Interview with Tony Vargas, Founder of Tilth Beauty
by Teresa Bergen
In Tony Vargas’s 30 years of working for Avon, Elizabeth Arden and other industry leaders, he learned a lot about cosmetics. Vargas began his career with a B.S. in chemistry and a biology minor and worked his way up to become VP of global research and development at Arden. Then he set out on his own, launching Tilth Beauty.
“As someone in R&D you know how to formulate products, but your hands are tied by the marketing group,” Vargas said. “So a few years ago I decided to formulate my own line that’s right for the consumer.”
Vargas appreciated the natural and organic ingredients that have become so popular, but didn’t believe they were enough. “One hundred percent natural products are nice,” he said, “but they don’t have the efficacy. They take too long to work.” So he combined the best of both worlds: bases made from naturally derived materials, then added the most effective cosmeceutical ingredients. “I formulated the products so they’re very efficacious and safe,” Vargas said.
The list of what you won’t find in Tilth products is long: petroleum-based ingredients, silicone, pthalates, parabens, sulfates, GMO ingredients, synthetic fragrance, artificial colors, gluten and materials derived from or tested on animals. All these ingredients are widely used, but Vargas sees them as problematic to both human and environmental health.
For example, silicone, which is used in creams, lotions and hair products. “Silicone gets washed down the drain and accumulates in the environment. It doesn’t break down,” he said. “Canada is thinking about banning silicone. If they do, you’ll see everybody in the industry scurrying.”
Vargas also worries about the environmental impact of polyethelene. This plastic shows up cosmetically as tiny beads used for skin exfoliation. Vargas doesn’t think landfills need more plastic. Instead, Tilth uses biodegradable alternatives for exfoliation, including date seeds, poppy seeds and corn meal.
Tilth products include lots of peptides, vitamins and antioxidants. Vargas champions a return to natural oils as emollients. “When I first started in this industry, we always used jojoba, avocado, sesame seed oils,” he said. “Then somebody came up with the brilliant marketing idea of oil-free. It meant you didn’t have mineral oil in your products. But when lawyers got involved, they said, ‘If it says oil-free, it means no oil in your product.’ So the industry started developing a lot of synthetic emollients.” Tilth restores those lost natural oils and natural butters that safely help skin retain moisture.
Vargas believes people need to take better care of their skin, protecting it from sun damage and beginning a moisturizing regimen at a younger age. He’s considering adding a children’s line. “As you get older, you lose the ability to hold onto moisture in your skin. If they start moisturizing from a younger age, they’ll stick with it for the rest of their lives. It will delay signs of premature aging later in life.”
The Tilth line currently focuses on cleansers, toners, moisturizing lotions and anti-aging serums. So far, the response has been great, Vargas said. “Everybody who tries our products loves them. They’ve seen the change in their skin. Other people have asked, ‘Have you had a facelift or something?’”