How Clean Skincare Has Become a Serious Power Player in The Beauty Industry - Women's Health

How Clean Skincare Has Become a Serious Power Player in The Beauty Industry

Clean skincare has shaken off its hippie vibes to emerge as the high-performing, planet-loving beauty fix we all need.

by | Oct 5, 2021

For a true glow-up story, check out clean skincare. Once seen as a dinky alternative to mainstream cosmetics, it’s now a power player in the beauty industry, wielding ethical credentials and clinical studies like a total boss. 

Not long ago, if you wanted a natural beauty product you were reduced to searching the shelves of your local health food shop for jars of lavender-scented potions that promised not to irritate your skin. Enter, stage left: celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba, who called out chemicals and championed natural ingredients while stoking our love affair with wellness. Cut to a climate emergency and a world-stopping virus and you end up here: the global clean beauty market is expected to reach a value of $15.6 billion by 2027. 

Not bad for a niche sector – particularly one that’s kinda hard to define. Depending on who you ask, “clean” can mean using only natural or naturally derived ingredients; formulations that leave out certain nasties, like parabens and phthalates; or brands
with a light eco-footprint, cruelty-free practices and transparency in labelling. In 2021, it’s likely to mean all of the above as conscious consumers seek out the clean skincare trifecta: safe, sustainable and effective. “Clean beauty brings wellbeing into the beauty industry,” says Lorraine Dallmeier, a biologist and the founder of online organic cosmetic formulation school Formula Botanica. “People’s mindset isn’t in the direction of, ‘Yes, I want to buy a load of synthetic chemicals and put them on my skin’ anymore. It’s just not the zeitgeist.” 

That’s how many tons of beauty waste will be in landfill by 2050 if we don’t change our current rate of consumption Source: Zero Waste Week.

That might be partly down to record-high anxiety in response to the pandemic. “I think a lot of people just want to feel that sense of calmness in their life,” Dallmeier adds. “When you think about what goes into natural and organic products… You instantly think of nature, and it calms you down. I think that’s a big component of why people are seeking natural alternatives.”

There’s a practical element too, explains Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan, founding dermatologist at ODE Dermatology in Melbourne, who notes that 2-3 per cent of the population has sensitive skin. Chemical preservatives such as parabens and phthalates “absolutely can result in allergic contact dermatitis in a sensitive individual,” she points out.

“A lot of these [synthetic] preservatives release formaldehyde once they’re absorbed and formaldehyde is a toxin. Natural brands have set the precedent for more synthetic brands to try and get rid of this stuff and find safer alternatives, and I love that.”

Happily, cleaning up your beauty cabinet no longer means compromising on results. “We’re seeing leaps in cosmeceutical industry technology, how we can pair natural ingredients with skin-identical molecules and vehicles that [can] drive the actives into the right layers of the skin,” says Gunatheesan.

For Cathy Tolpigin, an organic make-up artist and founder of clean beauty resource The Green Edit, it’s an exciting new world as brands compete on performance as well as sustainability. “Everything’s going next-level because consumers are demanding the whole package,” she says. In short, the future is looking clean

Edible Beauty & Sleeping Beauty Purifying Mousse Sleep Mask, $60

Clay is known for detoxifying skin, which is where this pink clay and zeolite power product comes in. Use twice a week to boost radiance.

Ethique Deep Green Solid Face Cleanser, $25, and In-Shower Container, $20

Get a deep clean with this bar made with French clay, sea salt, castor oil and sweet orange oil. 

Nude By Nature Bioactive Rosehip Oil, $34.95

With vegan, cruelty-free ingredients sourced from around Australia, this elixir addresses chapped skin.

Mukti Calming Moisturising Creme, $64.95

Supercharged with shea butter, aloe, kakadu plum and Davidson plum, this nourishing cream locks in moisture and brightens skin.

Ole Henriksen Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer, $64

This gently exfoliating mint-scented moisturiser is perfect for congested skin, targeting fine lines and pigmentation.

Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Refining Toner, $48

Toner dries out your skin, right? Not this one. Expect an alcohol-free solution that uses exfoliating BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) to de-gunk oily pores.

Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil, $110

Biossance was a pioneer brand in the clean beauty movement. This oil offers plump and bouncy skin. Yes please!

Youth To The People Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial Exfoliator, $83

For skin that feels softer and smoother, try this chemical-meets-physical exfoliant which brings together active enzymes and bamboo beads (these break down over time, making them kinder to the environment).

Milk Makeup Melatonin Overnight Lip Mask, $24

Topical melatonin with superberries like goji, acai and blueberries keep your
pout hydrated.

Dr. Roebuck’s Noosa Nourishing Crème Cleanser, $33.60

Thanks to ingredients like oat leaf, calendula and green tea, this hard-working cleanser can reduce surface inflammation and wash away impurities.

Bybi Beauty Bright Eyed Illuminating Eye Cream, $28

The tube packaging of this arnica and hyaluronic acid combo
is made from sugarcane that’s entirely recyclable. 

