After being paralyzed in a diving accident in his early 20s, Clark's passion for safe ingredients and effective skin care was ignited.

Francesco Clark
Credit: Daphne Youree for The Select

When did skin care become important to you?

I got into a pool-diving accident that severed my spinal cord. The nerve damage caused by my injury led to a condition where my skin was no longer able to sweat. I looked 10 years older. My skin was gray, really dry in some parts, really oily in others. It had become so sensitive that the ingredients in common skin-care products would make me break out in hives. I couldn’t look in the mirror for three years because all I would see was the wheelchair. The day that Christopher Reeve passed away, I was at my lowest point—and I realized this was not me. I needed to do something to feel like myself again.

Is that what prompted you to create Clark’s Botanicals?

Yes. Before my injury, I was working in magazines, which is where I met Glenda Bailey [former editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar]. A few years after my accident, Glenda reached out, wanting to see me and catch up, so my sister, Charlotte, drove me over to meet with her. Glenda saw me and said, “You look the same— you’re just sitting down.” Before I could answer, Charlotte jumped in and said, “He’s not just sitting around doing nothing, he’s making this [skin-care line] with our father.” Then she pulled out a bag of ugly jars of the future Smoothing Marine Cream and left them with Glenda. I was mortified, but we got a phone call a couple weeks later saying [Harper’s Bazaar] wanted to shoot it. It wasn’t sold anywhere, and we didn’t have a manufacturer. Glenda gave us five months to make it into a real company.

Credit: courtesy

What does “clean beauty” mean to you?

The way I grew up informed how I understand “clean.” My father is a homeopathic medical doctor. In our house, we prioritized keeping our bodies healthy in the most natural way possible. Similarly, that’s how I see clean beauty: It’s using botanical ingredients and pairing them with science and technology to create something that’s both effective and good for you.

Because the clean-beauty industry is unregulated, what’s the standard that you use for Clark’s Botanicals?

We look to standards set by major beauty retailers like Credo, Detox Market, and Sephora to navigate our brand. We don’t use parabens, phthalates, sulfates, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, triclosan/triclocarban, silicones, petrolatum, plastic beads, or artificial colors. We don’t test on animals. We don’t want to get too caught up with advertising what our products don’t have—we keep our focus on what works!

What is Clark’s Botanicals doing to reduce its environmental footprint?

Earlier this year, we repackaged the entire line. We’re using glass instead of acrylic jars, and we’re also using airless pumps instead of traditional pumps, which eliminates the need for a second inner jar and keeps the product fresher.

Clean beauty is often projected as a trend—do you find that encouraging or frustrating?

From my point of view, clean beauty isn’t a trend—it’s just the way we’re all going to be living. Using ingredients that are good for your skin—and avoiding those that aren’t—will always persevere.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter