Career Diaries: Meet the Common Heir Founders Who Are Making Active Ingredients More Sustainable
Have you ever wondered what really happens to your skincare product containers when you toss them? For Cary Lin, that question sparked the idea for what would become the sustainable and inclusive skincare brand Common Heir. Along with co-founder Angela Ubias, the pair set out to reimagine clean skincare and create an effective line made with melanated skin and the planet in mind. The brand encapsulates (no pun intended) everything they had been looking for in skincare — it’s approachable, innovative and biodegradable.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with the Lin and Ubias about their latest launch — a retinol serum — and learn more about how the two founders became a power-duo. Keep reading to find out why they chose to push sustainability barriers and how they developed their unique capsulized formulas.
How did you two meet and what led you to creating Common Heir?
Prior to meeting and working with Angela I worked on marketing and brand management in the beauty space. I had gotten to a point in my career where I took a step back and just thought about what I wanted to do with my life. While I was taking that time, I walked on my local beach in Santa Monica and came across these old plastic lotion bottles that were super gross and just sitting there on the beach.
At that moment, I had the ‘aha’ thought of, ‘wow, I’ve been at the helm of numerous beauty brands and I've put out millions of products but I don’t know where any of the packaging has ended up.’ That moment really spurred me to think about ways that I could build something sustainable.
Personally, I was trying to make sustainable swaps and wasn’t finding anything that truly sparked joy in the premium beauty category. So, I started telling people in an effort to hold myself accountable. I’d say ‘wouldn't it be great if I could create a luxury meets sustainable meets genuinely inclusive skincare brand that is high performance and has zero plastic?’
I guess I spoke it into being because a friend of mine put me in touch with Angela.
I was a bit reluctant to take the call with Cary. [laughs] To give you some background I helped build one of the original clean indie beauty labs in North America. I had been in that role for about seven years when Cary and I connected, and at that point in time I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in beauty because I was starting to feel a bit bored.
I’m glad I took the call, though. I always refer to us as a love match. It just felt like we had an instant connection and vision — seeing the same room for opportunity to actually lead with innovation and sustainability; and really tackle the plastic packaging problem, the inclusivity problem, and make something that didn't feel boring or like anything else on the shelf.
This was all in December 2019. After the call Cary flew out to Austin to meet because we were perfect strangers. We definitely had to court one another to make sure that this felt like the right move for both of us. Then we officially launched our first product in April 2021.
What was the inspiration behind the name Common Heir?
We turned inward and thought about both of our values. What I thought was pretty special about us was that we weren’t just perfect strangers, but we’d also inherited super different beauty traditions and values because we come from such different ethnic backgrounds.
So, we thought about what we want our legacies to be and it came down to this idea that we both have a lot more in common when it comes to what we want to pass down: We felt proud of the idea of leaving behind an inclusive and sustainable brand and impact. That’s our Common Heir.
How did you decide to create a vitamin C serum for your first product?
Cary had the original idea of a capsule format before we started to explore formulations. After we had that nailed down we thought about what formula we should actually put inside of it. We wanted it to serve a functional purpose and immediately thought of active ingredients. We came to vitamin C not only because Cary uses it regularly in her routine but also because I knew from my formulation experience that it has a universal benefit regardless of skin type, tone, texture or age.
We also viewed it as an opportunity to make vitamin C more approachable — we wanted to make it gentle enough for those with sensitive skin so it wouldn’t be irritating or sting, but also reimagine it to be something that didn't feel like a chore to apply and create something that felt very luxe.
Through the development process we looked for vitamin C derivatives that, number one, are the most stable; and number two, are super gentle but still give you the glowy effect that you want. We landed on THD vitamin C, which is an oil soluble derivative that is well studied to be one of the most stable forms of vitamin C, and it also penetrates the skin at a deeper level than traditional L-ascorbic acid, which is kind of your go-to vitamin C derivative. Because of its properties we can use it at lower concentrations, but still get really amazing efficacy and results from it.
The capsule format is unique for skincare. Why was it so important for your capsules to be biodegradable instead of just recyclable?
The thing about recyclable is it's not enough — it all depends on your location. New York’s recycling infrastructure is different from California's, and only 9% of the plastic that's been produced has actually ever been recycled. That's just kind of like the dirty truth behind recycling. So we wanted to fix this design problem in the industry and go one step further.
For us it wasn’t enough to have something be ‘theoretically recyclable.’ We wanted something that wouldn't produce harm to the environment like plastic containers do. That’s why we took the extra step. We look at Common Heir as a gateway brand to a more consciously sustainable lifestyle — it gives folks a unique beauty experience.
You just launched your second product: the Retinol Serum. Tell me more about that.
It’s been our most requested product since we launched last year, and we had a light bulb moment when we finalized our vitamin C serum — we realized we could capsulize other active ingredients to build out a thoughtfully curated line.
Once we decided to move forward with retinol we knew we would have to take our ethos of inclusivity to the next level to make it approachable — specifically making it into something that was actually going to work for all skin tones and types. It was also a priority to mitigate all of the irritating side effects people experience with retinol. So we chose a retinyl ester that is extremely gentle and added nourishing elements like squalane and algae oil to hydrate the skin.
Sustainability is one of your core values as a brand. Do you think the beauty industry is on the right track towards becoming more sustainable?
I think small brands certainly are. We're all doing our part to raise awareness and make noise because we’re nimble enough to meet consumers exactly where they're at. And I think that sustainability is what consumers want right now. That's why you've seen just this uptick in Indie brands popping up — to meet consumers' sustainability demands. On that side of things, yes, we're heading in the right direction, but we need more change from massive brands and corporations, too.
Do you have any advice for those who want to start their own brand?
My biggest piece of advice is to be kind to yourself and really celebrate the wins however small they might feel. Also, there’s a whole network of people out there that want to help you succeed. One thing that was surprising to me was anytime we reached out to founders in the space everyone was so willing to give advice and make any introductions that they could. So it’s important to remember that the community you surround yourself with is going to help you get things done.
Start small. If you can create something that just one person can't live without, that's a huge achievement.
What are your favorite beauty trends of the moment?
I'm so entranced by everything Euphoria has inspired — from nail art to makeup looks to fashion. That show has a choke hold on trends right now and it’s been very interesting to me.
Something that I'm really loving is small indie brands whose founder is putting themselves out there to create something that celebrates an identity that isn't often talked about. There's a lot of founders that have come onto the scene who are loud and proud about their beauty heritage and are reimagining beauty standards. Two that I love are Christina Tegbe of 54 Thrones and Priyanka Ganjoo of Kulfi Beauty. They’re great examples of the trends that I'm loving right now and are really inspirational.
Photos Courtesy of: Common Heir. Design: Juliana Campisi