Green & Clean Beauty: did we lose our way ?

Like “authenticity”, “community” is a meaningful word, not a marketing slogan. As someone who has been writing about beauty & wellbeing for over a decade, I have been observing the subtle undercurrent of changes (not all of them positive) that go hand in hand with changing preferences of consumers. Now more than ever I believe in human need for engagement in order to co-exist – but I also think it’s time we put our voices to good use and started standing up for honesty in conversations related to beauty, particularly the increasingly popular clean beauty.

image courtesy of Bouchra Jarrar

Evolution of the green/holistic/natural/ clean beauty segment has been particularly fascinating to observe – not just as a consumer from the side-lines, but as a journalist who regularly talks to retailers, founders, PRs, chemists, beauty bloggers, beauty practitioners & therapists, as well as sales staff working within the industry. I worked with brands as a consultant and I took a British green beauty brand to the Russian market, working on the other side of the counter – doing exhibitions & promotions, pitching to retailers, training the local team and writing up press releases & blogs. I talked to formulators, educating myself and sharing the growing knowledge with those that were interested in what I wrote on my website and social media. For me the need for quality content and spotlighting those that really deserve the limelight without charging them for ‘the privilege’ has been vital from day one.

Green/Clean Beauty is a fascinating segment. A stark change from a hippish vibe and small market stalls within a few years to one of the fastest growing segment in the beauty marketplace that is furiously populating the shelves of beauty retailers around the world. The cause of natural beauty & a different approach to cosmetic formulating was pioneered many decades ago by the likes of Weleda, Dr. Haushka & Dr. Alkaitis. But time doesn’t stand still and gradually their mantle was taken on by the male and female founders from around the world, bringing their contagious energy, knowledge and passion on board.

Those brave enough to dare, work tirelessly on improving packaging and efficacy, as well as INCI lists. They take out ingredients that can potentially negatively impact long-term health and use plants, botanicals, herbs & mushrooms, while also harnessing scientific and technological advances. The resulting products are offered to consumers who are constantly on the lookout for something new.

This tribe of beauty & wellbeing brand founders focuses on helping their customers look and feel better in their skin, whether the customer is only starting to explore skincare in early 20s or is a man or woman in their golden elders years. You can see that they are not jaded, but actually interested in people standing in front of them and asking questions in order to choose the right product for themselves. But don’t forget that we live in times of vanity and social media filters, where perfected & super-polished influencers talk about gloss, glow and endless list of skincare products they supposedly pile on their skin to look amazing.

A few years ago there was palpable excitement – new brands launching, open conversations and the sense of support of those standing next to you, fuelled by joint passion to move away from mass market formulations to more consciously formulated and crafted ones, drawing on simple beauty routines from the past. And then things started changing – in part because big beauty giants, celebrities & influencers advertising their products noticed the change in the direction of consumer gaze. 

Some would say that beauty giants took notice and started changing their practises. To a degree it’s true, as it is “do or die” in the increasingly changing world. But what I see happening again and again is that through marketing all of a sudden the spotlight is turned back on cosmetic giants…. as pioneers of clean beauty. But are they or do they stand on the shoulders of genuine pioneers that paved the way for a different niche of products and skin/hair/bodycare practises – with care, passion and knowledge being primary drivers, not the desire for bottomless profit as the main cornerstone of business. 

Community is like petals of the sunflower

Observe the fast growing tribe of skinfluencers, who just because they have large followings, get money to create their own supposedly clean beauty lines. Constant stream of celebrities launching beauty brands into the world, all the while the world tries to get a grip on sustainable living & scarcity of resources for the ever-growing world population. Or a certain celebrity, who the press proclaimed the Queen of Clean Beauty, yet her choice of products and practises is often more driven by controversy rather than the invention of something new. I reeled a little recently, when she let it slip in the interview that there was no clean conditioner for her dry, coloured hair and she was looking to develop one. Those words were disrespectful to those founders who already offer a multitude of clean haircare solutions to consumers. She could have framed her thoughts differently, saying there are a lot of clean conditioners out there, but she wants to create her own holy grail. But her modus operandi is intentional controversy….

It seems that greed became good again, making the legacy of Gordon Gekko truly alive and kicking forward cancan style. I compare this approach to the wide-reaching support chefs or children’s authors offer each other on social media and shake my head in disbelief. It’s hard to grasp that populism is no longer the domain of politics, but beauty as well. It’s not about how good your product is, but rather how much money you have in order to win over the press and social media influencers, who will pronounce the brand the best again, and again, and again. It’s almost shocking how quickly meaningful changes can be dismantled and turned into meaningless marketing terminology. Change of any kind requires action fuelled by open & respectful conversations. Having said that, many people working in beauty, particularly those “in the know”, choose to vent their growing frustrations in private, but keep mum in public. 

So this is a test for what you stand for – do you use your voice and share your experience, respectfully disagreeing with the blatant twist of facts or pointing out when the brand claims to be ‘clean’ but in fact isn’t. Or do you keep your head down, not in shame exactly, but so you can just build up your own brand or career without raffling the feathers of people who might be useful to you later? This is a big topic to chew on and opinions will differ, as they should – after all, if we all agreed on everything, life would be stale and boring. What it isn’t and shouldn’t be is a conversation about “them” and “us”. This is about being honest about who you are and what you or your brand stands for. And not trying to elbow those who came before you out of the way. There are lots of consumers out there looking for different things.

One brand can’t win over everyone, so it is a question of putting your flag in and building your own, like-minded tribe around it. It is about offering support and advice for those who ask for it and helping those who help you forge your path, playing the best of human nature forward. A sense of camaraderie and looking in one direction, of creating something that can make a genuine difference to how one looks and feels. It should be about genuine engagement with consumers and helping them make better individual choices. Think about it for a minute – would you go back to seeking advice from a sales assistant who didn’t take the time to listen to you, but rather tried to sell you the most expensive thing on the shelf or something that simply doesn’t work for your skin? As a wonderful fertility specialist Emma Cannon once said ‘chose a tribe, have quality in your life’. 

Last, but not least I would leave you with this thought. Earlier this week I listened to a “How To Academy” podcast with a beautifully eloquent writer Elif Shafak, who recently published her latest book, titled “How to stay sane in the age of division”. Her words were incredibly powerful & passionate, yet softly spoken. What particularly caught my attention is her saying that there are growing gaps in conversations around the world and people simply not being heard. Why? Only because their valid voices & opinions are being drowned out by bigger crowds, which lack the spectrum of nuances. It made me think of beauty becoming like politics – where the stage is populated by select few, who speak from the pages of magazines, online publications, radio, TV and social media channels again and again. Which is great for them advancing themselves and their brands, but not so healthy for the rest of those who are deserving of your attention to. The subtle harm continues to be done to the beauty & wellness industry, at the time when our world continues to be ravaged by the pandemic, threatening health & economic stability. And it affects niche brands much more than large corporations, so it is up to each one of us to at least try to undo the damage and support those voices & brand founders that are actually trying to make our lives better, while making a living in the process. 

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