How Chronic Illness Inspired this Nontoxic Beauty Brand

Bright Body Founder Gabi Day holding product

Did you know that the average woman uses 12 different beauty products on her body each day? And did you know that beauty products aren’t tested for long-term safety? AND did you know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have a definition for “clean” or other cosmetics terms, and it’s also not required to test or preapprove cosmetics and their ingredients!? Eek, right!?

Because the beauty industry is so unregulated, companies are Greenwashing, which basically means they’re providing misleading information or a false impression that their products are more environmentally friendly or safer than other products. In a nutshell, they’re deceiving customers! More eek! 

And one more thing! Yes, it’s more eek. Tons of companies are using fear-based marketing tactics to convince customers that anything synthetic, or anything that includes an ingredient you can’t pronounce is bad. It sounds fair on the surface, but in reality, most of these claims are totally false and aren’t backed by science. Plus, there are plenty of “naturally occurring substances, which aren’t inherently safe and indeed can be toxic (all-natural arsenic, anyone?)” Some companies will take statistics out of context and falsely link ingredients to cancer or other health issues. These claims, once again, are not backed by science. There’s more, but we’re going to stop here. 

Thankfully, there are honest, transparent people in the beauty industry who really care about clean ingredients, sustainability, and great science. And one of those people is Gabriella “Gabi” Day, the founder of Bright Body. Bright Body is truly nontoxic beauty that works! Bright Body uses organic ingredients as much as possible, and all of their products are handcrafted in small batches. Bright Body products are also 100% vegan and cruelty-free.

Read on to learn about Gabi’s health journey which led her to start Bright Body, her biggest challenges, and her best advice! 

Ayurvedic facial oils from Bright Body

Erin Coles: Tell us about yourself, your background, and what you were doing prior to starting Bright Body?

Gabi Day: My background is pretty diverse – mostly I just love learning. I have a BS in Gerontology*, BA in Spanish, and a Master of Health Administration, along with two yoga teacher trainings and an Ayurveda health coach certification under my belt. 

Prior to Bright Body I was working in long-term care as an administrator in training. While I love the residents (and I still miss them), I felt that the organizational culture was broken. I was so stifled and miserable that my health issues exploded and I was totally disabled for a few years.

*Gerontology is the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. 

EC: Wow, and what inspired you to start Bright Body? 

GD: In a phrase: chronic illnesses. I live with neurological Lyme (which has been in remission 4 years now, woohoo!), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Positional Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. All three flared when I was miserable from my job, and I couldn’t do much other than sleep, eat, and get through the day. I suffered with severe nerve pain, debilitating fatigue, frequent migraines, brain fog, and more. But no matter how badly I felt, I couldn’t deal with being intellectually dormant. Learning is in my blood – two of my grandparents were fluent in 4 languages, the other two were graduate educated physicists – and I felt like I needed a “project” to keep my mind sharp and focused on something positive.

Ever the problem-solver, I decided my project would be a lifestyle overhaul to try to help my immune system get through intense treatments and get back to myself. I was already doing well with diet and exercise (though I couldn’t move much when I was sick), and I thought the next step would be to look at the products I was using on my body. Our skin is, after all, the largest organ.

I started by researching the products I was using. When I realized they weren’t the best, I went on a search for a full-service, accessibly-priced brand that only used the Environmental Working Group’s safest rated ingredients. When I realized that brand did not exist, I decided that I would create it myself.

I started by teaching myself cosmetic chemistry when I was spending most of my days in bed. I looked at some “clean” beauty resources but I also did my own independent research in scientific literature. I took lots of notes. And as I got stronger I started experimenting in the kitchen to put my newfound knowledge to practical use.

At first I thought I’d make products just for myself, but after several months I realized that this could be a business. The rest is history.

Bright Body Founder Gabi Day with Product in Woods

EC: That’s such an incredible story! So you learned cosmetic chemistry (amazing)! Now how do you go about creating the formula for each product? What is that process like?

GD: I always start with the benefits in mind. I might think first of a product idea but I always focus on getting grounded in the “why” – what does this product do for the user and how is it different from other solutions out there?

From there I brainstorm and research a list of ingredients that would suit that benefit profile, and I do some math to determine a starting point for the concentrations of each ingredient. Once I have an initial formula planned, I whip it up! I am always the first tester, then my husband, and then our customers. I recently started a Research & Development Squad for our biggest fans and they’re the first to get their hands on a new formula. I get feedback from everyone who tests, refine the formula, and get feedback again. Rinse and repeat until I’m happy with the final product.

My absolute favorite part of Bright Body is formulating new products. It’s equal parts art and science and it’s when I can really get “in the flow.”

EC: As a chronic illness warrior myself, I totally understand the preference to use products made with safer ingredients. For those not familiar with clean beauty products, can you share a little more about the benefits of using clean products?

