It’s cov­etable, cool and ar­guably a boon for the planet. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

Should you go full hip­pie – or pick syn­thetic?


green beauty has splin­tered into nu­anced, of­ten be­wil­der­ing, fac­tions. “Or­ganic” prod­ucts are cru­elty-free and un­touched by pes­ti­cides, GMOS and syn­thetic chem­i­cals, while “ve­gan” prod­ucts don’t con­tain an­i­mal-de­rived in­gre­di­ents. Beauty of­fer­ings la­belled “nat­u­ral” are per­haps the most con­fus­ing, as they’re un­reg­u­lated but gen­er­ally deemed to be made without any ar­ti­fi­cial in­gre­di­ents or fra­grances. With to­day’s em­pha­sis on pu­rity and sus­tain­abil­ity shaking up in­dus­tries from food to fash­ion, this last clas­si­fi­ca­tion has be­come es­pe­cially de­sir­able – and abused.

“Nat­u­ral is a clas­sic mar­ket­ing word,” says phar­ma­cist and founder of Truth Treat­ment Sys­tems skin­care brand Ben­jamin Fuchs. “To a chemist, there’s no such thing as nat­u­ral. The dis­tinc­tion the body makes isn’t be­tween nat­u­ral and syn­thetic, it just looks at the molec­u­lar struc­ture. If I take vi­ta­min C [from na­ture] or I cre­ate it in my lab, it’s the same mol­e­cule. I look at in­gre­di­ents to see whether the body will recog­nise them.”

That recog­ni­tion is what trans­lates to re­sults, the Holy Grail of any beauty prod­uct. Nev­er­the­less, an ever-grow­ing num­ber of con­sumers are green­ing their rou­tine, whether mo­ti­vated by con­cern for the planet or the sus­pected tox­i­c­ity of cer­tain chem­i­cals – but they are also ques­tion­ing the scope of what can be achieved us­ing all-nat­u­ral prod­ucts. “Ev­ery day, some­one comes into the store want­ing to go or­ganic,” says Jessica Richards, owner of cult store Shen Beauty in Brook­lyn, New York. “Of­ten it’s be­cause some­one close to them has can­cer, or they’re pregnant. They want every­thing new. And 99 per cent of them come back to buy something to get a re­sult they can’t get with a nat­u­ral prod­uct, like fix­ing an age spot. They al­ways in­cor­po­rate something chem­i­cal back in.”


For years now, stud­ies have sug­gested that cer­tain en­docrine dis­rupters found in per­sonal-care prod­ucts, such as ph­tha­lates and parabens, may have ad­verse ef­fects when used long-term, and many in­formed shoppers have a gen­eral aver­sion to sil­i­cones. But that’s not the only rea­son to go nat­u­ral. “One of the main ben­e­fits of nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents is that they can be more sus­tain­able and gen­er­ally bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment if re­spon­si­bly sourced,” says Perry Ro­manowski, one of the cos­metic sci­en­tists be­hind The Beauty Brains web­site.

Some of the hard­est-work­ing, sci­en­tif­i­cally proven in­gre­di­ents in beauty prod­ucts are nat­u­ral. Ro­manowski rec­om­mends rosa can­ina (rose­hip) oil and niaci­namide (vi­ta­min B3), which are “skin-smooth­ing, anti-wrin­kle and anti-hy­per­pig­men­ta­tion”, and green tea, “an an­tiox­i­dant that is a pre­ven­tive against age­ing”. For red­ness and in­flam­ma­tion, check the in­gre­di­ents list for sooth­ing argan oil, chamomile and aloe, says der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Les­lie Bau­mann, au­thor of Cos­me­ceu­ti­cals And Cos­metic In­gre­di­ents.

