Is ‘clean beauty’ the way for­ward? Grace Ti­mothy does the re­search

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In­spir­ing count­less new brands, as well as a scram­ble among es­tab­lished ones to (lit­er­ally) clean up their acts, so-called ‘clean’ beauty is this year’s buzz­word. It’s been on the pe­riph­ery for a while, but now you re­ally can’t miss it. Re­tail be­he­moth Space NK has just ran a cam­paign ‘de­cod­ing’ the move­ment for its cus­tomers on­line and in-store, while skin­care and make-up com­pany Bare Min­er­als has con­sol­i­dated a long-term com­mit­ment to ‘free-from’ for­mu­la­tions with its new cam­paign The Power Of Good. And it’s surely no co­in­ci­dence that the brand of the mo­ment, Drunk Ele­phant, with all its In­sta-hype, just so hap­pens to be clean. But – and it’s a big but – what does ‘clean’ beauty ac­tu­ally mean? Is it about switch­ing to prod­ucts that are 100% or­ganic? Does it sim­ply mean avoid­ing cer­tain in­gre­di­ents or choos­ing ve­gan? Or is it about keep­ing your con­science as clear as your com­plex­ion and buy­ing into sus­tain­able man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices? The an­swer has to be all and any of the above, be­cause if ‘clean’ is any­thing, it’s multi-faceted. But, what­ever your agenda, there’s some­thing to suit… and as we’ve lately dis­cov­ered, it’s likely to be far more gor­geous, ef­fi­ca­cious and eth­i­cally switched on than ever be­fore. In the name of in­formed choices, let’s go.


Es­sen­tially, yes: ‘clean’ beauty is gen­er­ally taken to mean free from var­i­ous controversial in­gre­di­ents, mak­ing your skin­care and make-up less likely to ir­ri­tate and re­duc­ing po­ten­tial health risks. The main sus­pects? Syn­thetic chem­i­cals such as ph­tha­lates, poly­eth­yl­ene gly­col (PEG), sul­phates (SLS and SLES), tri­closan and formalde­hyde, which are ei­ther known ir­ri­tants or, in cer­tain doses, have been linked to can­cer. There’s still heated de­bate over how much we might ab­sorb via beauty prod­ucts and there­fore whether the threat of can­cer is ac­tu­ally vi­able, but clean brands pre­fer to for­mu­late with­out them.

Tif­fany Master­son of Drunk Ele­phant, which has just landed in the UK, is one such for­mu­la­tor, keep­ing her prod­ucts free from what she calls ‘the sus­pi­cious six’. ‘I call them sus­pi­cious be­cause I per­son­ally sus­pect they are at the root of al­most ev­ery skin is­sue I see,’ she ex­plains. ‘They are: es­sen­tial oils and chem­i­cal sun­screens that sen­si­tise the skin; fra­grances or dyes that add zero ben­e­fits; sil­i­cones that can block ab­sorp­tion of ac­tive in­gre­di­ents; SLS that strips the skin of nat­u­ral oils; and al­co­hols that dry it.’ Def­i­nitely the pret­ti­est US ex­port to sex up our shelfies since Glossier, Drunk Ele­phant is also hyped as the end of sen­si­tive skin, and even acne.

Cos­metic doc­tor Frances Prenna Jones is, how­ever, scep­ti­cal about cer­tain free-from claims, cit­ing the case of parabens – preser­va­tives used in skin­care. ‘Parabens are a clas­sic ex­am­ple of scare­mon­ger­ing, based on a re­port that showed parabens in the breast tis­sue of women re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy for breast can­cer,’ she says. The re­search, from 2004, was later crit­i­cised for a num­ber of rea­sons but, un­sur­pris­ingly, the alarm gen­er­ated by head­lines led to calls to ban parabens in cos­met­ics – de­spite in­dus­try sci­en­tific and safety guide­lines declar­ing them safe to use. ‘As a man­u­fac­turer, there is no way I can use them now, as ev­ery­one looks for them on la­bels,’ Prenna Jones adds.

On the other hand, Imelda Burke, founder of nat­u­ral beauty em­po­rium con­tent beauty well be­ing. com, ar­gues that skin­care sim­ply doesn’t need those controversial in­gre­di­ents be­cause they of­fer noth­ing pro­duc­tive or nour­ish­ing to the skin it­self, hence have no rea­son to be there if they can be avoided or sub­sti­tuted (her site gives a list of more than 30 in­gre­di­ents you won’t find in the prod­ucts she stocks).

And skin­care ex­pert Caro­line Hirons says, ‘Per­son­ally, I’m sus­pi­cious of prod­ucts that have a ton of in­gre­di­ents, or in­gre­di­ents with more than three syl­la­bles. I avoid SLS and SLES like the plague – my skin doesn’t like them at all.’

Drunk Ele­phant Beste No.9 Jelly Cleanser, £34 This non-dry­ing formula suits all skin types

Drunk Ele­phant Lala Retro Whipped Cream, £60 Bright­en­ing res­cue for dull, dry faces

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