After a few moments on a glitchy cell connection, that famously husky voice comes on the line. We exchange greetings, and I figure it’s best to get the awkward stuff out of the way first. “So,” I say, “on the internet, you see people say, ‘Oh, another celebrity skin-care line.’ What made you decide to take the step?”
I don’t mean it as a gotcha question, but as a genuine one. Because here’s the thing: creating a brand is hard. It’s one thing to license your image and show up for a launch party and collect a check; It’s another to spend years obsessing over the hundreds of details that go into creating visuals, voice, packaging, formulation, all of it. It would have been a much lighter lift for Johansson to continue being a brand ambassador on top of her acting career.
She knows that. People suggested licensing her name—many times, she says. “I guess it would have been easier,” she admits. “But I wanted to explore and do something on my own. I knew it would be difficult but rewarding. I would actually be able to learn in a new industry and create something that was authentic.”
And here’s a truth on authenticity: Scarlett Johansson doesn’t need to do a skin care line for fame or fortune or just something to do. She’s already the world’s highest-paid actress. She’s also a mother, and when you have children, you guard your time fiercely. If you were her, wouldn’t you be doing only what you wanted to do—the way you wanted to do it?
Which is exactly her plan. “After working with different brands for more than a decade, I felt like I didn’t want to represent someone else’s beauty ideal,” she says. In earlier beauty campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana and L’Oréal, Johansson is conventionally glamorous: voluminous hair, cat-eye liner, crimson lips, corsetry. She looks gorgeous, obviously—but for The Outset, Johansson chose a different approach.
The branding is minimalist, featuring Karl Blossfeldt-esque photographs of plants and models of different genders, races, and ages; refreshingly, a viewer can see their pores and other normal features of human skin. Johansson herself appears clean-faced, dressed simply but elegantly, with a confident gaze.
“I went down many different paths,” she says, “and I just kept coming back to skin.”
But why not makeup, hair, or fragrance? “I’ve had my own journey with skin,” she says, alluding to acne during her teenage years. “I’ve tried every peel, scrub, and prescription cream—all of that stuff,” she says. “It took me a while to understand that I was stripping all the good things away from my skin [while] trying to make my face ‘clean’ or make my acne go away. When I went back to the basics—cleanse, prime, moisturize—my skin calmed down.”
The idea for The Outset came from looking at her own bathroom counter, flooded with products. “There’s so much noise in the space, and I thought there could be an opportunity for reduction,” Johansson says. The result is a small collection of essentials: a cleanser, serum, moisturizer, night cream, and eye cream.
The brand’s “less is more” ethos translates to rigorous formulations that exclude 2,700 ingredients of questionable safety; It’s also fragrance-free, vegan, gluten-free, allergy-tested, Leaping Bunny certified, non-comedogenic, and free of nut allergens. Its hero ingredient, the Hyaluroset complex, is a plant-based alternative to hyaluronic acid. “A lot of the products I’d been using had hyaluronic acid, which was great for my skin, but it was like, ‘How can we make a botanical alternative to that?'”
Johansson favored plant-based formulas for their efficacy, but also to avoid the petrochemicals so common in skin care. “When you start to look at [traditional] formulas, it’s like, ‘Oh. I’m putting petroleum on my face.’ Once you know that, it’s hard to unknow it. I don’t want to have more of that out there.”
The conversation turns to sustainability. I admit to being a climate-freakout person (please join me!), and we talk about waste within the beauty industry. “The unpacking stuff is crazy,” she says, alluding to unboxing videos on social media. “As I’ve gotten older and had children, I’m more mindful of things like packaging.”
The Outset’s packaging is made with post-consumer recycled material, all of which is recyclable; the paper is made in wind-powered, carbon-neutral facilities. Refillable products are on their way, and the brand is a 1% For the Planet member. “Obviously, we know there’s always room for improvement, but we’re constantly evaluating the packaging and supply chain,” she says. “Keeping sustainability in mind is top priority.”
And then, our time is just about up. It’s always tricky, this whole interview of actors thing, because their job is to act. But during our brief phone call, it’s clear that Johansson is in this for the long haul—and that The Outset is personal for her. “I went down many different paths,” she says, “and I just kept coming back to skin.”
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