GD: People love to ask me if using Bright Body products “cured” me of all my health problems. No, of course not! I needed IV medications, a whole bunch of oral drugs and supplements, and custom blended herbs to accomplish that. But I did create Bright Body to give my immune system as much of a break as possible, and that is one of the main benefits of using clean products.

The European Union banned the use of 1328 chemicals in personal care products that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, endocrinological/reproductive harm, and birth defects. The US banned just 11 chemicals. Many of the chemicals banned in the EU are called “forever chemicals,” meaning they do not break down in the body and they actually accumulate over time.

While I’m not into fear mongering, those figures show you just how unregulated this industry is in the states. That leaves it up to the consumer to discern what products and ingredients they are willing to use, and which they’d rather avoid. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation from both sides – the fear mongering side and the conventional beauty lobbying side – that make it nearly impossible to discern risk unless you really dive into the scientific literature and make some judgment calls when there’s not a lot of data.

We all have different thresholds for risk tolerance in life in general and with our beauty products, but I personally use and believe in clean beauty so that I can reduce my exposure to compounds that are harming my body or making my immune system work any harder than it has to. I like to save the real “juice” of my immune system for keeping my chronic issues in check.

Clean beauty, in general, is going to have a lot more “active” ingredients, because most of the fillers used in conventional beauty are harmful. Many clean beauty products are great for people who tend to react to other beauty products – drying alcohols and synthetic fragrance are two of the biggest allergens and irritants – and at least in Bright Body products you won’t find those types of ingredients.

All in all, clean beauty is gentler on the body and the immune system, and as a spoonie that’s really important to me.

Bright Body Flaxseed and Oat Protein Curly Hair Gel

EC: I totally agree with you there! Ok – I love how you say that you’re “equal parts earthy-crunchy and scientist.” Tell us a little more about how your formulations are influenced by these two seemingly contradictory things.

GD: Holding the tension of paradox is my middle name. It used to bother me that I don’t neatly “fit” into any one box as a business owner and even as a person, but since hitting 30 last year I’ve become much more comfortable inhabiting two perceived “opposites” in every part of my life.

The “earthy-crunchy” part comes from my background in yoga, Ayurveda, and herbalism. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of lifestyle changes and herbs. And I also know that those, alone, are often not enough for people like me (with chronic illnesses) to achieve full health and wellness. I also acknowledge that access to the “earthy crunchy” stuff is often out-of-reach to marginalized populations.

The “scientist” part comes from my DNA, my personality, and my genuine nerd love of science. My maternal grandparents were physicists and both my parents have degrees in science. While I didn’t study science in college or grad school, my brain operates on the scientific method whether I like it or not. If I had a nickel for everytime I’ve asked “why” out loud or in my head, I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life. And I know from firsthand experience the tremendous power of traditional “Western” medicine. 

Being “equal parts earthy-crunchy and scientist” means that I incorporate ancient Ayurvedic herbalism and modern cosmetic chemistry into my formulations. It means that I ask “why” at least 3 times about every single ingredient we choose to use, or not use. It means that I believe in the power of ancient Ayurvedic wisdom AND modern science. And all this comes from my experience living as someone with chronic illness and going through 3 severe flares in the last 13 years of my life – it’s always a mix of both the “earthy-crunchy” and the “scientist” healing modalities that have gotten me back on my feet and kept me well. I bring the same approach to how I formulate. 

Bright Body Illuminating Tonic

EC: I’m glad you’re embracing both sides! It’s so powerful that you can deeply connect to both. So where does the name Bright Body come from?

GD: Most people never ask this so thank you! It’s an homage to being equal parts earthy-crunchy and scientist. Bright means intelligent and sharp, but also it refers to our inner light – our spirit and soul. Body of course refers to the fact that these are beauty products we put on our body. I wanted the name to illustrate the idea that these products are intelligent at an intellectual level with cosmetic chemistry and also are intelligent at a more subtle level with herbalism.

EC: So clever! And where is Bright Body made?

GD: In my shop in Richmond, VA.

EC: One major focus for you is sustainability. Tell us a little more about how Bright Body is sustainable!

GD: I wasn’t always so invested in sustainability, simply because I just didn’t know much about it! Since moving to Richmond, VA almost 9 years ago, the majority of my friends are very eco-conscious and aim toward low and zero-waste lives. They’ve rubbed off on me and my business for the better!

According to Euromonitor, in 2018 the US beauty industry produced 7.9 billion units of plastic packaging, the majority of which will end up in landfills. Even though plastic might be labeled “recyclable,” according to the EPA, only 8.7% of plastic units of any kind are actually recycled. When I learned that, I decided that I needed to make changes to my personal and business routines.

