Facing Facts With Shirley Pinkson

Finally, a sustainable approach to beauty says Shirley Pinkson.

Finally, a sustainable approach to beauty says Shirley Pinkson.

Our skin is our largest organ and we absorb 80 percent of what we put on it, says Shirley Pinkson, the out lesbian makeup artist behind sustainable, natural beauty product brand W3ll People.

“We spend a ridiculous amount at Soul Cycle classes, at gym, shopping at Whole Foods—we have no problem doing that, and yet we go straight to the drug store to buy our beauty products. We’re buying parabens, polyethylene glycol, mineral oils, and all these things that aren’t good for us,” she continues.

And at the drug store we’re inundated with images of models and celebrities with airbrushed skin. We’re bombarded with messages about looking beautiful, younger—never about looking well.

Little wonder lesbians and queer women are skeptical of conventional makeup brands. But if you do want to look well—or even a little glam—W3ll People is here.

“We’re an expression of positivity,” says Pinkson, who believes that any attempt at anti-aging should be natural. “Take an ingredient such as aloe, which is a soother, and nourisher, and a healer. It’s part of making that good choice for your skin.

It’s not that I’m trying to look younger or be anything different than I already am. But I do want to be mindful for my skin, for my body, for me.

“I’ve worked with a lot of lesbians who don’t want to wear makeup. But what they do want is, they all want to look good! Everybody wants to look good. It’s not about making them different from who they already are.

Your makeup should never precede you in the first place. The biggest compliment I get about W3ll People, is that when I put it on somebody, they don’t feel it. I can touch my face and it doesn’t transfer onto my hands. We have a very minimalistic approach to beauty. It’s a creative and mindful approach—not cosmetic.”

Pinkson came from the land of conventional, big brand cosmetics, working for names like MAC and Nars, and teaching their artists in the U.S. and Europe. “In all my application and selling, I never knew what was in the products,” she admits.

About a decade ago, when a client started asking, Pinkson decided to find out. She studied the ingredients and then started making choices when it came to her makeup kit and her own beauty. Eventually she went from promoting conventional cosmetics to creating her own brand based on natural and chemical free ingredients— and her client experience was completely transformed.

“When someone came to see me at Barney’s and asked me to do their makeup, that was purely aesthetic. It never came from a self-care place. It came from a vain place. And now I work with people that have cancer, who are celiacs,” she says.

“They are in my chair because they have chosen a better path for themselves. Either because they don’t want to be sick or they already are. I get to make them look good and I get to make them feel good, and that to me is the biggest difference in what I do compared to my past cosmetic life.”

Using commercial products, she says, is a bit like eating fries from McDonald’s drive-thru. It’s cheap, convenient—but you don’t feel so great afterwards, and your skin is liable to break out. Using natural products has a different effect. “You feel empowered that you did something good for you today.”

While Pinkson loves wearing makeup and wears it every day like many lesbians, especially femmes, some gay women don’t use makeup. But W3ll People even has products even for them.

“I was just at Sundance and Tig Notaro sat in my chair because she had to go to an interview that was being filmed, so I just applied a tiny bit of mascara, a little bit of bronzer, and evened out her skin tone. I look at warming the complexion, making sure the skin looks hydrated and healthy.

Instead of foundation, I use some tinted moisturizer. Essentially, what I do is take you right now and amplify you to make you look great.”

Pinkson’s signature—and W3ll People’s, from its packaging to the product—is minimalist and natural. “It’s a brand built on portability, on key pieces of makeup. I don’t think a woman needs to have 10 pieces of makeup in her makeup bag.

If you can create a look in under five products—who wouldn’t want that?” W3ll People’s barely there, multi-purpose products include the newly-launched BioTint, which is a BB cream, CC cream, tinted moisturizer, and SPF all in one. Natural cosmetics that work and have skin care benefits?

When Pinkson joined W3ll People she confided in her two business partners that she was only interested in the venture if the products worked. And they do. The “hippie tested, diva approved” line is a hit from its flagship store in Austin, Texas, to the purses of celebrities such as Glee’s Dianna Agron who never leaves home without her Expressionist mascara.

It’s mission accomplished for Pinkson. “If I can make your skin look good, and natural, I really don’t have much more work to do as far as I’m concerned.” (w3llpeople.com)