Clean beauty can be a vague, hard-to-pin-down term, but for the Outset founders, actress Scarlett Johansson and Kate Foster, it’s pretty simple: “Products that are transparent and can be used by as many people as possible,” says Johansson. The line — which includes a micellar water cleanser, a collagen serum, and a squalane moisturizer — launched earlier this year. They are now adding the new exfoliating caffeine micro-polish to the lineup, but a new launch doesn’t come without challenges.
“We’ve had several instances where we love something and then realize there’s a trace ingredient that’s a potential irritant, and you end up having to reformulate to get the same level of efficacy while still meeting our standards,” says Johansson. “We can be a frustrating client for the labs that we work with because we have a lot of criteria,” Foster adds.
However, their partnership doesn’t come easily, especially when it comes to disagreements. “We have the Game of Thrones–style jousting competition that we do, and whoever pushes the person off the horse wins,” Johansson jokes. But in all seriousness, they’re on the same page about almost everything: “Anything we’re putting out we both need to feel like we can stand behind.”
We spoke with Johansson about beauty regrets, inspiration, and the key to keeping calm on the red carpet.
Do you have any beauty regrets?
I wish I didn’t pick my skin so much when I was younger, I could’ve avoided so much scarring and drama. It really hard for me to get over that compulsive need to touch my face a lot or pick my skin. Finally, my sister told me to throw away the magnifying mirror. She said, “Nobody is looking at your pores that closely, and it’s a liability.” It was the simplest advice but really true for me especially because I can get compulsive about my skin.
What’s the boldest beauty look you’ve tried?
When I was younger, I had a lot of facial piercings. So those were pretty bold. I had a pretty unfortunate eyebrow piercing when I was 15, which luckily my body rejected — looking back on photographs, it was not as cool as I thought it was.
The brow piercing does leave a scar.
Yeah, every makeup artist is like, What is this? Did you hit your forehead? No, I wish. I appreciate that my parents were not strict. They gave us the freedom to express ourselves with makeup and clothing and accessories and all that stuff. Some of my friend’s parents were really strict about that. I remember when I got my eyebrow pierced. I called my mom and told her I was getting my eyebrow pierced at 15, and she said, “You know you can do what you want, but I don’t really think it’s that cool, kind of passé.” She was actually right.
Now that you have your own brand, you’re getting to define beauty on your own terms, what does beauty mean to you?
I never know how to answer that question because it’s so abstract. As I’ve gotten older, I try to be more forgiving of the way that I look at myself. It’s hard. We’re all so critical of ourselves, and it seems even more so now because everybody’s always constantly looking at photographs of themselves, which is a phenomenon that’s maybe ten years old. Now you can take a picture of yourself and zoom in and dissect it. It’s hard to not be hypercritical of ourselves and others. Beauty is this elusive quality that comes from being comfortable in your own skin.
You’re taking ownership of your image and you’re the face of your own brand, but you’re still a public figure. How do you handle being photographed in public constantly?
I don’t feel like I’m photographed in public that much. Most of the time, I’m at events or prepared for that. I don’t think it’s ever gonna be something I’m totally comfortable with, but I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve gotten older. I used to feel so terribly petrified on the red carpet. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I was doing a red carpet with John Travolta when I was 19 or 20. He looked so relaxed, he had such an ease about him. I asked, “How do you do that? You just seem like so smooth.” And he goes, “‘I just go to Hawaii in my mind.” I adopted that mentality to stay in a Zen state of mind in a very chaotic reality.
Your skin-care line, and even your skin care, is very minimal. Your office is very minimal. Do you think there’s an area of your life where you’d consider yourself a maximalist?
I have clothes that I kept forever. I’m just that person. I’ve collected a lot of vintage clothes since I was a teenager. I go through them regularly and definitely do massive donation piles. My biggest extravagance is my coat closet. I live in New York, and I’m a sucker for seasons, so I do have a very large coat collection. My daughter is always like, Where do you wear all these codes on my coats? I’m like, girl, these coats are like 20 years old, don’t shame me and you’re gonna get them all someday.
You’ve mentioned loving Winona Ryder. Do you have any beauty icons or anyone you take beauty inspiration from?
My mom. She has the most incredible skin and she’s always taken care of it. She taught me to take care of my skin and how to put on makeup. She was a big MAC girl and would transform her face at a big vanity every evening. She wore a lot of bold colors and took a lot of beauty risks.