Exclusive: Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss Talks Beauty Industry Deception

Onstage, Sleigh Bells frontwoman Alexis Krauss is known for her signature jet black bangs and killer smoky eyes. Her beauty game is always top notch, and it’s no wonder—she’s made quite a mark in the cosmetics world. She starred in Sephora’s 2012 holiday campaign (in the most on-point cat eye, BTW), headed up the burgeoning nail art scene nearly four years ago, and even talked all things beauty with us backstage at the 2011 Woodies. But after all these years in the industry, Alexis has uncovered some serious problems with the beauty business—and she’s ready to share ’em with the world.

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A few weeks ago, Alexis and Harvard Business School student Jessica Assaf quietly launched Beauty Lies Truth, a website dedicated to educating and inspiring women to get to know what’s really behind the makeup they slather on their skin. Their blog shares organic DIY tutorials, tips on where to buy non-toxic products, and tons of insider beauty industry info that they (probably) don’t want you knowing about. For the first time since its launch, Alexis opened up about why she decided to investigate the cosmetics industry—and why you totally should too.

MTV: So, what sparked the launch of Beauty Lies Truth?

Alexis Krauss: I just had this epiphany and realized I was totally ignorant about the products I was using. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty conscious when it comes to consuming—especially with regard to food. I try to eat sustainably, I try to eat organic food, and I was a vegetarian for many years. I’m an ethical consumer, and then I realized, “Holy s***. I think about all this stuff I put in my body, but I don’t know about any of the s*** I’m putting on my skin.”

How did you and Jess meet?

Jess and I met in February really randomly. It was just one of those things where you meet somebody, and you connect. We started talking about music and her work, and at the time, I was feeling a bit restless and like I needed a way to use my platform as a musician to do something to benefit the greater good. I came from a background in human rights, and then I was an educator, and then I was in music. It’s taken me some time to figure out how to bridge the gap. How do I do something that is addressing issues that I’m passionate about, but also be able to be a full-time musician? Jess had worked as an activist for a long time, specifically around cosmetics, and had run campaigns condemning Johnson & Johnson for having formaldehyde in their baby shampoo and then calling out mainstream cosmetic companies for having all these unregulated chemicals in beauty products.

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Who is this website for? How is it different from other beauty sites?

We were like, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to unite and figure out a way to bring these issues to a different audience?” I think there’s something to be said for people like me, who consider themselves to be pretty educated, that had no idea about this s***. And we were like, “How do we present the issues in a serious way but also not alienate people who want to engage with the beauty industry?” It’s for people who want to look good, want to wear lipstick, and don’t just want to go all-natural because that’s not realistic for the average person. I want to wear mascara, I want to wear eyeshadow, I want to wear perfume, I want to wear body lotion, but I want to do it and know that I’m not compromising my health for the sake of looking good.

As a woman in music, I’m constantly being asked, “What’s your beauty routine?” and, not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the content tends to be pretty frivolous. It’s hard to get into these serious issues, because nobody wants to alienate their readers or sponsors. People don’t want to call out big companies and say, “Why do you have parabens, phthalates, and all these weird, potentially carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in your products?” It doesn’t have to be that way.

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Why now?

We were like, “F*** it.” I have some time off, you’re going to Harvard Business School, we can’t manage a full-on site right now with a staff—we don’t have those resources—so let’s just get up a blog, let’s start an Instagram, and let’s just start posting about things we care about. Ultimately, the goal is to start curating content from all types of women and all types people who are interested in these issues, whether they’re doctors or nail artists. I’ve been talking with Claire [Boucher], Grimes, about contributing.

The other huge component is that not only are these things impacting our bodies, but they are impacting the planet. The same things that f*** with our hormones are f****** with the hormones of amphibians from it getting into the water supply. And hopefully I can extend this conversation beyond beauty to fashion in general.

Why are you so passionate about the beauty industry, specifically?

The beauty industry, like a lot of industries in the United States, is just not regulated. We haven’t had legislative action on these issues since the 1930s. We just have huge corporations, huge chemical bodies, that are able to sell these things. Of course, they say that in low doses none of this stuff is dangerous, and that may be true, but more and more research is coming out that this exposure over time—especially the things called endocrine disrupters, which essentially are f****** with our hormones and estrogen levels—can be really dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses. Ultimately, I think we would love to get involved in legislative changes and really getting companies to opt out of using certain ingredients and experimenting with alternative formulas that are just as effective.

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So, if I wanted to do an entire organic beauty overhaul, where would I start?

Whole Foods is a great place to start. They do have a lot of skincare and beauty. They often carry Juice Beauty, which is great. It’s really just a matter of doing the research and finding out what works for you, and it’s also about balance. In the same way that I still eat doughnuts and ice cream, there are still certain products I’m not ready to give up. There are certain things I love, and I think it’s really about compromising and not about being so extreme one way or the other. It’s just about thinking before you consume and bringing to light all the deception in the industry.

After all your research, what’s something you’ll never put on your skin again?

I have totally eliminated plastic microbeads, and that was a no brainer for me. Sea salt and coffee grinds work just as great as an exfoliant. Same with walnut shells. I will never wash another plastic microbead down my drain.

Are you planning on doing more DIYs?

I would love to do more of that. Every time we do a post, someone will say like, “Oh, I take the peppermint Dr. Bronner’s and I mix it with homemade coconut milk and it makes this luxurious, wonderful body wash,” and you’re like, “S***, OK!” People are sending in different scrubs and lotions that they make, so I would love the DIY component to be a pretty prominent feature on the site.

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Where do you see Beauty Lies Truth heading in the future?

Jess is going to Harvard Business school this fall, and she really wants to take the site into an e-commerce direction one day. Eventually, we would love to have a site where we’re able to host products from brands that we love, and it would just be one more way to get those products in the hands of everyday consumers or women that visit the site. There’s all these brands that are being started by people who are thinking alternatively, and we want to empower those brands, highlight what they’re doing, and hopefully get people to think twice before they buy something.

The other thing we want to work on is a pocket guide that women can have—whether it’s on an app or not—that can tell you what to look out for. Just because something says “natural,” it doesn’t mean s***. I want it to be a space mostly dominated by women, since the beauty industry is dominated by women, to really understand and own their beauty routine in a way that they felt safe and proud of.

What’s one takeaway you want people to get from visiting your site?

I just want people to stop and think about their products and question it—the same way they question how much saturated fat is in their sandwich. We want to educate people. We want to bring awareness to these issues. And if you can’t pronounce it, if you don’t know what the f*** it is, you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your body.