The clean beauty movement gains momentum

How brands and retailers are tapping into the booming business of clean beauty products.


The not-so-distant cousin of K-Beauty and J-Beauty is making its way to North America from Down Under. Headlines across lifestyle magazines from Vogue to Elle have been announcing “The Rise in A-Beauty,” an Australian cosmetics and skincare trend that follows other Asian Pacific nations like Korea and Japan.

The world’s smallest continent is known for its beach-tousled hair, laissez faire attitude and a less-is-more approach to, well, everything – especially beauty regimes, which Johanna Faigelman, CEO and founding partner at Human Branding, says counters the hysterical pace of our tech-driven society with a more subtle, stripped-back approach.

Australia is also abundant in natural resources, which might explain why brands originating in this region are making their way across the ocean: A-beauty is the epitome of “clean beauty,” a much more pervasive trend that’s continuing to percolate among eco-conscientious shoppers.

Clean beauty is not new, but it is booming

The market for less chemical-laden, more organic and natural beauty products was already worth US$11 billion back in 2016, and Statista is projecting it will double to US$22 billion by 2024.

LoveBeautyPlanetMajor CPG co.’s have either entered the toxin-free category from scratch or through acquisition. The Love, Beauty, Planet line, for example, is a vegan hair and skincare solution that was born in the offices of Unilever Canada. Scientists at P&G have been helping to rejuvenate the Herbal Essences brand, working with the Environmental Working Group to follow best practices for cleaner products that are sulphate-free and meet consumers’ growing expectations. Clarins has its own vegan skincare line, and Wella Professionals now makes plant-based hair colour.

Retailers are also tapping in. Target rolled out its own natural beauty line, as Nordstrom and Sephora have been putting more emphasis on stocking these types of products. The latter offers “the beauty you want, minus the ingredients you don’t want” through its Clean at Sephora seal, a designation for items that are void of things like formaldehyde and many other unpronounceable and unnatural ingredients.

The obvious generations driving this boom in green and clean products are millennials and Gen Z, says Faigelman. Although, reports from WGSN also point to the “glocalisation of halal beauty” among Muslim consumers (Gen M) as another group that’s on the hunt for safe creams and make-up that don’t just cater to their cultural and religious identities by being halal-certified (not excessively concentrated and derived from halal ingredients), but also vegan and cruelty-free.

The trend is the offspring of the clean eating movement

The habit of reading ingredients on packaged foods in the grocery store is being adopted in the aisles of drugstore and beauty departments.

“I’m calling it ‘Face Follows Food,’” says Faigelman of the incoming wave of clean beauty, which she believes is bubbling up from the natural food movement. “What we have noticed in the movement around eating, with whole foods, organic, vegan, et cetera  I am really starting to see that play out in many different industries.”

SephoraCleanBeauty“What’s interesting is that food is a way that we express ourselves and it’s very accessible. You’re putting it into your body,” she adds. “But beauty is also very intimate and personal, you’re putting [products] on your body, it’s penetrating your pores, you’re putting it on your hair.”

Faigelman has no doubt mass brands will continue to enter and grow the category, but she says it might be a challenge for drugstore brands to kick the perception of being synthetic. The Body Shop  a once niche boutique brand and an expert in ethical products  struggled to perform in the years after being acquired by L’Oreal in 2006, according to Forbes. The corporate beauty giant has been exploring options to sell off its ownership as a result.

She says the trick to combating the perceptions that come with being a corporation with a synthetic image is to do what food brands do. That is, embrace local and create connections by telling an authentic origin story.

“It’s going to take more than slapping seaweed onto products to capture this notion of clean beauty,” says Faigelman. “It’s less about the ingredients, there needs to be an origin  where do those ingredients come from, the sourcing, the ethics? That’s what makes millennials and the generations that follow really feel like they connect. There’s a lifestyle philosophy that they want to be a part of by making a decision to purchase these products.”

“Just like in food, where you tell the consumer where you got the ingredients and how you made the food, and the artisan and all that language… [the strategies in food is] a prototype of what’s happening in beauty.”