HOW CLEAN IS YOUR SKIN?
Is ‘clean beauty’ the way forward? Grace Timothy does the research
‘I’M SUSPICIOUS OF PRODUCTS WITH A TON OF INGREDIENTS’
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.
CLEAN MEANS FREE-FROM?
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