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The Natural Life of Sun Kiss Alba

The natural beauty influencer talks about creating her own product and non-toxic beauty.

By Rachel Strugatz

 

Any time a fashion or beauty movement sets the social media universe aflutter — from nail art to curly hair to natural beauty — a subset of influencers dedicated to the topic is inevitably born.

Enter natural beauty influencer Alba Ramos. The 29-year-old, upstate New York-based Ramos goes by Sun Kiss Alba on YouTube, her primary social platform, where she has 912,000 subscribers and calls her channel a destination for “organic beauty and non-toxic everything.” She has 371,000 followers on Instagram, but maintained that YouTube is her platform of choice, where she uploads a few videos a month. The majority of her content — about 85 to 90 percent — is beauty-focused but parenting, feminine care and fertility are other “well-being” topics in which Ramos dabbles.

 

 

She has worked with Derma E., Citrine Beauty and Nordstrom Beauty when the retailer launched a natural beauty section in select stores and online this past spring. She was also part of the Ad Council’s recycling public service campaign last year and will be participating in long term partnerships with both EcoTools and natural hair care brand Briogeo.

In June, Ramos co-created a product with Derma E., Radiant Glow Face Oil by Sun Kiss Alba, which she counts as her most significant partnership to date. The $19.99 product is sold at Ulta Beauty, Whole Foods, Amazon and on dermae.com and even sold out on Ulta.com at one point.

 

“They gave me the freedom to present my idea on what we should make, and we spoke about ingredients very deeply together. I selected ingredients, [and] it took us a whole year. We made several different types of combinations of oils until we got it right,” Ramos said of the creation process.

Earlier this summer, Claire Collins, general manager of U.S. operations at digital talent management agency Gleam Futures, which counts Ramos as a client, said that the move into product transformed the natural beauty blogger’s conversion rates from “standard” to anything but. Collins  declined to give a sales amount, but maintained that the oil was selling “insanely well.”

Ramos told WWD that although she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an “expert,” she does feel a responsibility to her followers to break through the clutter of beauty brands claiming to be natural, organic, green or any of the other terms being slapped on product labels today.

But the actual claims mean very little to her.

“I focus more on reading the ingredients of whatever brand I may be interested in. I will try to explain what it means when I see the word organic because it’s usually in the front of a product, or

sometimes it will just say USDA Certified Organic. What that means to me is that that particular product was certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Ramos explained, quickly adding: “I don’t focus on them, and I don’t find them to be necessary.”

Instead she turns to the list of ingredients on the back of the package, and looks to see the way they’re described and how well they’re identified, which varies greatly from brand to brand.

She noted that some identify their sources very clearly, either on packaging or on their web sites, and “really go out of their way” to say how a fragrance was grown in a specific facility or “by hand.” But Ramos has also found, more often than not, that other products print something vague on the label such as “derived from organic farming” or “derived from organic ingredients.”

And that’s just not good enough for her.

Ramos admitted there are only a few brands that meet her standards. For her, a label printed with the word “organic” doesn’t necessarily equate to the product being “clean” (she prefers to use the term “non-toxic beauty”). This is not to say that she’ll never use something that contains synthetic ingredients. She believes it’s best to avoid man-made ingredients, even if not all are derived the same way, and still sometimes will use a product that contains some labeled synthetics.

While there aren’t many companies that Ramos believes fully embrace her natural beauty ethos, she cited Derma E., Jane Iredale, 100 Percent Pure, Doctor Haushcka and especially Tata Harper as some of her go-to brands. She also likes to shop at destinations solely dedicated to clean beauty, including Follain and Credo.

“[Harper] uses the word nontoxic, and she backs up that work with actually being nontoxic and is giving all of that information on her web site. She is the one skin-care brand that I know that has her own skin-care farm where you don’t have to worry about the huge ‘F word,’ which is fragrance,” said Ramos, who believes that a handful of “clean” brands are formulated with less clean fragrances that outweigh the benefits of the products themselves.

Nancy Twine, founder and chief executive officer of clean, non-toxic and naturally derived hair-care line Briogeo, credited Ramos with raising awareness for her nearly four-year-old brand. In May, Ramos selected the Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask as one of her preferred natural curly hair products (Ramos’ videos about natural hair garner the highest engagement).

“Because our bright, vibrant packaging doesn’t necessarily scream naturally derived, customers don’t always assume our stance on ingredients. Because of that, our copy, shelf presence and education are really important to inform the customer on what makes us different from other highly synthetic counterpart brands,” Twine said.

Ramos has been using the range for some time, and Twine credited the influencer with being able to demonstrate that her products are efficacious, despite the fact that they don’t contain the silicones and harsh sulfates that could be found in a lot of hair care. But clean beauty wasn’t always Ramos’ focus.

She was candid about the reason for her change in content almost four years ago. Ramos started to take her YouTube channel seriously in late 2011, but after discovering her son was autistic in 2013, decided to dramatically “switch up” her lifestyle.

“It didn’t happen overnight. It started off with food, water, drinks and cleaning products, and along the way it just made more and more sense to switch up my beauty routine as well since this was already what I was doing on YouTube,” she recounted. “I didn’t start YouTube with the intention of being a natural girl or promoting natural beauty. I was honestly scared to [make the switch] because I didn’t know how it was going to be received.”

On Jan. 1, 2014, she said that her beauty content would focus on non-toxic beauty going forward — and the initial response wasn’t what she had hoped. She called it “scary” when a number of her followers threatened to unsubscribe. They misunderstood the switch as Ramos’ thinking she was “better” than them and that she just wanted to “buy expensive things and no longer use the budget-friendly stuff” often featured in content. She got backlash on several platforms and was accused of “following a trend.”

“I didn’t explain about my son, [because] I wasn’t comfortable speaking about autism yet or speaking about my son… It wasn’t until about two years ago that I opened up about autism and then everything became more clear. I started to get a lot more respect for what I do and who I am,” Ramos said. “Today, it’s very rare [to get negative feedback]. I don’t see anyone saying anything bad at all about my natural lifestyle.”