Everything You Need To Know About Clean Beauty

7 min read

Basic Instinct, photographed by Anthony Arquier, MOJEH Issue 38

The beautysphere can often be a confusing and misleading place. As consumers we are regularly overwhelmed with the newest labels, buzzwords and miracle products. We’re also no strangers to ‘green-washing’ where terms such as green beauty, eco beauty, natural beauty and organic beauty are slapped onto products on a daily basis, which in a largely unregulated beauty industry, is often nothing more than an empty marketing ploy. The latest skincare term to emerge  is clean beauty and what makes it different is that it’s driven by a desire for clarity and to know and understand what ingredients go into beauty and skincare products and whether or not we can trust them.

Although it’s currently not a regulated classification, clean beauty means slightly different things to different people, however the general consensus remains very much the same. “For me clean beauty means a product or range that is carefully considered and where each and every ingredient is chosen because it is effective but also safe, has no long-term detrimental issues and that to some degree it has a clean carbon footprint,” explains Newby Hands, Net-a-Porter’s beauty director. Products don’t necessarily have to be completely organic or natural to fall within the clean category, they can also be man-made, as long as they are free of toxins or ingredients  linked to harmful health effects. “Clean beauty means a product free from chemicals,” says Megan Larsen, founder of Sodashi, “There should be nothing harsh in the product and it should nourish and nurture the skin as well as enhance well being.” At Goop, the meaning of clean beauty is a little more rigid and defined on the platform’s site as, “a non-toxic product that is made without a long, ever-evolving list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, to cancer, to plain-old skin irritation.” The key offenders when it comes to ingredients include parabens, synthetic colours, pthalates and chemicals in sunscreens such as avobenzone and oxybenzone which are known hormone and endocrine disrupters, as well as suspected and confirmed carcinogens like formaldehyde releasers and preservatives, a lot of which are completely unnecessary but are included to extend the shelf life of products as far as eight years. Pthalates and parabens in particular have been identified as endocrine disruptors linked to increased risk of breast cancer. A recent study by the University of California, demonstrated that a short break from certain shampoos and products made with chemical ingredients can result in a significant drop in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the body.Unlike the food industry, the skincare and beauty industry is presently largely unregulated, for example in the United States only 30 substances are banned from being included in personal care products, in Europe that number borders on 1500.

When it comes to our health and diet, we have an intense fixation on what we put into our bodies and the overall effects the consumption of particular ingredients have on it, so it seems only natural that we should be thinking about the effects of what we put on our skin as well. “It is so important to choose what what you put on your skin, it’s our largest organ and it absorbs the products that you apply on it,” reasons Angela Turovskaya a cosmetologist and clean beauty entrepreneur based in Dubai. “The more educated people become about toxins, the more they care.” Hands shares a similar outlook, “Clean beauty is important in many ways, it is a movement driven by the consumer, women want to investigate ingredients, so companies now have to produce great products that are as clean, safe and effective as they can be. It’s causing beauty companies to get on board and preventing them from using ingredients or production methods that could be less safe or detrimental in the long-term.”

There’s a growing number of companies and brands across the globe that are flying the flag for clean beauty which include Goop, Credo, Follain, UK-based Clean Beauty Co, Tata Harper, May Lindstrom, Rahua, Kahina Giving Beauty, Sodashi and African Botanics. Here in the UAE, there are also a number of business and brands pioneering the regional clean beauty scene. “After working in the beauty industry as a cosmetologist for more than 10 years, I reached the point where I became very educated on cosmetic products, ingredients and their impact on the human body, in particular on the female body,” says Angela Turovskaya. “There are many ingredients, which impact on women’s hormonal system, and due to the content of toxins they make the skin age faster. At that time, I had my twin girls, felt a bit tired and started looking for quality products for my skin. I was overwhelmed by all the amazing brands and products that existed in the market and paid careful attention to each product they produced, used amazing natural and organic ingredients of high quality. Most of these brands were quite popular in their respective regions in Europe, North America and Australia, but they were not available in the UAE yet. This is when I set up a distribution company Wellness United Inc in order to supply the local market with such amazing products. A year and a half later, I launched Balmessence.” Balmessence is an online store that brings clean and ethical beauty products as well as niche perfumery to the region. Stocking a large range of international clean beauty brands such as Neal’s Yard Remedies, Shiffa and the Organic Pharmacy, Balmessence delivers orders within the UAE within 24-48 hours and will soon expand their delivery network across the Middle East.

For Leena Al Abbas, clean beauty isn’t just about over the counter, at home products. The former marketing and corporate communications director launched The Organic Glow Beauty Lounge after getting severe chemical reactions from the treatments and products used in salons. “There weren’t any salons in the UAE that offered natural and toxin-free treatments with quality organic products,” she confides. “Our skin is the largest organ in our body, so what you put on your body should be just as important as what your body ingests. The beauty industry is not as regulated, as the food industry, in terms of chemicals used in products, so avoiding products containing toxic or harsh chemicals, is the most important shift any woman can make to embrace a cleaner beauty routine. As women, we’re always so obsessed with big designer brands and often fail to realise that these brands contain the most toxic chemicals, such as lead in lipsticks and formaldehyde in nail polishes. Women really need to start reading the ingredients on all beauty products they purchase and learn which the most dangerous chemicals are. There are plenty of choices nowadays and an abundance of information available online to help anyone adopting a less toxic lifestyle.” E-commerce platforms such as Credo and Follain aim to educate as well as well as sell products, often posting articles and news stories pertaining to health concerns and unhealthy substances while Goop even post articles that show readers which clean products can be swapped in to replace chemical ones in their beauty routines.

As consumers become more aware and educated on what is going into their products, perceptions are changing and clean beauty products are no longer limited to the natural aisle of supermarkets or the shelves or organic stores, beauty giant Sephora now even offers a ‘Naturals’ landing page on its website.  “A few years ago, it was a challenge for clean brands to grow and enter new markets and the UAE was one of them. This was simply because consumers here were not educated on toxic ingredients in cosmetic products, or on the huge benefits that natural ingredients hold for our skin,” claims Turovskaya. “Marketing is very powerful, many women in the UAE are still asking for a skin care product they’ve seen on Instagram in stores, rather than trying to understand what is in this product and why it is any good for them, before they buy it. But awareness is growing globally every year, we can see that even in UAE. It might be a slow growth, but it’s steady one.” The clean category at Net-a-Porter is on the rise too, “As we see the demand for these products grow and grow, clean beauty is seen as such a vital part of the industry. I predict that in the future we will see even better clean active ingredients and methods of production and packaging,” states Hands. With the clean beauty market value expected to reach AED 48.4 billion by 2018, findings by US research firm Kline & Company predicts that the synthetic cosmetics sector will decline in the next two years, while the clean skin care segment will continue to grow.  Innovation and advances in technology have enabled clean beauty products to improve their consistency, appearance and texture making them a significant threat to the rest of the industry.