Sydney-born Neada Deters is working from a stand-up desk in the garden of her new office in sunny Los Angeles when we speak on the phone. “It’s all coming together,” she says of the new Silver Lake headquarters, which is double the size of her former Venice Beach office and is fitted out with vintage furniture and mid-century collectables. From here she runs her one-year-old 100 per cent organic skincare brand, Lesse, with two colleagues.
“We look out onto a lot of greenery … it’s so important to find balance in how you live, work, play, eat and treat your skin,” she says with a subtle American accent. Deters packed up her life in coastal Sydney eight years ago to move to New York before relocating three years ago to LA, where she lives with her husband.
Lesse is part of a fleet of natural skincare brands pushing for greater transparency in the beauty industry and changes to its chemical-heavy status quo. Lesse’s ingredients are all-natural, and every one is listed on its website. The brand is gender-neutral, with just three essential products wrapped in grey-blue packaging.
In New York, Deters had worked as a lifestyle editor at Vice magazine, where she was summarily thrown into the world of beauty and skincare. Her background wasn’t in media let alone cosmetics – she had a degree in art history and theory.
“[Vice] didn’t have a dedicated beauty editor, so I started doing all these features and profiles covering beauty,” she says.
The longer she reported on the industry the more it dawned on her just how misleading it can be. She was frustrated by the lack of transparency around skincare ingredients such as parabens and other preservatives, which can be harmful to people’s health. She learned that skin is the body’s largest organ and absorbs an indeterminate but not insubstantial amount of what is applied to it topically. She also realised you don’t need an onerous regime to have great skin (or a plethora of products). And that ingredients are everything. So she decided to create a brand that not only addressed those elements but “that was more transparent” for consumers.
She left Vice and, drawing on the pool of contacts and information gleaned during her time at the magazine, began formulating an all-natural skincare product.
“I had a lot of people push back when I said, ‘Let’s talk about an all-natural formulation’. [They told me] it’s not necessary to do that; a time waste and a headache. They would encourage me to add a fragrance or some other paraben to help with the marketing push. They insisted that’s the way it should be done.”
(Many skincare and beauty companies use synthetic ingredients to, among other things, prolong a product’s shelf life, add an appealing smell, or to effectively emulsify or thicken a cream or liquid.)
Deters refused to compromise on her vision and spent the next three and a half years working closely with an LA chemist to develop a totally natural skincare line. She went to market with just one hero product, the Ritual serum ($90AUD), which can be applied morning and night. “This is the only serum we’ll ever release,” she says, adding that it’s unnecessary to have several versions of one product if you have a quality formulation. “We take a slower approach to skincare, only releasing essential products.” The name Lesse riffs on the brand’s pared-back, minimalist aesthetic and essentials-only philosophy.
The idea is that reducing the number of products you use, and the steps in your daily beauty regime, will allow you to “create more space and room to be with yourself”, Deters says. She believes that skincare can be an invitation to turn a quotidian habit into a more meaningful ceremony, which you can look forward to twice a day. “Enjoy it – it’s a ritual not a routine. That’s our tag line.”
Deters is frank about skincare products only doing so much: a healthy lifestyle (factoring in nutritious eating, exercise and overall wellness) is essential to achieving clear skin, she says. Her own skincare and beauty regime is restrained. “I don’t even own a foundation. I go to weddings and just wear an all-natural tinted SPF by (W3ll People). Despite having olive skin – I’m Eurasian – I’m obsessive about applying SPF in layers.”
She says if you’re going to invest in just one product, make it a serum. They’re pricey for a reason, made with concentrated active ingredients that are more quickly – and more deeply – absorbed by your skin than a moisturiser because the liquid is composed of smaller molecules. Lesse’s serum contains seaweed, turmeric and rose, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients that have been shown to improve skin condition in scientific studies. The serum can also be added to foundation to sheer the latter out for a more natural finish.
The Essential cleanser came later and works as both a cleanser and a very fine, gentle granular exfoliant. It was followed by the Bioactive face masque. Deters is currently testing a spritz-toner and a handful of other products, which will launch next year.
“We’re not really about celebrities, or out there seeking the Hollywood green light, paying people to endorse [Lesse],” Deters says. “It’s about telling real stories and championing our community of inspiring creatives.”
When you speak with Deters it’s not just her ambition that’s striking but her clarity on who she is, where she’s going and what she wants to achieve. “I have this insane spreadsheet of ingredients that I love and haven’t gone near yet but know I will in the future,” she says. She’s also determined to build a string of sustainability-minded consumer-facing stores where people can come and refill their products. “But that’s a life goal.”