I started Bright Body using plastic packaging, but I switched to aluminum, plastic, and kraft cardboard after a year of being in business. We also have a refill program where our customers can return their empty containers and we will sanitize and reuse them.

I rest easy knowing that, even if someone doesn’t return their empties, aluminum and glass are both highly recyclable materials. Nearly 75% of aluminum ever produced is still in use today because aluminum is infinitely recyclable and highly durable. Glass can also be infinitely recycled without a loss in quality. 

EC: I love how you use your voice on social media to educate your customers – not only about your own products, but about cosmetic chemistry, sustainability, skincare and makeup tips, and so much more. 

In what other ways are you educating your customers? What other strategies and platforms are you using?

GD: Education is everything for Bright Body! There is so much thought and research that goes into every ingredient and every formula, and our customers are also people that love to know the “why.”

You’ll find education in everything we do, but the majority of our educational content is on social media, YouTube, and in our blog. In 2021 I’ve decided to use video more frequently as an educational tool so I’m excited to leverage IG and FB live, IGTV, and YouTube more.

Bright Body products in a row with greenery

EC: Your voice and your personality come through so strong on your social media, and I LOVE it! Just to give readers an example of what I mean, here are a few lines from your posts:

“The best trio since Destiny’s Child: our Ayurvedic Facial Oils.”

“You know that meme that says ‘funny how March was last month and it’s also next month?’ Yeah. I feel that deeply.”

“Meet my first born product-child and what started it all with Bright Body: our Flaxseed & Oat Protein Curly Hair Gel.”

I’d love to hear more about why you infuse your own personality in your posts! Do you have any advice for founders who are afraid to share their own, unique voice?

GD: A sense of humor is a vital part of how I get through life, especially with chronic illness. And that sense of humor has also become an important part of Bright Body.

I remember doing a branding exercise with my graphic designers at the very beginning of the business, and I kept reiterating how science, education, and a sense of humor were all super important to the brand. And 2017 Gabi was right!

The main reason I use my own personality into my posts is because, honestly, I can’t help it. Being square just isn’t how I am in real life and I like to write conversationally. I find that I’m better able to communicate what the brand is all about when I speak from my own personality.

As an Aries Enneagram 8, my instinctive advice to people scared of sharing their own voice is, “tell the haters to F off and just be yourself.” But I realize for most people that’s an unnaturally tall and aggressive order. So what I’ll say is this: showing up in the world and in your business as your true self is only going to attract the right customers and repel the wrong customers – pretty sure that’s what we all want as business owners, right?!

EC: Such great advice! What has your customer feedback been like? Give us an example of what your customers are saying!

GD: Oh gosh. There’s a lot – I think I’m up to 280+ reviews on the site! I’ll give you a tidbit from each of our product categories: skin, hair, and body.

The Illuminating Tonic (skin care):

“This is one of my absolute must-have skincare items. I have had problematic skin since puberty: acne, cystic acne, scarring and redness from the same. I struggled for the rest of my adult life with it using every topical treatment with little result and more irritation. I was convinced that any exfoliating acid was too harsh for my face until the Illuminating Tonic. I have been using it for about 6 months now and the changes have been amazing! My scars are healing – deep scars that I thought would require expensive treatments to correct and the fine lines are smoothing.”

Maggie W.

Flawless Curls Styling Set (hair care):

“I am IN LOVE with the flaxseed curly hair gel and the moisture locking curl spray.  I have very strict criteria for what I use – it must not have synthetic fragrance and be as natural as possible, must work well for curly hair, and there are several ingredients I avoid due to sensitive skin and tendency to breakouts.  These products are SO GREAT and I absolutely love how my hair looks.”

Katie F.

Body Wash (body care):

“I honestly think that Gabi has nailed it with this shower gel formula. I have never found and used something quite like it. It does not suds — so don’t be surprised — rather, it goes over your skin like a gel emulsion and carries with it all the dirt and grime, leaving your skin feeling fresh and not stripped of moisture. I love this product and always carry a travel or full size version with me when I travel; I wouldn’t use what’s in even the highest end hotels. So glad I have found Bright Body’s line of awesome products, and particularly this holy grail!”

Helena A.

EC: Your customers love you! Where do you sell Bright Body? What is your plan of where to sell moving forward?

GD: I sell online and at select retailers across the USA. I’m hoping to really blow up e-commerce and also expand into more bulk and refill retail locations. 

Bright Body Vata Oil in greenery

EC: What has been your biggest challenge in building your business thus far?

GD: Wearing all the hats, all the time. I am naturally a hyper-organized and systems-focused person, so that plays to my advantage when it comes time to switch gears, but it is a lot to be everything to your business all at once. I am looking forward to the day when I can take fulfillment and production off my plate so I can focus on new product development and marketing strategy. At the end of 2020 I started setting up some really robust sales systems, and 2021 is all about refining and optimizing them. Can’t wait to free up brain space and actually time in my day by hiring help.