Pai Skincare The Light Fantastic Cacao & Schisandra Ceramide Face Oil, $89

An all-in-one lightweight face oil that can calm skin and instantly restore moisture for all types – yep, even combination and oily. 

Indie Lee I-Waken Eye Serum, $74

Address dark circles and uneven skin tone with anti-fatigue ingredients such as horse chestnut, mountain ash bud and witch-hazel in this balmy product.

Trend Spotting

Keep your eye on these movements as clean skincare takes over the beauty industry

Circular Beauty 

More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced each year by the global cosmetics industry, and most of it ends up in landfill. Not pretty. “The beauty industry is one of the world’s most unsustainable industries,” confirms Dallmeier. 


Remember when a 12-step skincare routine was huge? Not anymore. The Pinterest Predicts 2021 Report named skinimalism (aka, minimalist skincare) as the next big thing in the beauty world. The antidote to those caked-on make-up tutorials, skinimalism is all about using as little as possible to promote a healthy and natural glow, while cutting back on toxins and waste in the process. 

“The minimalist approach is really important because our skin is very clever at working out how to heal itself,” says Gunatheesan, who recommends only washing your face once a day. Look for multipurpose products with few ingredients, or try making your own from kitchen staples for bonus skinimalism points. Gunatheesan suggests mixing Greek yoghurt with a dash of turmeric for a brightening mask, or using MCT oil (derived from coconut oil) as a nourishing body lotion.

Clean beauty is here to change that with innovative circular designs. Tolpigin says, “Consumers are looking for packaging that is recycled to start with, refillable if possible or recyclable.” Beyond packaging, circular beauty also means sustainably sourced ingredients and planet-friendly production processes. “It’s a holistic view,” adds Tolpigin.


Research into botanical ingredients and natural dupes for chemicals is heating up as demand for clean skincare grows. “A decade ago we didn’t have all these natural emulsifiers and surfactants, preservatives and stabilisers,” says Dallmeier, “but now you could take any mainstream beauty product and recreate it with naturals only.”

Shaking the notion that nature and science don’t mix, cleanical beauty brands are making waves with lab-tested formulas. This research offers us reassurance, explains Gunatheesan. “I think the consumer needs to ask – even if it’s a small clinical study – what has been the improvement in skin hydration [or in] wrinkle depth?” she says. “We should be open to natural ingredients actually giving results, but [brands] need to show clinical data and studies.”

The number of chemicals the average woman puts on her skin each day with standard cosmetic use

Magic Potions

You check your Co-Star app daily, meditate each morning and cleanse your crystals on the full moon. Why wouldn’t you magic up your skincare routine, too?  The Pinterest Predicts Report also listed modern mysticism as a top wellbeing trend of 2021, and Tolpigin is watching it manifest in the beauty world. “Consumers are becoming more spiritually attuned,” she says. “I’m seeing beauty rituals incorporating Ayurvedic oil and products that celebrate the phases of the moon and planets, like serums made under the fixed hours of each zodiac sign and face oils that use flower and crystal essences to balance energy fields.” 

Clean beauty is turning self-care into self-love with products paired with uplifting mantras and skincare sets designed to give a mindful experience. “These types of tools can help [people cope] with the stress of life,” Tolpigin adds. Research has linked meditation to a speedier response to treatment for chronic skin conditions, so adding mindfulness to your skincare regimen could be a smart move.

Waterless Beauty

Read the ingredients label of a standard beauty product and you’ll probably find water listed near the top. While water is a cheap filler, it requires a lot of preservatives to keep it shelf-stable. Enter waterless beauty: a South Korean innovation that concentrates the active ingredients in a formula, giving you more bang for your buck while saving a precious resource. “Eliminating water from skincare products means you can use less product,” says Tolpigin. Plus, it means less packaging and weight in transport.

Some brands are dialling up the tech, using freeze-drying techniques to create products that can be rehydrated at home, while others are turning to botanicals like aloe vera or jojoba oil to replace H2O. It’s not a perfect solution (water is still used to grow the plants used in waterless products, notes Dallmeier), but it is one way to go a little easier on the environment.

Plant Power

You won’t believe what these superhero botanicals can do.


A natural alternative to collagen-boosting retinol. Lab studies show it has the same anti-ageing effects, minus the potential redness, irritation and
UV sensitivity.

Kakadu plum 

This Aussie fruit is a vitamin C superstar. It also contains powerful antioxidants that can help to fight the signs of ageing and reduce
dark circles, redness and pigmentation.

Sandalwood seed oil 

Another Aussie native, its claim to fame is the rare ximenynic acid, which has strong anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also known for regulating oily skin. 

Marine extracts 

Look to the botanicals of the sea to bump up hydration, preserve your skin’s natural barrier and protect against the natural breakdown of collagen.

Fragonia oil

A gentle and fragrant Aussie plant that’s antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It’s ideal for treating acne and soothing sensitive skin. 

Kahai oil 

The nut from the cacay tree is high in vitamins A and E and rich in nourishing fatty acids. It’s known for hydrating skin, repairing damage and slowing the signs of ageing. 

Recommended to you

More From