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Participants:Kat Burki, founder of Kat BurkiLisa Goldfaden, vice president of marketing, and Lauren Wolk-Goldfaden, vice president of sales, at Goldfaden MD Jeremy Muijs, co-founder of Grown AlchemistRhiannon Hall, co-founder of Luna Bronze
The Memo: Welcome everyone to The Memo roundtable. We’re here to discuss the concept of “clean beauty”—what it means, how we arrived at this juncture, and what’s driving the category. At MECCA, all of your brands come under the banner of “Mindful Beauty”, which is our edit of ingredient-conscious, botanical-based and vegan products. To begin, I want to ask how you all define “clean beauty” and also differentiate your brand?
Kat Burki: “I would define it as a lack of toxins. It can incorporate a lot of things outside the box. Some people see it as being plant-based or simple, but it really isn’t at all. It means devoid of anything synthetic and chemical and bad for you.”
TM: Does synthetic equal bad?
KB: “Not necessarily. A lot of times it does, but not always. For instance, a peptide helps the skin but it’s not naturally derived.”
Rhiannon Hall: “Clean beauty means focusing on ingredients that are good for you. At Luna Bronze, we don’t use anything that we know to be harmful. Being vegan is important to us, too.”
Lauren Wolk-Goldfaden: “Everyone has a different take on clean beauty, and because there is no governing body in the US [or Australia] we are all learning from each other and defining it at the same time. For us, we strive to bring in the most naturally-conscious ingredients, and we don’t formulate with things including petrochemicals, parabens, silicones. These are ingredients which have been shown to cause irritation to the skin, or prevent treatment actives from penetrating the dermis.”
Jeremy Muijs: “For Grown Alchemist, we have long subscribed to the view that clean beauty is about health, which is paramount to skin cell function. Things that interfere with health are things that aren’t recognised by or metabolised by the body. So, as soon as you get into the land of artificial, particularly toxic ingredients, you decrease cell function and interfere with the way the skin performs. But active naturals activate that function.”
TM: Why was it important to question the status quo and pursue a different point of view?
KB: “I came from a background in health and nutrition, so I didn’t really know the status quo. At the beginning, I fought being classified as ‘natural’. I thought ‘It’s so much more than that.’ I would get upset when anyone called me that, but now I’ve come around because the world has come around. Now it means more than what it used to mean to people."
RH: “When Madeline [Balderson] and I first created Luna Bronze, we wanted to do a sunless tanning brand with skincare benefits. One of our slogans is ‘Sunless tanning meets skin care’, and we couldn’t find anything like it on the market. Madeline had skin cancer, we were always in the sun. So, we determined to make a sunless tanner free of toxic ingredients”
TM: Clean beauty was inspired by clean eating. Kat, I’m interested in how your background in nutritional science paved the way for your brand. Can you elaborate on that?
KB: “For me, it was about how our body absorbs and utilises nutrients, which is what it does when we eat food. When you’re eating, it goes all over the body, but we’ve realised that putting these products on our face, we’re feeding an organ. For me, it was about how the skin can get these nutrients, and how they work together. My concept was put nutrient A with nutrient B to make a super nutrient. For instance, if you take rose hip with Vitamin C, first of all it’s a great antioxidant but you will absorb more C with it. It’s about looking at how these relationships work together and that’s all nutritional science.”
TM: Jeremy, Grown Alchemist uses certified organic botanical ingredients. How did that approach evolve and how challenging is it to be Australian Certified Organic?
JM: “It’s very challenging, and not all of our products are organic. Using certified organic ingredients is great, they are a shortcut to potential potency, but not always. Wild harvested can be just as good, so can naturally derived. At the end of the day it’s about what the product can deliver. When we started in 2000, we began formulating to a new standard, and exploring how the body works to utilise ingredients.”
TM: Are organic ingredients more expensive?
JM: “They can be.”
TM: At Goldfaden, your tagline is “physician strength, naturally inspired”—how does that play out in your products? And do you equate natural with non-toxic or clean?
Lisa Goldfaden: “Our entire brand was founded from my father’s 45-year-old dermatology practice in Miami. For us it was about building products that really mirrored what he does in-office but, as Kat was saying, we didn’t want to be pigeonholed as natural. At the time it was a very different game. We launched in 2013 but he has been making products for over 25 years. For us it’s a constant process to derive efficacious ingredients from natural formats. And you still want results-driven skincare.”
viewing of products
TM: Clean beauty was once considered granola and ineffective. What changed?
LG: “It’s been modernised so much. Dr. Goldfaden takes a holistic approach to his patients, so it’s not just about what you’re putting on your skin, but how much water you’re having, how much sleep you’re getting, and what types of food you’re eating. It’s the combination of all that to achieve healthy skin. Nowadays, there is real science behind using topical natural actives, whereas before it associated with a kitchen sink approach—someone putting a pumpkin enzyme mask with bamboo shoots in a jar and hoping it would work. There’s so much discovery now with actives, and a shift to clean beauty because of the availability of natural actives that mimic the synthetics that have been around for decades.”
TM: An increasing number of discerning customers are interested in not just cruelty-free products but vegan ones too. Why was it important that Luna Bronze be vegan?
