Katey Denno knows clean beauty. As a professional makeup artist for last fifteen years, as she’s watched the clean beauty grow into the major industry it is now, she’s championed it every step of the way, from her many celebrity clients to her very own YouTube channel. In other words, she’s the perfect person to explain it to me. I’ve always found clean beauty confusing, but Katey beautifully breaks down exactly what it is and why we should care. Read on for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about clean beauty.
Name, age, where do you live?
Katey Denno, 44 this month, Los Angeles, CA
Give us an overview of your career.
I’ve been a professional NYC /LA makeup artist, working with models, celebrities + the masses for nearly 15 years. I was at the forefront of the movement towards cleaner formulations in skincare and makeup, advocating, and encouraging brands to push the labs to make better textures and shades.
I worked hard to get as much public attention directed towards the burgeoning industry as I could. I got product onto my celebrity client’s faces, and I got magazines to write about it. I started a blog to chronicle my experiences with all of it, and later, a youtube channel to showcase the many wonderful product options. I love consulting with brands, because I know firsthand the holes in the marketplace and, selfishly, want to fill them with products I’ll for sure want to use.
Before I became a makeup artist, I worked as an LCSW (a social worker), working with mainly women and children in difficult situations, and later in clinics serving people living with HIV/AIDS – both for nearly a decade. During those years I lived in the Bronx, and near where I grew up, in Washington, DC. I use a lot of my social work skills as a makeup artist, today.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
Nearly 15 years in, and I’m still rep’d by the same great agency, The Wall Group, and still work primarily with celebrities, getting them ready to walk the red carpet, look fabulous in photoshoots, and travel with them for movie promos all over the world. At least I did pre-COVID 19. Now, in an effort to keep in the game, my wonderful agent and I have been working on getting me to do virtual makeup application tutorials over FaceTime or zoom with my clients before they do FaceTime or Zoom photoshoots and /or interviews. I did one with Naomi Watts and another with Beanie Feldstein last week.
I’m spending the majority of my time attempting to keep the brands I love in business by making youtube videos about how to use their products to achieve a ‘real life makeup look’ – as opposed to the caked-on visage we’re so used to seeing in youtube and Instagram looks. I’m here to show real women how to wear real makeup, in the real world. Whenever we’re allowed to get back into it, of course.
First of all, what is clean beauty? And what’s wrong with regular skincare?
Here’s a Clean Beauty 101:
The average woman uses 12 beauty products (from shaving cream to lipstick), containing 168 chemicals (remember not all chemicals are bad for us) on her skin each day. Although many (maybe most) chemicals in these products likely pose little risk to human health on their own, it’s repeat exposure (think cumulative exposure from the numerous products you use multiple times a day, all containing ‘acceptable’ levels of that one chemical. This is the really concerning part. Long term studies on this kind of repeated exposure simply doesn’t exist for so many ingredients, and the personal care industry in the US, is, for the most part, unregulated.
For many of us who eat healthfully, exercise, read labels on our packaged food, and understand that it really is better for our bodies and our planet to choose organic produce, learning this information can be startling, and is often why women reach out to me saying ‘I’ve just thrown away all of my makeup, skincare, hair care, body wash, perfume, etc. products, and I need you to help me find clean replacements!’
So many women reach out to me when they get pregnant, or have a baby, a health scare, or if their mom or sister is diagnosed with cancer. It’s at pivotal moments like this that so many women have that ah-ha moment.
Amazing stores like Credo Beauty have popped up across the country (the world, actually), offering clean beauty and wellness products, and because there’s been a huge increase in demand, stores like Target and Sephora have created ‘clean beauty’ departments.
Once you learn that there is a better way, and that there are companies formulating beautiful safe synthetic and plant based ingredients, why would you want to put crude oil derivatives on your skin?
It’s even a bigger answer than what I’ve just shared, in that the majority of clean beauty brands are founded by women, who by in large give back to the communities where their ingredients are grown/ sourced, and who are working with packaging manufacturers to push the envelope on eco-friendly materials. Clean beauty is truly a more thoughtful way of living.
