Naomi Watts Is Here to Clean Up Your (Beauty) Act
The actress and co-founder of ONDA dives deep into the world of clean beauty and why she wants to sway the industry away from “pastry face.”
Clean beauty: We’ve all heard this phrase tossed around a countless number of times across labels, sung by beauty influencers as they try to convince you to buy another #sponsored product, and even through word of mouth via our friends who found so-and-so “life-changing” serum/lipstick/so on. But do we even know what deems a product truly clean?
Truthfully, most of us probably don’t. And due to the fact that “clean beauty” is notoriously unregulated, there’s a wave of subpar bullshit being flooded into this once-wholesome movement. But there’s still hope to clean up the beauty industry’s act, and that resides in one unexpected woman: Naomi Watts.
“There’s always room to make when you’re talking about something you’re deeply passionate about,” Watts coos over the phone in her signature soft British accent. Though we’re both in New York City, we decide to chat over the phone due to the current state of quarantine. Her schedule is far from open: She’s just wrapped up filming Lakewood, an upcoming thriller you’ll surely see, and is getting set to promote Penguin Bloom, a drama that recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival which stars her and a magpie named Penguin. Although she’s a veteran within the entertainment industry, Watts has become a breakout performer in the realm of beauty, thanks to her permanent role as co-founder of clean-beauty retailer ONDA.
“I’ve always been interested in health and wellness, and beauty is very much attached to that—in my thinking, anyway,” says Watts. “And yes, I’ve grown up as an actor, and the makeup and hair component as well, when you’re getting ready for a performance or an appearance or, obviously, on camera. So I’ve been immersed in the world of beauty for decades in a sort of inadvertent way.”
Working in the midst of film, a job that can call for pounds of makeup all over your face for hours of the day, Watts inevitably started suffering from skin sensitivity and irritation from it all. That’s when longtime friend, former fashion editor, and now business partner Larissa Thomson introduced her to the world of actual clean beauty.
“It just so happened I was upstate in her house one weekend, and I’d forgotten my wash bag,” she said. “And so I got into her medicine cabinet and started using her things, which she told me about every single product and the ingredients and what have you. And I could tell right away my skin felt soothed.”
From that fateful moment, Watts converted to the world of green, toxin-free beauty and hopped into ONDA with fellow co-founders Thomson and Sarah Bryden-Brown, a former executive of multiple start-ups.
“It was a very natural shift for me, pardon the pun. It was something that I just accidentally tried, but it all made sense based on the fact that I was very aware of what I was already putting into my body in terms of the ingesting part of it—like what foods I would eat, things like exercise, ingredients in food, even household products and cleaning products,” says Watts. “I was already very tuned into that, and so this just felt like a ‘yeah, duh.’ Your skin is the largest organ on your body, and we know that things absorb through the skin very easily. They create medicines to do such things transdermally. So it was an absolute godsend for me. This made sense, so I immediately cleared my shelf and created space for nothing but clean, and I never looked back.”
ONDA—which in Spanish directly translates to wave—is more than just another place to buy beauty products. Watts and co. are creating a curated platform that is “flowing” with the beauty industry for the better, evolving the space into an environment that shifts away from the toxins and irritants and turns to more all-natural, soothing alternatives that turn your beauty routine into a luxury ritual.
“We’ve had the education, and now people know, and want, and crave the transparency of these ingredients that go into these products. Are they harmful? Are they helpful? We want the whole story,” Watts says. “We want to know how they were made, what plants are being used, and what’s the efficacy. We need all of that information. Whereas before, it was just about labels and branding, and now we want the whole story, which I think is great.”
So what does that look like for ONDA? To Watts, that’s going above and beyond the FDA’s concerningly lax banned ingredients list in cosmetics and following the (rightfully) more intensive no-no list from the European Union. As well, they are cutting down from the hundreds of brands major retailers like Sephora and Ulta offer to a mere 70–80 luxury brands tried by the all-female trio leading ONDA, and surprisingly, during the age of COVID and online shopping, turning to brick-and-mortar shops on top of their heavily curated site for a fully educational and divinely posh experience.
“The brick-and-mortar experience is just so valuable for the education part because it is overwhelming,” says Watts. “Where do you begin if you’re starting from ground zero? It’s a lot of information to have to absorb. But we pride ourselves at ONDA on our staff being highly educated in this category and being able to spend time or walk through somebody’s personal needs.
“And how do you translate that to the digital world? Which of course we were not super prepared for. We were very much priding ourselves on the brick-and-mortar part of it, and now, based on what happened with the pandemic, we had to pivot quite quickly and really put digital into high gear,” she continues. “And it’s not the easiest thing to translate because that personable connection is just not there. But we’ve done our best to maintain it and create it through the digital space, and thank goodness we’re still here.”
But, unlike many of the other celebrities turning a little too quickly into the world of beauty, this is not another cash-cow means for Watts—for her, beauty is personal.
“There’s a lot of work to be done. But the more demand, the more reason for supply,” she says. “And then people will start being part of this [clean-beauty] movement and the shift. And I think it’s taken time to gain momentum, but when you see these big brands playing it right, it’s just nothing but good news, in my opinion.”