RH: “Vegan eating and vegan beauty is huge in Australia. What people are putting into their body is equally important to what they’re putting on it. We wanted to tick all the boxes, and cruelty-free and vegan were non-negotiables for us.”
TM: What is the biggest misconception about clean beauty brands?
LWG: "That they don’t work."
TM: Really, even now?
LG: “Yes, in certain retail settings, with certain customers. There’s still a customer who thinks if she’s not paying $350 for something that it doesn’t work. There is still a lot of work to do. Having the conversation helps that customer understand.”
LWG: “There is testing now too, and it’s important to justify the claims you’re making. We do a lot of consumer testing before our products are even released.”
JM: “We test most of our stuff in Spain; Australia doesn’t have the same facilities. We use silicone mask testing, in which you apply a silicone mask to someone’s face, peel it off, and read the undulations over a 30-day period. It gives you an understanding of wrinkle depth reduction. Our Age-Repair serum, moisturiser and mask get a 63 percent wrinkle reduction in 30 days. You can’t say that unless you use the silicone."
TM: Have you all heard of that test?
LG: “No! I’m going to look it up right now.”
TM: We all know to avoid ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and sulfates, but are there are other questionable ones we should be aware of?
KB: “Simple things like alcohol, fragrance, things people say are the norm but they’re really bad for your skin. Your skin will be inflamed and irritated dealing with them, and not absorbing these other great ingredients.”
TM: Is true that some manufacturers hide toxic ingredients in generic descriptions such as “fragrance”?
JM: “Yes, but we’re getting more transparency. Ingredient apps and Google mean it’s easy to identify how healthy a product is or isn't. When you can scan the back of a product and see an independent rating it’s a game-changer. The decision is back in the hands of the consumer."
TM: The European Union has banned more than 1,300 toxic ingredients from use in personal care products. The US and Australia are not as regulated. Do we all need to be reading beauty labels?
JM: "There was a recent study in the US that showed that 59 percent of millennials read the back of a label before making a purchase. We’re talking to an educated consumer."
RH: "Getting our products into the EU was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. The US was easy in comparison. In Australia, there are companies who whack a big ‘We are natural’ sticker on their product because they have one natural ingredient in there. It’s disappointing for the industry. The EU is more aware of these companies."
TM: Social media has given customers, especially millennials, direct access to their favourite brands. How has this fuelled the rise of clean beauty?
JM: “It’s enormous.”
LWG: “It’s where you get the best information, good and bad. But, as a consumer, I want to feel I am connected to the brand behind the component. There’s a lot of storytelling that needs to be told beyond that one piece.”
KB: “Oh yes, from demanding what they want from a product, and the trust factor. We’re a part of creating this new realm."
TM: Is it hard to explain the potency of your products?
KB: “Yes, in the beginning, but there’s a lot of education involved in skin care, and explaining the points of difference."
TM: What are you all excited about in terms of innovative ingredients?
LG: “Plant stem cells.”
TM: Why do we need plant stem cells? Will we be sprouting leaves on our faces?
LG: “Ha. They do not create skin cells, you’re not going to grow an ear, but they are a super potent shield for your skin that allows it to regenerate without being compromised.”
JM: “We’re using the power of plant peptides to stimulate a response in the skin. Stimulating collagen production is important after the age of 30. Plant-based peptides trigger collagen production by mirroring the skin’s own mechanisms. There is an algae from Antarctica that we’re looking at that has self-healing qualities. It’s like a high-tech Art Nouveau movement right now, looking at nature and appreciating it for what it can do.”
LWG: “It’s also been driven by the food market. The technology in food is probably five years ahead of what’s happening in topical actives. We’re seeing the birth of all of these natural foods, and it’s leaning over to ingredients. They go hand in hand.”
TM: Kat, why is cold-processing ingredients important to you?
KB: “It goes back to nutrition and keeping the vitality of your ingredients as high as possible. People can utilise good ingredients, but they’re sticking them into a big vat and overheating them and degrading their value just like cooking does."
TM: Is it similar to raw food?
KB: “I don’t think it has to be raw. It’s similar to cold-pressing, like olive oil. Rich antioxidants come from a ripe tomato. Why would you do that to a beautiful tomato?"
TM: You’re the Nigella Lawson of beauty.
KB: "Ha. Well, thanks."
TM: I’d like to shift gears. Given the increase in landfill waste, many brands are now embracing more sustainable packaging. How does that work at Goldfaden?
LG: “We do use recyclable materials, from our boxes to our primary pumps, even at our warehouse. If we can do a little to mitigate our carbon footprint, it’s important. There’s an accountability factor, people will ask you about it on your social media platform.”
TM: Is it fair to assume that clean beauty is not a trend? That it’s the future of beauty?
KB: “It’s morphing, that’s where beauty is going. Older brands are being challenged, and I know there is no going back. It’s a totally different mindset, the consumer is demanding it. This is the future and it will be interesting to see how we deal with luxury in this arena.”
LG: “It’s a movement for sure, and beyond the beauty vertical, it’s fitness, food, and the thing that’s driving it is research and technology.”
JM: “People are aware about what the industrialisation of food and products have done to us, and that’s not a trend, it’s an awakening. People are saying, ‘I need sophisticated products but I don’t want all the other bits’. We will see significant changes in the next 10 years.”
Interview by George EpaminondasAugust 2018