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10 Niche Beauty Brands You Need in Your Makeup Bag

In just a few years, these indie beauty brands have emerged as cabinet staples.

When I poke around my makeup bins, I see a lot of old favorites: Benefit concealers, Nars blushes and Bobbi Brown lipsticks crowd my plastic Muji drawers. But wedged between those standbys are an increasing number of essentials from newer, independent brands. And this isn’t specific to me. In 2013, niche brands made up nearly 10 percent of the $2.2 billion spent on prestige beauty products in the U.S., according to NPD Group. Here’s a look at 10 new beauty classics — from fragrance to foundation — that belong in your arsenal.


Model-turned-stylist Linda Rodin first introduced her jasmine-laced face oil, known as Olio Lusso, in 2007. The fashion industry fell fast and hard, showing its love for Rodin’s product through endless editorial placements and personal endorsements. (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are fans, as is Gwyneth Paltrow.) Today, Rodin’s collection has expanded to include body oil, hair oil, soap, hand creme, multiple fragrances and a candle. And there is surely more to come.


Lipstick is hard. Most are too dry, others are too slippery. And if the color is good, then the consistency is definitely bad. Yet Ilia, a Los Angeles-based brand that uses up to 85% organic ingredients in each of its products, manages to get it right all around. The colors are saturated, but they’re not overwhelming. And the formula neither sticky nor wet. Founded in 2011 by graphic designer Sasha Plavsic, the line launched as six tinted lip conditioners and now includes lipstick, crayons, gloss as well as illuminators, powers and mascara.


Launched in 2009 by fashion industry vet Gina Carney, RGB is arguably the coolest collection of nail polishes around. Sure, other brands do great fashion colors. But Carney does them first and best. Her line of nude polishes — and in the true sense of the world, there are shades in every skin color — singlehandedly established the almost-bare nail as last summer’s must-have manicure. The polish — which contain no Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), Formaldehyde Resin, or Camphor, all really bad things many polishes do contain — miraculously stays put on even the most chip-prone nails.


It’s crazy to think that the Clarisonic electronic face brush — which made at-home facials a real thing — hit shelves a decade ago. Today, a Clarisonic is part of many women’s daily cleaning routine. The company has expanded by introducing devices and brush heads specific to different types of skin, as well as different parts of the body. (There is now a Clarisonic for your feet.) But the most telling indication of the brand’s success has to be the hundreds of mass-market knockoffs it has inspired.


The problem with most hair products is that they just don’t work. Or they smell bad. Or they feel bad. But Oribe, launched in 2008 by the famous hair stylist of the same name, is sort of a miracle. They smell great — the scents were done by Givaudan, Tom Ford’s perfumer. They work well — the company’s Apres Beach Wave and Shine spray trumps all others. And they don’t feel gross — no goopy nastiness, even when you’re using the hair spray.

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Blotting papers are B.S., right? Not Tatcha’s. Launched in 2009 by Victoria Tsai, the line’s “beauty papers” are fragrance-free, powder-free and somehow miraculously lift excess oil from the skin without stripping it down or wiping away makeup. Tsai, who worked in finance before founding Tatcha, has also amassed a following via her cleansing oil, which is made from a blend of camellia and rice-bran oils, as well as her eye cream. Her philosophy is that ingredients found in the Japanese diet — green tea, okinawa red algae and Japanese rice bran — can also improve skin when applied topically.

Butter London

Founded in 2005 by British entrepreneur Sasha Muir, Butter London has always been about two things: safe, toxin-free formulas and aggressive, trend-driven colors. (And it doesn’t chip easily, either.) In recent years, the brand’s Horse Power Nail Fertilizer — which promises to make nails grow more quickly and stay strong — has become a hit. Butter London’s chunky glitters are also a favorite.

Living Proof

What you know: Living Proof was founded in 2008 by MIT scientists, who claim they figured out how to finally — finally! — fight frizz. What you also know: Jennifer Aniston is an investor. What you might not know: Ms. Aniston is an investor because the products, which include flexible hair sprays, shine serums and straightening cream, truly work. And now, the company is tackling anti-aging. Read Cheryl’s story on Living Proof’s treatment for under-eye bags. 

Le Labo

Designer fragrances are so dominant that finding something “different” can be a frustrating task. Enter Le Labo, founded in 2006 by Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi, who were working at a major cosmetics group before breaking out on their own. The duo harvest ingredients in Grasse and then develops their fragrances in New York City. In fact, every time you buy a bottle of Le Labo perfume —whether you’re in the Venice Beach or Elizabeth Street outpost — it’s mixed right in front of you. The resulting scents have an authenticity about them with which many mass brands can't compete.


Founded by former Urban Decay exec Carisa Janes in 2004, Hourglass’s focus has always been on great formulas. From the Ambient Lighting palette, which is meant to make the skin glow, to the Veil Mineral primer, which evens skin tone and helps your makeup stay on longer, each product is designed with extreme precision. Which means customers are extremely loyal to their favorite products. 

Front page image: Victor Wong