What it means to be a Clean Beauty Brand
I recently had a conversation with a friend who owns an EU based distributor. As a distributor, he is well positioned in the skin care market and quite knowledgeable. As we roamed across a number of beauty and economic topics, we eventually moved on to the topic of Clean Beauty. Though I am sure he knew the subject matter quite well, he kindly asked me to go in-depth on the subject, deferring to our position as the pioneer of Clean Beauty in the skin care segment.
As I thought about the genesis of Russell Organics – certified vegan, certified cruelty-free, toxin-free, transparent, eco-friendly, I realized that these attributes which were common-sense to us at the time, were actually the origins of what morphed into the Clean Beauty category. A category by the way, that in 2022, is the fastest growing segment of the global skin care category. By far. It turns out that during the pandemic, consumers had a lot of time on their hands. In many cases they used that time to re-evaluate how they were living their lives, how they wanted to engage with brands, what they wanted from those brands for their families and the environment. The results were crystal-clear. Consumers made a pivot away from mass market skin care, away from toxic ingredients, away from uncaring – profit at all expense enterprises, and went on the path of discovery which led to the global adoption and embracing of the Clean Beauty movement.
Needless to say, we are thrilled that consumers and competitors are now following our lead. The more who do so, the better our world becomes.
But like every trend in the beauty category, there are leaders setting the course, and then there are pretenders who use slight-of-hand, shortcuts, and misdirection in an attempt to piggy-back and profit from the hard work and authenticity of leading brands.
It is in this mindset that I began to answer to my friend’s question. What is a Clean Beauty Brand and why does it matter?
Keeping in mind that there are no official standards to call oneself a Clean Beauty brand, there is only opinion. And every opinion differs.
Our opinion is as follows:
There are four tenets that Clean Beauty brands should all embrace.
Morality | Efficacy | Transparency | Eco-Friendly
We have a sign at our entrance. It says “Principle Before Profit”. We all see it every time we enter or we leave the office. We will not produce a product, enter a market, or partner with an entity that does not align with this core belief. Russell Organics has refused to comply with animal torture in certain markets and as a result was blocked from those markets, while other brands willingly complied and profited from the torture of animals. It turns out that most beauty brands are driven purely by the pursuit of profit. Market-share matters, and most of the market share is owned by publicly-traded corporations or by private equity firms. Both are focused on profit and company valuation. Both have demanding shareholders. Legitimate Clean Beauty Brands have a moral compass similar to Russell Organics. We are Cruelty-Free, Vegan (we don’t even use Beeswax), and Toxin-free, and we make the finest quality skin care products. Yes, we have the awards to show for our efforts.
Why would anyone support a brand that is not Vegan and not Cruelty-Free? Why would an animal need to be tortured to test a beauty product? Brands that are on retail shelves in China likely have complied with the barbaric requirement for lab testing on animals in order to be allowed approval. It is disturbing that most global beauty brands have complied. Why would an animals need to die to provide an ingredient for a beauty product? We have proven time and again that animals do not have to be tortured or killed in order to have world-class skin care products.
When we begin the formulation discovery process, we do so with one aim. To make the best skin care products across all beauty categories. Cost is not our initial concern. Efficacy is. Is the product development process leading us to a product that consumers will embrace because of the results they are achieving. We do not cut corners with cheap chemicals and synthetic versions of natural botanicals. Synthetic, chemical based versions of ingredients are nowhere nearly as effective or beneficial as natural botanicals. That is a formulation certainty. Russell Organics products are simply better. Better formulations and better results.
Transparency is perhaps the big differentiator between not only non-Clean Beauty and Clean Beauty Brands, but also within the Clean Beauty segment between brands. Our perspective has always been, from day one, if it’s in the bottle, it’s on the label. The conversation with my friend drifted to a so-called clean brand, and as we discussed their ingredient labels, we saw words like ‘perfume’ on the ingredient list. There are in excess of 800 chemical compounds that can make up a ‘perfume’, many of them toxic, and there is no requirement to disclose the chemicals used in that perfume. Personally, I have a sensitivity to certain chemical toxins that are used in perfumes. Have you ever entered a room where someone was wearing a noticeable perfume or cologne, and suddenly your eyes water, your nose gets stuffy, and you start sneezing? That is your body reacting to a chemical in the perfume. Why would you use a skin care product that puts ‘perfume’ in the bottle?
Russell Organics sets the bar high. We clearly list the chemical toxins we will never use in our products. Many of these toxins are commonly used by competing brands, either directly, or indirectly by hiding them in ingredients such as ‘perfume’, ‘fragrance’, and ‘blend’.
Transparency is also important for another reason. Just because an ingredient is ‘natural’ does not mean it is beneficial for the consumer. There are plenty of natural botanicals that are, or could be, toxic to users. Without transparency, how would anyone know what they are applying to their skin?
The final tenet of Clean Beauty Brands is being eco-friendly. Both in packaging and in ingredients use. We have moved 80% of our containers to glass, removing as much plastic as possible from our brand offerings. We will continue to explore ways to reach our ultimate goal of being plastic-free, and as the packaging industry perfects non-plastic airless tubes, we will make the transition. Inside the bottle, it is also important to consider that over 50% of what is applied to the skin ends up washing off and going down the drain. Ingredients matter. Ingredients end up in our groundwater. Ingredients such as physical abrasives end up ingested by aquatic life. Fish have micro-plastics embedded in their tissue. Scientists are also finding pharmaceutical prescription drugs and medications also embedded in fish.
Beauty brands play a huge role in what ingredients end up killing off our environment. Toxic chemicals are typically cheaper than botanical ingredients, which is why the mass brands use them. Profit at all costs.
As we wrapped our conversation, I think my friend began to realize the hypocrisy at hand in the beauty industry. Russell Organics is an inclusive organization. We love seeing the amazing people in our category re-define what a beauty brand should be. We welcome all with open arms. There is room for everyone to thrive in our amazing industry. But, brands should be transparent and clear about who they are and what they represent.
We are thankful that we have the spotlight now. We have worked hard to pioneer the Clean Beauty category in skin care. We will continue out path of discovery in formulating even better products in the future. As a family-owned, independent (we own 100% of our company) skin care brand, we are on a journey that was once unthinkable. To become the first independent skin care brand to have distribution in every major global market. As global consumers embrace the Clean Beauty trend, we are thrilled to be engaging with them in every market.
- Richard Russell