Be Your Kind of Beautiful

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5 Clean Beauty Myths, Debunked

By three clean beauty experts, no less.

With no official definition in place, the term ‘clean beauty’ brings with it a sense of ambiguity, yet remains a buzzword in the industry. Most experts, however, agree that clean beauty products are made using natural, non-toxic ingredients that take both human and environmental health into account. But does sacrificing synthetics impact their effectiveness? Is clean beauty as elitist as the rest of the wellness industry? And does it only cater to goop-reading, yoga-practising, ashwagandha-taking vegans? 

Unanswered questions translate to myths that need to be debunked, so we turned to three different experts for their insights: Lorraine Dallmeier (CEO of organic cosmetic science school Formula Botanica), Mukta Purain (Founder of clean beauty platform MissPalettable), and Deepica Mutyala (Founder of clean beauty brand Live Tinted). Listen in.

Myth 1: Clean Beauty Is Preservative-Free

LD: “Well, that’s clearly not the case because a preservative is necessary to make a safe and stable product. When I first got into natural beauty, everyone was all about avoiding preservatives, claiming they’re dangerous and carcinogenic. But it has calmed down a lot, which is a good thing. We’ve played a big role in that by going out there and saying that not only can preservation protect your formulation and your customer, but it can also be done safely because there are lots of naturally derived preservatives on the market now. But it’s absolutely okay if you don’t want to work with preservatives. You just have to stick with anhydrase products, which don’t contain water – oils, butters, balms, that sort of thing. You’re limiting yourself in the formulations that you can make, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

MP: “It comes down to shelf life – if a product is free of preservatives, it means that it’s really natural and has to be used almost immediately. But in general, it’s impossible to create a preservative-free product with a shelf life of two years. There are a lot of misconceptions around preservatives – whether it’s in beauty, food, or anything else. And they get a bad rap, most of which stems from packaged food. But the difference here is that no one is going to buy a moisturiser with a three-week shelf life. The one exception is things like bar soaps and solid shampoo, which don’t need preservatives because they’re dry. But as soon as you have any form of liquid in your product, you need preservatives – otherwise it will spoil.”

DM: “Not true – a lot of people equate clean beauty with preservative-free beauty because of parabens. Historically, parabens were one of the key ingredients that clean beauty standards avoided, but it really doesn’t mean clean beauty is free of preservatives. The reality is that you need preservatives in your makeup and skincare to avoid bacterial growth and degradation over time.”

Myth 2: Clean Beauty Isn’t Fun

LD: “Our mantra is that everyone can and should formulate because it’s fun, easy, and empowering. It’s a bit like learning how to cook. One of my colleagues wanted to formulate for the first time, and I suggested he try out a lip balm kit. He’s got two kids – they’re six and eight – and they did it together. They made it and labelled it and gifted some to their grandmothers. Everyone was just blown away by these lip balms. They still use them. And they were like, ‘When can we do this again?’ Anyone can do this, and it’s so much fun, so I think clean beauty is actually a ton of fun.”

MP: “Clean beauty started off very organic, very wholesome – it was for people who had sensitive skin and wasn’t as fun at first. But things have changed. Technology has advanced, formulations have advanced. In the past, you had founders who were slightly older creating such brands, but a lot of them these days are millennials. They’re trying to create brands that are both conscious and connect with the kind of lifestyles they live so the colours are a lot more pigmented, the branding is so much more vibrant – and this is just the beginning. Take Bouclème, a hair care brand that we carry on MissPalettable. Hair care isn’t really that exciting, right? But its packaging is bright, the social media pages are full of curly hair influencers, it’s very real. At the same time, its bottles are made of sugarcane waste.”

DM: “A complete myth! Our Huestick and Hueglow are super fun. What is the definition of fun anyway? It’s different for everyone. You have to think about who your target consumer is and what they want. Do they want fun makeup or makeup that works overtime? Creating fun clean products if possible. It just requires a little bit more work to bring the formula to life because the laboratory you work with may not want to experiment as much, and there could be higher costs involved – but that’s the burden of the company, not the consumer. So absolutely, making fun products is possible, it might just require more patience. The industry is moving towards the clean beauty standard, and that means the innovations are coming. It is the responsibility of the brand to figure it out.”

Myth 3: Clean Beauty Isn’t Effective

LD: “What’s interesting is that we have to define what ‘effective’ means. The beauty industry has been telling us that we don’t look right, we don’t smell right, we aren’t right for a while now. It tells us to erase the sands of time and halt the aging process – something you can’t do when you use natural. And yet what’s happened as a result of the indie beauty movement taking off is that big brands have started to research all these botanical extracts, so I don’t agree that clean beauty is ineffective because a lot of the high-performance extracts that we use can be derived from plants. We can keep our skin healthy and clean and glowing with botanical ingredients, so again, it’s a myth that has been put out there, sadly.”

