Charlotte Palermino sometimes slathers her face in Vaseline, or what she calls “the unsung hero of skin care,” at night. She also uses Cetaphil cleanser, despite the fact that it has parabens. In doing so — and publicising it — she’s bucking industry trends, which are increasingly leaning towards avoiding certain ingredients and products.
Unlike many other celebrity, influencer and dermatologist trying to be the next “clean beauty” mogul, Palermino, a beauty writer, aesthetician and influencer who goes by @CharlotteParler on TikTok (where she has nearly 270,000 followers) and Instagram (176,000), thinks the construct is nonsense.
“Unless you’re making something in your bathtub and putting poison there, the vague idea of toxins lurking in skin care isn’t the reality,” Palermino said.
“Clean” has emerged as one of of beauty’s buzziest descriptors in recent years, thanks to a slew of notable brands and figures — including Beautycounter as well Gwyneth Paltrow and her label, Goop, and Kourtney Kardashian and her brand, Poosh. In decrying ingredients, lobbying Congress for regulation changes around cosmetics and, of course, touting the benefits of their own products, they’ve created a craze that’s captured consumer and industry attention.
Amid the growing popularity of all things clean, Palermino has emerged as a rare dissenting voice. It’s earned her hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and customers for her skin care brand Dieux (a play on the dewy skin phenomenon popularised by Glossier). Dieux’s best-known product, a reusable green under-eye mask, has become a familiar sight on social media and sold out four times in seven months. Dieux’s Deliverance serum, which came out in May, sold out in three hours (clocking in at about $300,000 in sales) and amassed a waitlist of thousands.
Palermino’s contrarian point of view helped her become a social media star, but so has her informative, unpretentious and amusing delivery. She breaks down the science of skin care in a way that’s digestible to all audiences, no matter their level of skin care knowledge.
Her views may not be for everyone — Palermino has a fair share of detractors, particularly in the clean beauty community — but her videos clearly resonate. Today’s audiences, wary of jargon and lofty brand claims, are looking for no-bullshit beauty content; facts and data, but served in a quippy, entertaining way. And as Dieux’s popularity shows, even as the beauty world is increasingly dominated by ‘clean’ brands, taking a candid approach can still ensure success for a non-clean brand.
Moving Away From Fear
Palermino’s thoughts on clean beauty have separated her from the pack. She said she’s disappointed in the increasing number of brands touting a laundry list of ingredients they’re “free of” and the arbitrary clean beauty standards they say they follow. Such claims, she said, encourage people to ignore what actually matters in their products: what’s actually inside the bottle.
Her TikTok videos outlining those thoughts became popular during a pandemic when interest in skin care peaked. Her quippy approach and finesse in video editing — skills she said she gained in her two years spent as Snapchat’s editorial director — rapidly increased her fan base, including some high-profile names.
“Charlotte tried to undo the whole fearmongering mindset of skin care,” said Hailey Bieber, who discovered Palermino on TikTok last year and soon after connected with her over Zoom. Now, Bieber texts Palermino to ask her any “very deep questions” about skin care, and has incorporated Dieux’s Deliverance serum, which is formulated with peptides, niacinamide and cannabinoids, into her daily routine.
“Unless you’re making something in your bathtub and putting poison there, the vague idea of toxins lurking in skin care isn’t the reality.”
Vallerie Lantigua, 29, a social media coordinator based in Lawrence, Mass., is strict about sunscreen application because of Palermino.
“Charlotte feels like she’s your friend who maybe was two grades above you who already went through the trials and tribulations of skin care,” Lantigua said.
This fear-free approach is likely why many of Palermino’s posts have gone viral. A video that claims “non-toxic,” a popular beauty buzzword, doesn’t mean anything when it comes to skin care, was popular. A reaction video to Gwyneth Paltrow’s beauty routine on Vogue has gotten over one million views on Instagram. Two TikTok posts about why Palermino says Vaseline, a big no-no in the clean beauty community, is safe to use, notched a combined 1.4 million views. Palermino said her Instagram content now performs better, but TikTok is how she started.
“Traditionally we sold beauty to women to shame them on how they look,” said Palermino. “Now we’re selling beauty to women shaming them on safety.”
Palermino often partners with dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch to dispel skin care misnomers relating to ingredient lists, alcohol, regulations and fragrance. (Dr. Hirsch is the co-founder of Atolla, a skin care line that uses an online quiz to create custom, three-step routines to users, which was recently acquired by Function of Beauty).
“No reputable company puts out a toxic product knowingly,” said Dr. Hirsch, who co-wrote Palermino’s popular “Sorry, non-toxic doesn’t mean anything” post (published on TikTok and Instagram). “We were in the same place of being fed up with some of the absurdities of the clean beauty space.”
Getting Into Product
Palermino is not just talking about clean beauty, but creating alternatives. She launched Dieux in September 2020 with Joyce de Lemos, a cosmetic chemist, and Marta Freedman, an internet sweetheart who created the “Hot Girls Eating Pizza” Instagram account and Air Milkshake, a creative agency. None of them describe Dieux as “clean.”
Dieux’s first product, the Forever eye mask, was designed to be a more sustainable version of a sheet mask. Palermino explained (on TikTok) how wasteful she thinks single-use sheet masks are – there’s a box, an insert, a pouch and then the actual sheet mask for just one use, she said. The Forever mask is intended to be placed under the eyes after applying cream or serum, rinsed off afterwards and put back in its case for future use. It costs $25.
Dieux hit almost $2 million in sales in its first year, and last month, a Deliverance serum re-stock racked up $400,000 in revenue the day it went on sale, Palermino said. The three are working on a few new products (the first will drop in early 2022), including a moisturiser and hopefully, one day, a sunscreen.
She’s brought her candid approach to Dieux’s marketing and packaging. Palermino is often irked by what she sees as a fixation on ingredient percentages, especially on packaging and said it could be misleading. The third-party research firm that tested different percentages of cannabinoid blends for Dieux’s serum found that the lowest percentage of cannabinoids worked best, Palermino said. In other words, a higher percentage of an active ingredient doesn’t make a product superior. Instead, Dieux focuses on the effect the formula has on skin as a whole (and not a high percentage of a single ingredient), posts a lot of “explainers” online and doesn’t use a “crutch of ‘safety,’” Palermino said.
Dieux, however, is trying to make it as a non-clean brand in an increasingly ‘clean’ world. Major beauty brands are embracing the ‘clean’ descriptor, some are even changing their formulas and packaging in order to market themselves as such, like Kylie Cosmetics.
“My whole goal is not to alienate people, even though I can be very aggressive in my language,” Palermino said. “I just want things to be less scary for women and help them find what works for them in their budget and not make decisions based off fear and anxiety.”