Whew. Long one.
Is it really possible that chemicals from my skincare or makeup can leech into my skin?
Ever hear of Nicorette? OR the birth control patch? They work very effectively! Sure, our skin does a great job keeping a lot out, but there’s not doubt that it also allows a whole lot in.
What’s the difference between “clean”,“natural”, and “green” beauty?
There isn’t any difference, really, because there’s not been a legal definition assigned to any of these words, nor the world ‘organic’ when it comes to personal care products.
This means that any brand can choose any of these words for the front of their bottle, or external package. It also means that I often go back and forth, using these words interchangeably. However, I don’t like the term ‘natural’ as not all things that are natural are going to be good for our skin, and not all synthetics are bad.
Are there certain ingredients you can always rely on to work?
This is too broad of a question! If we’re talking about skincare only, and talking about just one skin type, let’s say, non-reactive, 60 year old skin, I’d say pretty much any carrier oil rich in fatty acids will do. Those are the oils like rosehip, almond, jojoba, prickly pear, green tea seed, marula, avocado… there are so many great ones. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Have you always been into green beauty? And if not, what made you make the transition?
I started in the industry not knowing that such a category existed. And it didn’t exist in any semblance of how it looks today, but I quickly became disturbed by the fact that I didn’t know what was in the products I was slathering on my clients all day. It’s weird to me that I didn’t think to question it until it was me applying to someone else, but I think that’s where my social work brain came in. I wanted to make sure I was doing the very best for my clients. And I learned that was not happening when I used mainstream makeup and skincare brands.
At this age, of course it’s great to go green, but I also need things that work. What are the products and brands that you consider to be clean beauty MVPs?
OHHhhh, such a good question. Tata Harper, Marie Veronique, True Botanicals, Grown Alchemist, African Botanics, January Labs, Bluh Alchemy.
How has your approach to beauty and skincare changed as you’ve gotten older?
I’m a follower of the adage that less is more. At least when It comes to makeup. I used to wear big black cat-eye wings every day and a full face of foundation. I gag when I think of doing that to my face today. I believe in excellent skincare, followed by perfect placement of subtle makeup that enhances one’s features, partnered with a bold pop of color when desired. I love a bold lip color. One thing that hasn’t’ changed: I still love curled and black mascara’d lashes.
Having great skin is always my number one priority – after all, I want to give my makeup the best possible canvas. What’s a good skincare routine to start with?
If you’re using a cleanser that’s stripping you, this is the first thing to change. There are so many wonderful nourishing cleansers on the market! Also introducing peptides, vitamin C, retinol (there’s still some dissension, but after reading a lot of studies I’m convinced its great at keeping skin looking its most bouncy and glow-y. Then choosing a great morning and evening serum that offers you the highest quality vitamins for your skin, and actually using it, is imperative. I’ve been a skin oil devotee for over a decade, and I love using it in the mornings on top of a serum, and under my sunscreen (A SERIOUS MUST NO MATTER WHAT YOUR SKIN TONE!), and a moisturizer before the oil in the evenings.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
I’m reading The XX Brain by Dr. Lisa Mosconi, PhD right now – it’s one doc’s groundbreaking report on the science empowering women to maximize cognitive health and prevent Alzheimers disease.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
A rolling rack for my clothes. We bought a house not long before the quarantine and all plans of renovating have been halted. I don’t’ have a closet in the master bedroom… and it’s driving me nuts having my clothes in various stages of unpacked / guest room closets.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
I have a lot of the items on there already.\ What I don’t’ have and think I would like: The 4-piece travel set with bag from Skin.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
To end poverty. To end hunger. To ease pain. I can’t pick just one!
If you had a warning label what would it say?
Caution: May make sudden stops. I’m a freelancer who’s always trying to push the envelope and figure out my next move. Constant, slight pivots have helped me to stay fresh and relevant in this nutty industry!
Follow Katey on instagram : @kateydenno
Shop Katey Denno’s favorite clean beauty products here:
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