because it motivates the people that work at our stores. They feel better about selling it. And then of course it has to smell good and feel good. We want the packaging to be great. We want our products to fill a niche. We’re really picky about how many, you know, bars of soap we stock. We want products that are compelling and different.

Where do you discover new products?

We’re really lucky—we’re a very decentralized company. We allow buying and discovery to happen at every single store. That’s a really cool thing. So we have big brands that we deal with on a national or a global scale, and then we have brands that might be a local soap maker or lip balm maker who make a connection with the store. When a product gets into a store and does really well, more stores pick it up. And it’s amazing—word just spreads throughout the company. The next thing you know, it’s everywhere. Waxelene, which is an alternative to Vaseline, is the best example of that. It started in Northern California as this little local brand. And then they got a loan from Whole Foods. Now it’s in every single store. Discovery happens at the store level. It happens at trade shows. Sometimes, it happens at farmers' markets. For us, there’s never going to be one person doing the buying. We have our whole company involved. We share a lot of stories between us, which is how brands make their way up.

What excites Whole Body customers? What do they look for in products?

They want to know that someone has done the homework for them. What they look for in products are the same things that they look for in food—natural ingredients and safer alternatives to some of the other stuff out there. Our customers respond really well to simple products. Our unpackaged, bulk bar soap is one of our best-selling items. They really like those pared-down products that just work and smell good. Because of aromatherapy, essential oils are really popular. Natural scents and fragrances are always popular.

We want to make that connection between food and beauty. It used to be that people would say, “Oh, I buy all my produce at Whole Foods, but I buy all my other stuff somewhere else.” It’s like, “Wait a minute. If you care about what you’re putting in your body, you should care about what you’re putting on your body.” I think that’s happening more and more.

How often do you experiment with new products?

I change my routine constantly. I will allow my skin to go through some pretty interesting phases, because it’s important to me to try a lot. I just started using these samples I got from a brand we carry— Andalou. I decided to get rid of everything else and just focus on this brand and see what it does for me for a little while. Then there are the products I try to keep in rotation all the time. I like to use an exfoliator a few times a week. I like serums and day and night creams. But I’ll switch brands out all the time. I’ll try them and give them a month to see how they react.

Are there any products you love so much you’ve never replaced them with something new?

Very few. I was very attached to a blush from Mineral Fusion. They have this color I love— Creation. I’ve used that for years. But it’s so funny actually, because I just decided that I would expand and try some new brands. I do have a lip balm, and it’s really the only one that I use. It’s called Lizard Lips. It smells like vanilla and it has SPF in it. I’ve used it for years. It’s the one thing I won’t give up. But makeup, shampoo, lotion, body wash—those things I always trade out.

When you wander into the produce aisle, what are your favorite “beauty” foods?

Well, avocados, of course. Avocados are a must. Who doesn’t love avocados? I make a lot of smoothies, so I’ll use hemp seeds and flax seeds to get some essential fatty acids, which I think are really good for the skin. And obviously, hydration is so important. I drink coconut water and just a lot of water, in general, to stay hydrated. But I put food on my face, too. We do a lot of DIY stuff.

Avocados are pretty luscious. As far as skincare goes, what is your favorite indulgence?

There are so many. I love Trilogy. They’re a somewhat new brand. They have this Rosehip Seed Oil that I love. It’s so rich. I like to put it on anytime, but it’s especially good before bed. It just soaks in. It’s really, really nice. I love John Masters Blood Orange and Vanilla Body Milk. I love serums—all serums. Those are my go-to treats, especially if they have a really good fragrance. And Evan Healy products have the most amazing essential oils in them. They have a Rose Petal HydroSoul Mist Toner. You feel like you’ve gone to a spa every time you use it. It just transports you.

On the flipside, what are your favorite in-office snacks?

My latest discovery is a good one. I’m totally addicted. The brand is called LesserEvil, and it’s popcorn made with coconut oil, and it has Himalayan pink sea salt on it. That is my latest addiction. It’s so good.

What’s next for Whole Body?

You’re going to see a lot more from our private labels in the department. We’re going to branch out into our own brand and offer a lot more products with our own label. It’s a big initiative. We are definitely focused on and really excited about the beauty category in general—facial care and cosmetics. We’ve had a lot of the same great brands for a really long time, so we’re really exploring some new brands that are out there. Customers know that we’ve vetted these products, but they really want to play with them and touch them and experience them in the store, so we want to enhance that experience for them.

Bonus! Her recipe for a lip scrub:

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until combined. Transfer to an airtight container. To apply, scoop out a dime-size amount with your finger. Gently rub over lips. Rinse with water.

—Mattie Kahn

Still prefer the produce aisle? Try this salad made up of beauty foods. Got a growing collection of essential oils? Consider the aromatherapy inhaler.