Creating Transparency in Cosmetics — Corrinne Lefebvre

River Organics founder Corinne Lefebvre’s approach to creating sustainable beauty products evolved during the years she lived abroad. Corinne grew up in Canada, having lived in both Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A teenager in the 90s, her world was awakening to environmental issues like acid rain and global warming. She even remembers laws put in place when she was 20 that fined homeowners who didn’t recycle paper properly. This early environmental consciousness planted the seeds from which Corinne grew her eco-friendly, vegan beauty brand, River Organics. The website’s mission reads: “We strive to be your go-to zero-waste makeup brand with our thoughtful paper-based packaging that is fully compostable.”

In the early 2000s, Corinne and her husband moved to the south of France, where people were accustomed to buying local. Corinne didn’t have all of the creams and beauty products she was used to, so had to rely on natural oils that she could purchase locally for her own beauty needs — like almond, plum, and apricot oil — and she started to experiment. “I made this lip balm recipe by accident — tweaking a few ingredients to replace ones that I couldn’t get. And I fell in love with this idea that I could have my own little company and provide these natural products,” Corinne said.

After living in France, Corinne moved to Qatar and developed an appreciation for regional scents, such as cardamom, that she was able to explore while there. Her preference also shifted from cream-based products (often made with fillers and preservatives), toward simpler, oil-based products. When she left Qatar to live in Wilmington, N.C., she had a solid business idea in mind. Corinne decided it was the perfect time to take the plunge and build River Organics. Sourcing organic and cruelty-free ingredients from two trusted suppliers, Corinne carefully produces River Organics beauty products by hand in her home studio in Wilmington and packs them into eco-friendly containers. Her products are sold via e-commerce as well as in retailers around the United States.

Living by her motto of making progress little by little, Corinne channeled her experiences, from experimenting with cosmetic formulas in France, into her new business in the states. The first product she developed was a lip balm. She sold it at local farmers markets and saw interest in her products right off the bat. Corinne keeps ingredient lists simple and short with products that most people are familiar with, such as sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter. Every ingredient is clearly listed on the River Organics website, so customers know what goes in each product. Corinne chooses stables ingredients that have a naturally long shelf life, and the only preservative Corinne uses is vitamin E, which is also inherently good for your skin.

According to the Environmental Working Group, cosmetics have the least amount of government oversight, and while many of the ingredients commonly found in them are safe, others have been found to cause health problems, including disrupted hormones and even cancer. On a daily basis, American women use “an average of 12 personal care products that contain 168 chemicals.” While the skin is a barrier, it can also act as a sponge and absorb some potentially harmful ingredients directly into the bloodstream.1

Corrinne’s ability to be transparent about the simple ingredients that go into her cosmetics is a value driver for River Organics. Now more than ever, consumers are demanding transparency from the businesses they patronize.2 Fortunately, small businesses like this one have an advantage in that they can be nimble and react quickly to their customer’s desires. They are able to introduce new materials in their supply chains with relative ease. For instance, Corinne acted on her sustainability commitment and transitioned to biodegradable packaging in just one year.

River Organic’s lip balm was sold in plastic tubes until 2017, when Corinne came across an advertisement of lip balm in a paper tube. “It was like tunnel vision, I am going to do whatever it takes to do that [at River Organics], as small as I am,” she said. Since then, River Organics has used paper-based packaging with labels made from sugarcane and text printed using soy ink, which means the entire package is compostable. Soy ink is cost-effective yet more sustainable because it requires less product to get the job done, and when recycled it is easier to remove than petroleum-based inks.3

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), 27 million tons of plastic were thrown into landfills in 2018, representing 18.5% of municipal solid waste in this country.4 Plastics are so prevalent that they have made their way into our waterways and oceans. They turn into microplastics, small plastic particles eaten by a wide range of fish and other aquatic organisms. This can expose fish to harmful chemicals found in plastics. The problem doesn’t stop there; a 2022 study published in Environment International found that microplastics are also entering the human body.5

Businesses like Corinne’s play a key role in steering the proverbial ship away from a culture of single-use plastic and instead pointing it toward a culture of “reuse and recycle”, making compostable packaging the norm. If Corinne had not made the shift, she estimates that over 65,000 lip balm, blush, and highlighter packages would have eventually ended up in a landfill. River Organics also reduces waste from items that are imperfectly packaged and would otherwise be thrown away. Instead, she markets these products as “imperfect” and sells them at a discount.

Since day one, being involved in every facet of the business has been important to Corinne. She does product photography, manages the backend of her e-commerce website, develops formulas for the products, and even bikes the product to the post office to save on carbon emissions. Corinne’s husband, Fabien Scorza is a natural products chemist who worked in the Chanel skincare laboratories when the couple lived in France — he collaborates with her on formulas and provides River Organics with guidance on industry norms. Corinne now believes the business has developed enough for her to promote her company and use her voice for advocacy. “I’ve always been a little bit shy and behind the scenes … I want to bring my activism further,” she said. “I’m very interested in carbon capture; I’m interested in the coral reefs that we work with, and ocean sustainability here in Wilmington [is] one of the [causes] that we support. I’m looking to expand our partnerships and impact as we expand our product range.”

Corinne is now spending time envisioning the future of River Organics. She is at the point in her business where she has more time on her hands and could work a little less — maybe take more vacations — a true luxury for a small business owner! However, Corinne is ready for new challenges because she knows that’s what keeps her happy. “I need a challenge. We all need a challenge. No matter if we say we just want a life of leisure — it’s not true.” In addition to considering the possibility of refills for customers, she is also focused on rebranding, advocacy, working with a manufacturer and has a few other business ideas.

Scaling up and working with a manufacturer will not only open up Corinne’s schedule to make time for advocacy, but it’ll also give her the capacity to add certifications to her products. River Organics is cruelty-free certified, but there are other certifications that could help better define her brand’s commitment to sustainability. Meanwhile, she is finishing up a rebranding project, astutely choosing to have just one design for each product range, which means that labeling will be more efficient, affordable and less wasteful than if she had a different design for each product line.

Corinne has a mentality of continuous improvement for both her products and ingredients. She is committed to using the best ingredients and developing new formulations. “For example, if [any] of the oils are not readily available, we need to put our formulations under the microscope and discuss how we can find alternatives,” she said. “There’s just a lot of self-reflection, in terms of how we can do better.” This attitude, coupled with Corinne’s high standards, has allowed to her to build a business featuring sustainable products that are good for the people who use them as well as for the planet.


  1.  (2004, Dec 15) Exposures Add Up — Survey Results. Environmental Working Group,
  2. Kavakli, B. (2021, May 4) Forbes. Transparency is no longer an option; It’s a must.
  3. Soy Ink: Five Ways it’s Better for the Environment. CleanTechnica.
  4. Plastics: Material Specific Data. Environmental Protection Agency.
  5. Leslie, H. et al. (2022, May). Environment International Vol 163.

Conversations with Abby Massey. Written by Abby Massey. Edited by Maya Quarker & Jess Lo.

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