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What is Clean Beauty? – expert Newby Hands explains

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Defining Clean Beauty isn't simple. Why? Because it's not a clear cut term. Unlike "organic" where you can be certified, Clean Beauty is much more of a movement. Many brands and people will have a slightly different way that they understand the idea.

But with more and more brands marketing themselves as "clean", we as consumers need to get clear on how we understand Clean Beauty.

Over the course of RUSSH Weekend, our virtual festival of creativity, we got a chance to catch up with Newby Hands, the beauty director at Net-a-Porter. An industry expert for 20 years, we were able to pick her brains to discover everything we wanted to know about Clean Beauty. Read the best from the interview or watch the video below.


What is Clean Beauty?

"What it is, Clean Beauty is a big movement that is literally cleaning up the industry, giving us choice, giving us transparency, giving us clarity," she says.

"It's a big big topic. It's a confusing topic. What is Clean Beauty? There's natural beauty, there's organic beauty, there's vegan beauty and then there's Clean Beauty. It's a hot topic at the moment. A lot of women and men are being more mindful about what they put on their skin.

"Well it's everything, and officially nothing. So what it is, I love the way you used the word considered, that's something that we use a lot. And for me this started in a big way about 20 years ago and it started with people just being more concerned about what they're using."

Newby highlights that it's important know that there is no official classification as to what constitutes Clean Beauty

"Clean beauty is not an official term - there's no official regulation but it is a move for the good.

"While there are some brands that use this as a bit of a marketing term. Because of social media, companies have to be transparent. Clean Beauty is a lot of different things. I would say it's people considering what they do. They consider the ingredients they use. They consider they want to be vegan or organic. They consider do they want to make locally, they consider their carbon footprint. They think about everything.

"The thing about a lot of these brands is that when you search online or you question the brands, they should have good answers. Sometimes they may make a decision when they consider what they're going to do, that you may not necessarily agree with but they should have a good reason as to why they did it. So it's about transparency, it's about really understanding the brand, it's about a brand sharing its story. Our brands at Net-a-Porter really connect with founders and founders stories."


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How can we be more discerning?

Newby says "it is so confusing. When you look at an ingredients list. I mean who can understand, it's like reading another language. And I think that in a way, we can do some work ourselves.

"What we've done at Net-a-Porter recently is, two years ago we started our Clean Beauty edit and then that's moved on. Beginning of this year, we launched something called Net Sustain. It goes across fashion and beauty. This is something that we’re rolling on and it’s looking at our brands and we vet each product.

"Not just the brand, but each product within the brand against six pillars. These are like what are the ingredients; what about the processes; how much waste; is it made locally; what are they doing to support the community; is it vegan, and what’s their approach to animal welfare? Each product in our Net Sustain has been vetted. Since we launched it we’ve done another 16 brands. We have a lot of brands, so it’s a matter of working through it.

"There are so many products. So many products! What everyone is trying to do with Clean Beauty and this new approach is edit it down so you can make your choice.

"One of the things that gives me real excitement is I was talking to our senior buyer for skincare and she said “you know what, when we have new brands, we don’t really need this conversation anymore”.

"A few years ago we’d ask if they were organic and certified. Now we don’t need that conversation.

"People launching brands now are taking all of this into account. That is fantastic and incredible! That’s amazing that people now have to acknowledge what path they’re taking. We are getting there and we’re getting there pretty fast now."


One of the biggest myths though around Clean Beauty is that it’s not high tech and doesn’t have science behind it. Can you talk to that?

Newby says "there are so many misunderstandings about it. When I talk to the formulators and ask them what is Clean Beauty, it actually in its purest form refers mainly to the high-tech. It doesn’t actually refer to the organic or the purity it refers to more of the sophisticated skincare.

"It’s the different chemical ingredients that a formulator will choose to use or not. Will they use ingredients that could have a link with something we do not want in our skincare or not? They choose these chemicals, it’s high tech and they’re choosing the ones they know to be safe.

"Although we talk about Clean Beauty involving everything that’s natural and handmade and organic, it actually refers more likely to those more high tech, science-driven [techniques]. It’s more clean science."

But of course, it's important to remember that there is no regulated list of Clean Beauty ingredients.

Newby says "when it comes to Clean Beauty, there is no official list of what we we shouldn’t have. What would be great is if in the next two years we can have all the different bodies getting together and drawing up a global list of what should not be in Clean Beauty. They’re getting there and there are certain groups people will work and comply with but I do think nowadays talking with formulators, you can get…really great products.

"If you have a company producing active ingredients for the beauty industry and you want to be in the game and successful, this is your focus now. It’s business but it’s fantastic because it’s impacting all of us positively."

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