MP: “Before the term ‘clean beauty’ came about, it was natural and organic. And are natural and organic versions more effective than mainstream products? I’m not sure. But clean beauty is broader in the sense that it’s about formulations that do not contain harmful chemicals. There’s a spectrum – some clean beauty brands claim that there are no chemicals in their products, which is a lie because everything is a chemical. At the same time, you’ve got brands that are more balanced, every ingredient in their formulations serving a function. It all comes down to the person behind the brand. Deepica, for example, created the Huestick because South Asians have dark circles. That’s where I feel clean beauty brands are a lot more effective; there’s a passion and a reason behind them.”

DM: “Another myth. What is the definition of effective? Are we talking really long wearing power or breathability? Being a clean beauty brand is redefining the meaning of some of these words. Are we going to be able to match the performance of those liquid lipsticks with 24-hour claims right out of the box? Maybe not. It’s reasonable to think that they are formulated with ingredients that are on the clean beauty ban list. On the other hand, effectiveness might mean breathability, and one of the things we’ve learnt in this post-pandemic world is that people want wearable makeup that lets their skin breathe – that itself is considered effective.”

Myth 4: Clean Beauty Isn’t Inclusive

LD: “It’s an important point because clean beauty can be a little non-inclusive. For starters, it tends to operate in skincare. Hair care is harder since it contains a lot more water and therefore needs more stabilisation. We’re seeing some awesome indie brands that cater to curly and coily hair types, but they’re in the minority. Indie makeup is still quite rare because making cosmetics with natural pigments that aren’t derived from a lab is hard as well. And again, you have the issue with different skin tones that aren’t catered for because you have a teeny tiny budget and launch with only a few products. The other thing is clean beauty can be quite pricey because, obviously, you’re not pumping your products full of water and stabilisers, which is what the big brands are doing – and that pushes up your cost and retail price. It can lock some people out of the marketplace. There’s a lot of work to do at all levels.”

MP: “Let’s take Bouclème as an example again. It’s huge on inclusivity because its products cater to a population that was hardly considered before. Personally, I don’t agree that clean beauty isn’t inclusive
because a lot of clean beauty brands were created as a result of their founders feeling excluded by mainstream brands. Michele Scott-Lynch started Bouclème because she and her children have curly hair, and she just couldn’t find products that worked. She also wanted her brand to have a conscience, so it’s paraben-free, sulfate-free, and vegan. Skincare is still most inclusive because you’re dealing with skin types, not skin tones. I mean, it’s only recently – after the likes of Fenty Beauty and Huda Beauty – that we’re starting to see some inclusivity in makeup. It’s happening because the founders of these brands are people of colour themselves, and the same thing is carrying over into clean beauty.”

DM: “False! Live Tinted’s mission is to bring clean, vegan, and cruelty-free products that work on all skin tones. We are here to dispel such myths. For some reason, there’s this mindset that if something is clean, it doesn’t show up on your skin. The reality is that you can make products that are pigmented and work on deeper skin tones, yet are clean. Take our award-winning Huestick, for example. One of the things that was very important was to make a buildable formula because different people have different layers of dark circles and dark spots that they want to cover, which is what makes our products truly inclusive. This myth mainly comes from the fact that there aren’t that many clean brands focused on the BIPOC consumer. And that’s where Live Tinted comes in. It doesn’t mean clean inclusive beauty cannot be done. It just means there is room for brands like ours to grow.”

Myth 5: Clean Beauty Requires a Lifestyle Overhaul

LD: “I disagree, clean beauty should be for anyone who wants to participate. Some can be very purist about it, but you’re going to alienate people that way. The one thing that everyone should embrace, however, is sustainable beauty. That’s a far bigger issue. Literally no one talks about consumption because the beauty industry is set up to encourage infinite economic growth with finite resources. And it doesn’t work because we only have one planet. The average woman has 16 beauty products on her bathroom shelf, so I once asked the Sustainability Director of Shiseido how the brand is encouraging people to use fewer products and she admitted to feeling stumped. I don’t think it matters if you’re clean or not, vegan or not. What matters is how sustainable our beauty habits are – that goes for the brands making them and the people buying them.”

MP: “No, that’s not true. Clean beauty is becoming increasingly inclusive, but you exclude people by saying it’s only intended for vegans or vegetarians. Suddenly, you’re clean-shaming people. It comes
down to a personal choice. When you take an interest in clean beauty, you’re already thinking about taking a more conscious approach. It’s because you’re taking a step back and examining your life. But it’s
got nothing to do with going vegan or practising yoga or anything like that – it’s more about you internally. And such things take time. I mean, you’re not going to become this extremely conscious minimalist overnight. I feel like the first step is acknowledging it, then slowly adjusting your choices over a period of time. Even having one vegetarian meal a day is a start.”

DM: “A lot of the clean beauty conversations revolve around ingredients, but sustainability is also a major component. It’s not about solving that problem alone and on day one. However, if we collectively take small steps towards that goal, it will have a massive impact now and an even bigger one in the future. Does it mean you need to throw away all your products and only buy clean? No. What you can do as a consumer is find products that work for you and the environment – playing with new products is part of the fun anyway. Look at our Huestick Multisticks – you can create an entire look with only one product! You shouldn’t have to overhaul your lifestyle. Instead, you should feel proud and excited to make small changes that can have a big impact on you and the planet.”

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