As a longtime devotee to minimal makeup who’s never labeled herself as a “full-face lady,” Watts is using ONDA to reflect her personal beliefs of embracing and living in one’s skin to each and every shopper, no matter how much or little you’d like to use.
“I do love makeup. I love to play around with it, and I’ll put it on and enjoy it when necessary,” she says. “But I’m a big believer in seeing the skin. I don’t like clogging the pores. I love to see life in the skin. So if I am wearing makeup, I wear whatever makeup allows me to do that. One product I can’t live without is from Beautycounter, and it’s called Dew Skin. I use it every time I do a movie now, and it also has an SPF in it, and you can see the life in the skin as well as get the coverage that you need. And I really feel like it’s a shame when you see people with that caked look, that pastry face, as they call it. Because I just love seeing life in somebody’s skin. I think there’s nothing more beautiful.”
But as an actress and beauty entrepreneur who’s on the grind every single way, I couldn’t help but ask: How does she have time to breathe, let alone be an actual person?
“I definitely do feel like I’ve been busy, particularly with COVID, even though everyone’s like, ‘Well, we’re staying home. We’re not working. What do you mean? How do you not have time in your day,’” she says. “And I think we’ve just been really trying to create this digital awareness and survive in these times where people are not out spending money on themselves as much as they were. But yeah, I find ways. I find ways to meditate, to exercise, do yoga, and have time with friends, whether it’s on a Zoom cocktail hour or creating the bubbles that you feel safe with. You have to connect with people and create balance.”
Though balancing being a famous actress with a budding beauty business and a personal life is far easier said than done, balancing her beauty routine is surprisingly easy when you keep it simple. Her beauty inspirations come from fellow female “natural beauties” like Charlotte Rampling, Audrey Hepburn, Susan Sarandon, Merly Streep, Jessica Lange, and more, and she channels each and every one of them when she’s creating her signature bold brows and subtly playful lips. But her true focus is one that we tend to overlook until the going gets tough: skin.
“Having great skin is always my priority, and trying to navigate that. Because it’s a moving thing, isn’t it? It’s a flow. It’s a ripple. It’s not always perfect,” Watts says. “Because the skin reflects how you are on the inside. If you’re not getting enough sleep, or if you’re traveling, or if you’re stressed, or you’re not eating right, it all comes out on the skin, and I notice instantly if something’s upset with my body, as in my rhythms. So you have to treat it accordingly.”
And to say Watts has done a good job with her skin-care routine is an understatement. She works morning and night to manifest her well-nourished, hydrated glow, which, she notes, has come a long way since she broke up with conventional toxin-filled beauty for good. Now, just like ONDA, she follows her own curated skin-care routine to nourish her signature porcelain complexion.
“If I’m coming home from work, I’ll use some type of cleansing milk,” Watts says. “I love the Tammy Fender one to get the makeup off. And then I’ll use a foaming cleanser to make sure every last particle of makeup is removed. I’m always a big fan of the African Botanics Baobab Clay Oxygenating Cleanser, and Joanna Vargas has a beautiful one, as well as VENN. Also, sometimes if you’ve got really heavy makeup, an oil cleanser is great. De Mamiel does a beautiful one. I also love Osea. They have a great number of products, and it’s a good price point as well. I love their Ocean Cleanser.
“After cleansing, I mist because the water opens up the pores, and then the oil really goes in much easier and it’s not just going to sit on the surface,” she continues. “Once the pores are opened by the mist, it’s going to have a better chance of really sinking in. Then I use a face oil. At the moment, my skin is feeling super dry due to the shift in weather, I suppose, and sometimes heating going on. And now there’s many different face oils, but at the moment I love this Dr. Alkaitis one, which is super rich—it’s like an elixir. I also like the Tammy Fender one as well, she’s got an intensive oil. And I love Saint Jane and Vintner’s Daughter. Those are always reliable ones to use. I get a couple of drops in my hand, and then maybe mix in a moisturizer. If you’ve got sensitive skin, Dr. Alkaitis’s is really great for that, and I love their night cream. Or there’s others: Dr. Barbara Sturm has a great one, as well as Joanna Vargas. And I mix them in, and I just press it on. And then I might mist again.”
She’s well aware that her skin-care routine isn’t necessarily the most budget friendly, but just like any other part of your health, skin care is an investment. But Naomi wants you to know that you don’t need to empty your life savings in the name of good skin.
“You can change and shift around with these if you’d like. And no, they’re not super cheap, so it depends on the user,” she says, “There are some that are more affordable than others, and usually there’s nothing in them that is going to create a reaction. You can shift easily. Once you’re finished with one thing, you can try another, and move to that brand. And what we love at ONDA is being able to move around.
“So it’s like a little bit of indulgence, but it’s how I take care of my skin,” she says. “And I just make that five to ten minutes at the end of the day to create that ritual and make sure it’s getting the treatment it deserves.”
Photos: Courtesy of Naomi Watts; Top photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@naomiwatts
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