In today’s beauty industry, finding a brand that truly caters to the unique needs of Latinas is scarce. That’s where Ann Murray-Dunning, the founder of Vamigas, steps in as a disrupter. As a Latina beauty entrepreneur, she and her partner Christina Kelmon are making waves by providing clean, natural solutions for specific skin issues that affect Latinas. Vamigas is a Latina-owned clean skincare brand that just launched at Target, and its products are now available in nearly 600 stores nationwide.
The brand had a great start, going viral with the hashtag #latinaTikTok, quickly gaining popularity among Latina TikTok users and amassing over one million views. Their success can be attributed to their unique vision of reclaiming the naturally derived, organic, and green beauty ingredients from their ancestral lands. Think Yerba Mate, Maracuja, Chilean Rosehip Babassu, Pataua, Prickly Pear, and Chia from Chile, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and more, with no added fragrances. What sets Vamigas apart is its focus on solving hyperpigmentation, a common problem many Latinas face; this makes them a brand that genuinely cares about the needs of its customers.
HOLA! USA had the opportunity to ask Ann Murray-Dunning some questions and delve into her journey as a beauty entrepreneur and her thoughts about the importance of clean beauty products for the Hispanic women.
Christina and I met as two of the very few Latinas working in Silicon Valley as we were investing in startups led by Black and Latina founders on a network called Pipeline Angels (we also formed our own angel syndicate with co-founder Lisha Belle from PayPal called BLX).
After experiencing fertility issues and going IVF I made the switch to clean beauty products, since I read everything I could get my hands on around IVF and found that some ingredients in personal care products actually get in the way of the procedure. In fact, when you go through IVF they tell you not to wear fragrance or deodorant during the surgery.
Christina had found that Latinas face more of these risks. So we felt the ancestral push to create a brand like this, that was clean beauty for Latinas, because there were zero clean beauty brands targeting Latinas at mass retail - and clean beauty products are generally more expensive. We want them to be more accessible to our community. So that’s how Vamigas was born.
HOLA!: Why is clean beauty so essential in general and for Latinas in particular?
Ann: Get ready for an eye-opening ride. Scientific research and the FDA link certain hormone-disrupting ingredients used in personal care products to things like cancer, fertility issues, diabetes, neurological disorders, allergies, and more. Hormone disrupting chemicals are certain ingredients that may cause things like cancer or diabetes with long term use. We say may cause, because the research that’s done is correlational in nature, and causation is always very hard to prove.
The latest issue is that in 2022 the FDA found worrisome levels of mercury in skin lightening creams, and discovered that some hair straightening products released formaldehyde, a hazardous material that’s associated with neurological effects that is a classified carcinogen.
“Guess who uses more skin lightening creams for hyperpigmentation (we know them as manchas)? Latinas.”
Not only that but us Latinas have been found to have more of these hormone-disruptors in our bodies. Many studies have made this connection but two are the most eye-opening: First, a UCSF research study found that the Latina participants in the study had higher rates of hormone disrupting chemicals in their system when tested during pregnancy.
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The Hermosa study, at Berkeley, found higher rates of these chemicals in teenaged Latinas, but also found that levels dropped when the girls stopped using products with phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. That drop is a huge red flag. But again, the connection isn’t super clear and so not much information is out there yet.
“The most preventative thing you could do right now is to start cutting out products that have these chemicals, being careful with the products you buy, and swap some of these products for natural, easy versions that you can even make in your own kitchen, using ingredients you already have - and that señoras have been making for centuries.”
But if you don’t have time for that (few people do!), what’s easier is to make sure you’re always reading the ingredients in your skincare and haircare and body care, and making sure you’re not seeing any red flags in the list.
Yes, so there are lists of ingredients that have been linked to some type of risk via science research. These are ingredients that have been on multiple “Dirty Lists” from pioneering clean brands like Whole Foods, Credo, and Thrive Market, the American Cancer Society, and consumer safety organizations like the Environmental Working Group. You can also get a list of potentially problem ingredients from the FDA’s website.
Some include parabens, phthalates, chemical sunscreen, formaldehyde, Silicones and more. That’s a lot of work, so we actually have curated a list of 14 ingredients that we will always avoid in our products, we called our list the Cochinos 14, which literally means the filthy 14.
HOLA!: Your products use naturally derived, organic, green beauty ingredients. Tell us more...
Ann: Our philosophy is that the closer to nature the ingredient (or “green”) the less likely to have been linked by research to risky outcomes. This is a touchy subject, though, because sometimes even natural ingredients may cause allergic reactions, so “natural” is not always best, but it’s usually a good bet.
Also, we want to preface this by saying that we are not in any way against chemicals. We love science and medicine, and chemicals have helped usher us into the modern world. Chemicals have gotten a bad rap.
“But some beauty ingredients have been linked to health problems and that should be concerning to anyone using them.”
HOLA!: Could you recommend the best natural ingredients for the most common issues or skin types?
Ann: Here are our recommendations for natural ingredients and skin types:
- Oily skin: Rosehip, rose petal, avocado oil, vitamin E, jojoba
- Sensitive skin: Lavender, shea butter, rosehip, argan, cactus, pomegranate, chamomile, calendula
- Dry skin: Olive leaf, lavender, shea butter, maqui, acai, aloe, babassu, chia, rosehip
- Aging skin: Rosehip, maqui, acai, chia
I am originally from Viña del Mar, Chile, where our Rosehip comes from (our grandmothers may have known it as Rosa Mosqueta). Our Rosa Mosqueta comes from the Bio Bio region of Chile, via families who are keeping the local tradition alive of harvesting rosehips from wild rose bushes.
They’re not farmed, they’re harvested wild in the foothills of the Andes region. The oil is carefully extracted from rosehips in Chile and then we bring the oil back to to the U.S. The fruit is macerated and the resulting oil is what becomes the rich, vitamin packed Rosa Mosqueta.
Our other botanicals are sourced all over Latin America, from countries like Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, and more.
Thank you! It feels surreal. Target was our biggest goal when we started talking about retailers - but I mean big as in maybe it can happen in a few years. But it happened so quickly - just one year after launching to the market - largely thanks to their incredible program that we graduated from Target Takeoff, where we were essentially taught the inner workings of Target.
And maybe Tik Tok, which gave us a really wonderful, supportive community, where we have millions of views and 40,000 friends. And honestly, it still gives me chills thinking about it because it’s just such a good match for our community. We know our customers really well - they’re basically like us, we have all become a big community of online amigas - and they all shop there. It’s a big part of our week, going to Target. So Target is a big part of our lives. It could not have been a better match.