EC: What is the best piece of business advice you ever received? 

GD: Systems are everything. If you are doing the same thing more than once, you have to ask yourself how it can be systematized. It’s also important to get curious about how to systematize big picture to-dos like effective, revenue-generating marketing and advertising. Applying systems-level thinking is an absolute necessity for sustainable business growth without getting bogged down in low-impact busy work.

EC: And what advice would you offer to a fellow entrepreneur hoping to break into the clean beauty space? 


GD: Get crystal clear on your “why” and what sets you apart. It’s a crowded space and if you can’t clearly and succinctly explain what makes your line different, you will struggle. From there, get curious about the science! Don’t be afraid to make a first draft product that sucks – there’s always something to learn at each step of the process. Treat every phase of your business as a learning process – don’t expect to get everything perfect the first go around. Fail first, fast, then learn, adapt, and move forward.

EC: When you’re not working on Bright Body what are you doing?

GD: I love listening to music and I’ve been on a reggaeton kick for a few years now (Bad Bunny is my boyfriend). I practice yoga almost daily, and have been enjoying walks since being in isolation for the past year of COVID as an immunocompromised person. I love spending time with my husband and our two dogs, and seeing friends and family (when it’s safe). I love cooking and baking and I’ve also been known to go on home organization sprees.

EC: How do you balance or integrate all the facets of your life – all while making time for personal relationships and self-care?

GD: The simple, unsexy, but true answer is: systems! Can you tell I love systems? I have a system for how I create my schedule, what I do (and don’t do) on a daily basis, when I start my day, when I stop working, and how I take care of myself. Creating and following that structure allows me to have space for things other than business, though I will admit I genuinely love my work and sometimes it’s hard for me to put my work away because it’s so fulfilling.

Self-care stuff is always non-negotiable: I always get good sleep, eat well, and incorporate movement and exercise into my day. I consider my friendships and family relationships part of self-care, because everyone needs a support system. 

EC: What’s next for Bright Body?

GD: I’ve been super motivated to learn from business coaches to stay focused on business growth. I completed a really great e-commerce training in Q4 2020 and I’m currently in another training all about an engineering approach to marketing, which is basically my love language. I’m excited to leverage all these new learnings to really blow up e-commerce and find more values-aligned stockists.

Bright Body Founder Gabi Day in green dress in woods holding product

EC: Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

GD: Bright Body is a Latina-owned brand! My dad is a Brazilian immigrant – he and my grandparents came after the 1964 fascist military coup in Brazil. My grandfather was accused of being a communist and was captured and tortured in the jungle for 3 days. After my family managed to get him out, they decided it was time to leave the country, and they came to the US after realizing that French immigration laws wouldn’t have allowed them to seek asylum there (my grandparents were fluent in Portuguese, French, Spanish, and English). My mom is American with Ashkenazi Jewish and Irish heritage.

I say all this about my Latina side and about my grandfather because you’ll notice that I don’t shy away from political content on my page. Bright Body is unapologetically progressive-owned. Despite experiences with some anti-science, anti-choice, and anti-BLM trolls, I will continue to speak up for what is right. Every time I have to deal with another troll I think of my grandfather – if he was unafraid to be a vocal progressive under a fascist government, for goodness sake I can be unafraid to speak truth to power on social media.

As my branding team said to me early on, “if you don’t take a stand on important issues, people will assume what you think one way or the other and then you are not in control of your brand anymore.” Another piece of advice I repeat to myself whenever the trolls come knocking is: “Don’t be afraid to polarize the market.” Not everyone is my customer. The more clearly I can communicate what Bright Body is and what it’s about, the more I will attract the right people and repel the wrong ones. Nothing wrong with that.

We donate 2% of net profits to values-aligned nonprofits. Full transparency: it’s been a hot minute since we hit net profits (thanks to startup costs, the cost of opening a brick and mortar 5 months before COVID, and COVID itself), so that’s been on hiatus for a while but it’s coming back as soon as it can!!!

Seriously, could Gabi’s story be any more amazing? From her chronic illness journey, to learning cosmetic chemistry, to building her business on a strong foundation of honesty and transparency – this founder is a total rockstar! Head over to www.mybrightbody.com to try Gabi’s products for yourself, and follow @mybrightbody on Instagram for clean beauty education, product launches, and more!

Erin Coles
Erin Coles
Erin Coles is the CEO of Pro Arts Management & Consulting LLC and co-founder and manager of NYC-based wedding band collective, The Metropolitan Players. She is super passionate about supporting Female Founders and takes as many opportunities as possible to help support women in their entrepreneurial journeys - like working with WAWO! She loves live music, soft vanilla ice cream (vegan) with rainbow sprinkles, beautiful sunsets, and her family!
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