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Clean Beauty: The 101 on how you can start a non-toxic skincare routine

Choosing beauty products is no longer as elementary as matching them to your skin type. You must identify and address your specific skin concerns. But with a plethora of brands to choose from, this task is not so simple. Beyond efficacy, textures, and budget, increasingly beauty aficionados are looking at another aspect – mindfulness. Like clean eating – foods that are free of preservatives, and are fresh and organic – clean beauty in India is gaining momentum.

organic beauty

When Hollywood actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba came out in support of clean beauty, it was evident that this genre, comprising of young, local brands, was ready to go mainstream. In 2016, Paltrow launched her own Goop skincare line in collaboration with Juice Beauty, while in 2017, Alba expanded her already successful Honest Co. to also include skincare and cosmetics. After years of styling faces of supermodels and Hollywood A-listers, Rose-Marie Swift, challenged the norms of conventional beauty by building an all-natural and organic makeup brand. Her mission? To make beauty healthier. And she is not alone. Tata Harper transformed the beauty game with her eponymous line of luxurious, 100% synthetic chemical-free skincare, spearheading the farm to face movement (Paltrow is a loyalist). Closer home, Ruby’s Organics is India’s first all-organic line of colour cosmetics, and already has a niche following.

Ruby's Organics
Ruby’s Organics lipsticks
Understand what ‘clean’ means

‘Green’, ‘organic’, and ‘herbal’ are words which could be misleading. Any brand can use them since there is precious little regulation on what’s considered ‘natural’. So, to begin with, clean beauty is not a synonym for ‘green’, ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’. While there is no textbook definition, it usually means products that are mindfully created and produced without any proven or suspected toxic ingredients. These can include either only naturally-sourced ingredients or a combination of naturally-sourced ingredients with safe man-made chemicals. Case in point is Drunk Elephant, which is committed to consciously creating products with calming, non-controversial ingredients, irrespective of whether they are natural or synthetic. On similar lines is local beauty brand Dr Sheth’s, brainchild of cosmetic scientist Aneesh Sheth.

Dr Sheths
Dr Sheths
Be mindful of what you are putting inside your body

Things you put outside your body also get into your system. “Chemicals like parabens, sulphates, lead, phthalates, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Carbon Black, and Triclosan are considered detrimental for the skin as they interfere with hormones, affect the endocrine system, disturb the immune system, interrupt reproductive cycles, and in some rare cases, even lead to life-threatening health conditions,” states Delhi-based dermatologist Nivedita Dadu. (Realistically speaking, in most beauty formulations, the percentage is not sufficient to really cause a life-threatening condition and there is no conclusive scientific data that they hurt us.)

However, with wellness taking over, many are keen to detox their beauty routine, and clean beauty is the way to do it. “People now look for products that don’t use alcohol, colours, or artificial fragrances when it comes to skincare and makeup. For shampoos, sulphate (SLS) and parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, propyl) are strict no-nos for aware buyers,” says dermatologist and a skincare enthusiast, Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta. “Recently, there was a controversy regarding a sunscreen ingredient called oxybenzone and avobenzone, essentially mineral actives in nature. They are absorbed into the skin, and were detected in Swiss women’s breast milk during a study done by the University of Zurich. So, if you’re breastfeeding or planning a baby, discuss this with your dermatologist,” she adds.


So what are clean beauty products?

Just as clean eating is not about calories but about wholesome, fresh ingredients, clean beauty is not just about avoiding toxic suspects but using formulations that are more nourishing. These are products that take into consideration the compatibility of ingredients with skin and their purity. Plant-based oils such as jojoba, grapeseed, safflower, and almond apricot provide nutrition and are better absorbed by the skin.

However, there are many botanicals that could be dubious, and many synthetic chemicals which are produced ethically and are more compatible with the skin. Prasanthy Gurugubelli, founder of the green, clean beauty brand Daughter Earth, warns about green-washing. “People forget that even jasmine can be toxic if used more than a certain percentage. Tomato is a known allergen but we love it because it lightens the skin. So, when someone talks about non-toxic, it can’t be just about ingredients. It is about the formulation. The question one needs to ask is if the brand based on science. Do they understand the concept of toxicity for every ingredient?”


Beauty that is safe for our planet

There is another aspect: Clean beauty is also about safety for the planet. Off-late, the definition of clean extends into sustainability, and Gurugubelli points out that it depends on how clean the manufacturing processes of the brand are. Is the packaging recyclable? How’s the sourcing? Is it fair trade? Is the brand footprint green? Are the ingredients damaging the environment? For example reef-safe (products that are safe for the environment) skincare is trending and are the need of the hour. Indian skincare label Love Organically calls itself an eco-conscious brand because their FSC-certified paper ensures economically viable sourcing, vegetable ink printing uses renewable resources, and outer packaging is made of biodegradable material. Founder Deepshikha Deshmukh says, “What drives me every day is the fact that people everywhere can be assured that what they’re using is gentle, kind, and good for young, delicate skin and for mother earth.”

This concept is not entirely new – French brands like L’Occitane and Guerlain have been known for ethical sourcing practices and supporting local communities. As part of their commitment to preserving the purity an environment of Jeju Island, leading K-beauty brand Innisfree has an Eco-Recycling program that encourages people to drop off their empties to the store to earn loyalty points.

Clean beauty values organic certifications but also recognises that sometimes wild-crafted herbs can be as pure if not more. “Wild-crafted refers to a selection of herbs handpicked from the wild. We know that no commercial farming methods have been used, but that the plants are hearty, vibrant, and full of skin-nourishing nutrients,” explains Arush Chopra, CEO, Just Herbs, an ayurvedic skincare brand which uses a blend of organic and wildcrafted ingredients in their formulations.

Tata Harper

Read the label

The easiest way to check if a product is really ‘clean’ or not is to check the label for the product listing, advises Vivek Sahni, CEO and co-founder, Kama Ayurveda. Look for symbols or text that informs you that the product is organic, not tested on animals, and GMO-free. “A clean beauty brand should ideally list all their ingredients on the label, not just the key ones. It is also imperative to look for certifications such as ECOCERT, USDA, BDIH, FDA etc. on the packaging. Additionally, it is also helpful if you check the amounts or percentages of natural ingredients. Other factors such as manufacturing processes recyclable packaging, water efficiency, sustainable sourcing, animal welfare, and even fair-trade practices help,” he adds.

Although the movement has been around for at least a decade, there is another reason for the current growth of clean beauty – now one needn’t compromise on quality, efficacy, and packaging as a tradeoff for going green. “Why not use something that’s beautifully packaged, good for you, good for the environment, and does not compromise on efficacy?” questions Chopra.

Aparrna Gupta

Gupta is a beauty enthusiast, always ready to unravel the journey behind the bottle. Drawing from her decade-long experience as a beauty editor at The Times of India and Verve magazine, she continues her tryst with beauty as she consults with brands on content and product development. Her blog immerses her readers into the luxurious universe of fragrances, wellness and skincare. Her articles have been featured in Vogue India, Harper’s Bazaar India, Femina, and L’Officiel India.

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