Welcome to The Glowdown, the series where we dive into the beauty secrets of our favourite celebrities as they get real about their routines and non-negotiables exclusively with us. Join them as they sit in our beauty hot seat and we fire off a round of quick questions, giving you never-before-shared insight into the products they cannot live without, their secrets to getting red carpet–ready, beauty pet peeves, and the genius tips they have picked up along the way. This is no-holds-barred beauty at its finest.
This month, Who What Wear UK got to sit down with Scarlett Johannson. Best known as one of the world’s most celebrated actors, Johannson has since founded The Outset, her skincare brand co-founded with Kate Foster. Born out of Johannson’s experience of dealing with skin issues, The Outset is grounded in gentle formulas that nourish and restore—rather than strip—the skin’s delicate barrier. Ahead, Johannson opens up about her skincare learnings, her beauty words of wisdom and her products she’ll never be without.
1. What led you to starting The Outset?
“It’s such a classic start-up answer, but I had a pain-point and then looked for a solution, and that’s how the idea of this was born,” says Johansson. “I struggled with acne since I was 12, and when I was younger the messaging around acne and problem skin and was ‘wash it all away, wash the grime away’. It was all about using toner, a gritty scrub and drying creams—all of this detoxifying stuff. I would go through cycles of drying out acne and then having dry skin and breaking out, it was just this non-stop cycle,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, and I think I was newly pregnant, that I was just over it. I was so terrified to put anything on my skin, just because I thought it was gonna give me cystic acne. I think I was at my wits’ end and thought, you know what? My skin is so dry, I’m gonna see if I stop using these oil-free products and use gentle products made for sensitive skin, and use moisturiser, and see how it goes and be consistent about it. And within a week, my skin was healing itself. What I didn’t know was that I was nurturing my skin barrier,” she says.
“Obviously, that word was not part of the zeitgeist as it is now, and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing,” she says, “but I could see the results and I thought that there’s gotta be something to this. That’s how it started. I started researching what was out there, what was in the products I was using, and what other people were experiencing. It’s been a labour of love, labour being a keyword there; it’s been challenging. But it’s really rewarding because we see the results in our customers’ skin, my own skin, and our skin in the office. You see it in our own customer return rate that people are having an amazing experience and getting what we are now calling ‘The Outset Effect’, where they’re getting the compliments on their skin.”
2. What do you think your biggest learnings have been about skin care over the years?
“It’s been very eye-opening to go down this avenue of creating a clean skincare line. I never realised what was in all of the products I was using before. You know, you buy a $250 night cream and you don’t expect it’s gonna be full of petroleum and mineral oil. There is no such thing as like a ‘clean beauty standard’, right? It’s this kind of nebulous term and the challenge for us was that we wanted to create a line where as many people can participate as possible, and once you see what’s in everything you can’t un-see it,” says Johansson. “And so you go down this avenue of [thinking] ‘what does that mean?’ It means reducing and eliminating these harmful ingredients and creating something that’s nut allergen-free and gluten-free and fragrance-free. But how do you make that effective too? The efficacy of the product is key. We are committed to that. So if we have an idea for something like an SPF, it will take us so many rounds to get there. But we have our own standards here and we are committed to them. So it’s eye-opening, it’s a challenge, but it’s worthwhile.”
3. You have spoken about your experience with acne throughout your teenage years and adult life. What advice would you give to others who are experiencing acne?
“I would say get rid of your 20 times magnifying mirror. I need [to take] my own advice because honestly, stressing about your skin is the worst thing you can do for it. All of the negativity that comes with overanalysing your skin quality and picking your skin in that kind of a mirror—it’s like a vicious cycle. I think it’s bad for your mental health, and it’s bad for your skin. So stop looking in the mirror that much. That’s what I would say,” she says. “Then the consistency of the routine, that’s an important thing. When I was having really terrible breakouts, you’re just sort of going through all these different things, you know? You’re trying different creams, you’re trying diet elimination stuff, tonics… all of this stuff and it’s just too much. Using all those actives at the same time, in my experience, makes the problem much worse, I think. You have to give [trying a new product] it like 10 days.”
4. Are there any beauty rituals or treatments that you swear by before a big event?
“If I’m going out for an event, sometimes I will do a face mask that’s redness-reducing and gives you that ‘bounce-back’ skin. We created our Purifying Blue Clay Mask (£46) that is perfect for that because it’s redness-reducing and it doesn’t dry like traditional clay masks do. It stays moist, so it’s not all cracking off and then you have this red skin underneath, even though you feel like you’re getting the purifying benefit. So sometimes I’ll use the mask before an event. I try not to do anything too extreme though because you don’t know what’s the reaction is going be. I wouldn’t do anything too out of the ordinary before I was going to a big event.”
5. Sustainability is at the core of your brand. How did you go about bringing those sustainable values into your brand?
“I’m sure you [beauty journalists], probably more than I, are so used to getting these influencer packages. And the packaging is so much,” she says. “You know, even while we were developing [The Outset] this in the very beginning, I had gotten some influencer product package from a very popular cosmetics line. And it was like this whole thing set up with like boxes and unwrapping things like foils, and inside was the actual container… it was just crazy. I said to Kate [her co-founder], ‘this is the opposite of what I want to do’. I want everything to feel like as stress-free as possible, including the packaging, so that you’re not feeling this this burden of having more stuff and throwing things away constantly, which is why we introduced the refills and post-consumer recyclable packaging, and that really resonates with our customers as well. We also have included a partnership with 1% for the Planet. The philosophy behind organisations like that are very much a lot in line with what we’re doing here.”
6. What is the best piece of beauty advice that you ever received?
“The best piece of beauty advice I ever received was probably from my sister, who told me to leave my skin alone. She would say, ‘stop touching it, leave your skin alone.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah!”
7. What is your signature fragrance?
“I don’t know if I have a signature fragrance. I have fragrances that I go back to, that I wear on rotation. I love the Terre d’Hermès Eau de Toilette (£94) and Narcisco Rodriguez (£76). I’ve worn it forever.”
8. Do you prefer a strong lip or a strong eye?
“I like lipstick.”
9. You’re having your nails done, what’s your go-to colour?
“A French manicure.”
10. What’s your favourite lipstick colour?
“My favourite lipstick colour is is a Charlotte Tilbury colour called Bond Girl [now renamed MI Kiss (£27)]. I love it. I wear it for a lot of movies, it’s a great colour.”
11. Candles, reed diffusers or nothing at all?
“I like candles, actually. My favourite candles are when Diptyque comes out with all the Christmas scents. I love those.”
12. If you had to recommend a beauty product to everyone, what would it be?
13. What’s the beauty product that’s always in your handbag?
“Right now, it’s probably our Rescue Balm (£31) that we just came out with, which was made to be always in your handbag. It is used for everything. I made it as a lip balm but I was using it on my cuticles, I was using it on my hair, I was using it on my heels. I was using it for everything, and so we decided to make a giant one.”
14. Which beauty product gives you the biggest mood boost?
“The biggest mood boost is probably red lipstick.”
15. If you could steal someone else’s makeup bag, whose would it be?
“I would say that’s such a good question. I would probably steal Bobbi Brown’s.”
16. You’ve got a spot—are you team pop it or are you team leave it alone?
“I should say leave it alone, but I can’t help myself. I’m an extraction type of person!”
17. You only have one product to use for the rest of your life. What is it?
“Honestly, probably our serum [The Outset Firming Vegan Collagen Prep Serum (£46)]. I use it probably too many times a day so that I end up having to refill constantly. I’m crazy about it.”