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What Does ‘Clean Beauty’ Mean in 2021?

What Does ‘Clean Beauty’ Mean in 2021?

Emma Lewisham

The word ‘clean’ gets thrown around a lot in reference to beauty, often alongside terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’.

In years gone by, these terms were generic and all encompassing. They were a helpful marketing tool for brands, looking to appeal to an environmentally or health conscious consumer, without having to be held accountable for practices, products or values. But by 2021, we are seeing a shift… consumers are demanding more transparency than ever before, implementing sustainable changes where they can and opening the conversation as to what these terms actually mean. Do a brand’s products and practices fit the values they lay claim to? 

With L’Oréal announcing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% per finished product and achieve carbon neutrality for all L’Oréal sites by 2030, it seems the tables are well and truly turning. And while it takes those at the top to commit, small and local brands are driving just as significant change for the beauty industry. This can be said for Emma Lewisham, founder and CEO of Emma Lewisham skincare, a New Zealand beauty brand committed to raising the bar for clean, sustainable and ethical beauty. We spoke to Lewisham to learn what ‘clean’ beauty actually means, what to look for when it comes to sustainability and the standards to uphold as consumers.

So, what actually is ‘clean’ beauty?

Clean…means a product…is made without any ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, to cancer, to skin irritation,” explains Lewisham. While most brands work off a roster of six banned ingredients, Emma Lewisham products leave out 1,400 ingredients and only include that which has been rated as ‘clean’ by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Skin Deep Program. The EWG is a leading independent authority on toxicity and regulation for ingredients used in personal care products, something that governmental bodies often overlook before allowing products to market.  “If it looks suspicious or in doubt, we leave it out,” she says. 

In the case of her brand, Lewisham explains “Clean also means a fair and ethical supply chain. Ingredients are sourced from ethical growers, we respect the community they come from and the biodiversity. For example, one of our botanical oils is sourced from women’s cooperatives in Morocco, giving them independence and income. Profits from the co-ops go into funding tutors to teach the women how to read and write, provide scholarships for their children to attend college, and healthcare costs….We call it ‘farm to face’…having a direct line to the farms we source our ingredients from, working with them to grow alongside us and improve how we operate together.”

Can clean products still be effective?

One of the biggest pitfalls of clean beauty in recent years is the lack of effectiveness. Clean or natural brands may have picked up their game in the marketing departments, but for those who want targeted solutions, effective protection and luxurious textured formulas, clean skincare for the most part, falls short. 

And that’s even with ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ claiming brands often using synthetic preservatives, to lengthen a product’s shelf life. “Some brands may say they’re natural and clean, but they use [an ingredient] called phenoxyethanol, which is linked to skin allergies and health issues, [but means brand’s can still] make a ‘paraben-free’ claim,” says Lewisham. 

To combat these clean skincare stereotypes, Lewisham utilises a team of green scientists to research and source potent and proven natural ingredients, before developing highly effective luxury products. “Instead of using 2-3 hero ingredients, we use up to 30 high performing natural ingredients at the highest levels of concentrations. We use no filler [ingredients]…[and] focus on quality and efficacy first and cost last,” she says. This can be another downfall… “natural ingredients can be up to 16 times more expensive than synthetic ingredients, but this is the investment we make.” An investment which seems to have paid off – with 77% of users (in an independent scientific study) claiming the Emma Lewisham Skinreset Pigmentation Correcting Serum effectively reduced their pigmentation, and 88% noted no new pigmentation appeared on their skin.

Where does sustainability fit in?

From the inception of our brand, we wanted packaging that was truly sustainable…I believe the next chapter of beauty is a closed loop, zero waste model and this is where I want to be a force for change” Lewisham explains. What is also surprising is that “just because packaging says it’s recyclable, doesn’t mean that this is what happens and I think brands need to have accountability for ensuring their products are not contributing to the problem… that’s why all our products are either refillable, recyclable or compostable.” 

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In ensuring fully sustainable packaging, the brand “[uses] plastic that is already in-market and diverting this from landfill,” she says. “We’re proud to have created world-first post-consumer recycled plastic sunscreen tubes.” In addition, the brand’s box packaging is plastic-free and compostable…with the printing done in vegetable-based inks, so each box is completely biodegradable. 

On top of this, Emma Lewisham has employed a sustainable packaging initiative, working alongside innovative waste management company, TerraCycle®. “They recycle products and packages that would otherwise end up being [tossed into landfill] or incinerated, and really importantly, they recycle the un-recyclable. By this, I mean items like complex plastic packaging (coloured plastics and push pumps are examples of these) that are commonly used in beauty packaging, but aren’t accepted or recycled by kerbside recycling [programs],” she says. While TerraCycle® has partnerships with brands such as L’Oréal Paris, Garnier and Maybelline, Emma Lewisham is “New Zealand’s first sustainable beauty initiative, named the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle.” 

While The Beauty Circle in collaboration with TerraCycle®, is available in all countries, the process is slightly different in New Zealand to the rest of the world. In New Zealand all beauty brands’ facial products are accepted, while in Australia (and internationally), the brand accepts four Emma Lewisham products for recycling at a time.

It’s free to participate, just set up a TerraCycle® account (which you can do here!) and download a free shipping label to post your facial beauty products directly to TerraCycle® for recycling. When returning four Emma Lewisham vessels, you will also receive a $15.00 voucher towards your next purchase.

And that’s on New Zealand (and Emma Lewisham) being ahead of the game when it comes to clean beauty and sustainability, as per usual. Shop the brand here.

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