Rice and cot­ton ex­tracts pro­vide ma­jor hy­dra­tion (Burt’s Bees has a nour­ish­ing op­tion that makes the most of both in­gre­di­ents) and plant oils such as rose­mary and rose, found in Vint­ner’s Daugh­ter Ac­tive Botan­i­cal Serum and Kypris An­tiox­i­dant Dew, boast an­tiox­i­dants to nourish while com­bat­ing the stres­sors that cause dry­ness and re­turn­ing the glow to skin. Hy­per­pig­men­ta­tion can be ad­dressed, to a de­gree, with bright­en­ing mul­berry ex­tract, licorice root or vi­ta­min C. Vi­ta­min A


is sim­i­larly ef­fec­tive, and Tata Harper’s Retinoic Nu­tri­ent Face Oil pro­vides a dou­ble hit of A and C, without peel­ing or red­ness.


The ex­perts agree: for truly im­pact­ful anti-age­ing ef­fects (smooth­ness, re­duc­tion in wrin­kles, pores and pig­ment, in­creased firm­ness and ra­di­ance), there isn’t a nat­u­ral equiv­a­lent for retinoic acid, a chem­i­cal com­pound de­rived from vi­ta­min A. Retinoids are avail­able in pre­scrip­tion creams and in over-the-counter prod­ucts such as retinol, a weaker ver­sion of the in­gre­di­ent. Why are signs of age­ing best treated with syn­thetic retinoids? To get max­i­mum cell turnover and anti-age­ing ben­e­fits, Bau­mann ex­plains: “The mol­e­cule has to act like a key in the ‘lock’ of the retinoid re­cep­tor in your skin, and the key has to be a par­tic­u­lar shape. Vi­ta­min A from na­ture isn’t the same shape as retinoic acid or retinol.”


Luck­ily, we don’t live in a black-and-white world. Many brands, such as Go-to and Dr Barbara Sturm, are elim­i­nat­ing the nas­ties without fol­low­ing an all-nat­u­ral brief. Mil­len­nial favourite Drunk Ele­phant has in­vented its own cat­e­gory of “clean-clin­i­cal”, which founder Tif­fany Master­son de­fines as simply us­ing the most ef­fec­tive in­gre­di­ents. “I don’t look at in­gre­di­ents in terms of nat­u­ral or syn­thetic. I [as­sess] them by whether they’re safe and bio­com­pat­i­ble with your skin. There are nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents that your body per­ceives as toxic. For me, it’s about re­sults.”

Skin­care is an in­tensely per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, and weigh­ing up what feels good both phys­i­cally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally may be about find­ing a com­fort­able shade of grey. “I sell what works,” Richards says. “When I started my store, it was only or­ganic and nat­u­ral prod­ucts. Now it’s a mix of the most ef­fi­ca­cious. Many women who shop all or­ganic will also get Bo­tox or drink [flavoured] lattes pumped full of GMOS. It’s a bal­ance.”


I’ve heard of a hair serum that costs more than my hair­cut. Is it worth it? A.

You’re no doubt talk­ing about Sis­ley’s new Re­vi­tal­iz­ing For­ti­fy­ing Serum and, yes, it’s to­tally worth it. In case you hadn’t no­ticed, your scalp is made up of skin, and skin needs a dif­fer­ent kind of care to hair. So Sis­ley took all of its skin know-how and ap­plied it to this serum, part of its new Hair Rituel range that promises to fuel the scalp and for­tify the hair. Mas­saged in reg­u­larly, strands will be stronger, denser and shinier. And don’t ruin all your hard work with hair tools that siz­zle. In­vest in a dryer that reg­u­lates its tem­per­a­ture, en­sur­ing the scalp (and serum) can work op­ti­mally.

Retinoic Nu­tri­ent Face Oil, $66.12, TATA HARPER,

An­tiox­i­dant Dew, $110, clean­beau­ty­mar­ket. KYPRIS,

Ac­tive Botan­i­cal Serum, $270, VINT­NER’S DAUGH­TER,

Sen­si­tive Daily Mois­tur­is­ing Cream, $29.95, price­ BURT’S BEES,

C-tango Mul­tivi­ta­min Eye Cream, $93, DRUNK ELE­PHANT,

Re­vi­tal­iz­ing For­ti­fy­ing Serum, $240, SIS­LEY, sis­

Su­per­sonic, $549, DYSON,

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