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By Rhea Cartwright
e are undoubtedly in the middle of a “clean beauty” revolution, in which conscious consumerism is bringing record growth to the global organic beauty market. With thousands of brands touting their “all-natural” and “toxin-free” status, what do any of these claims actually mean?
While farming methods may not be the sexiest facet of the beauty industry, exponentially rising sales in plant-based skincare are causing significant environmental problems. Soils are being turned over too quickly to keep up with demand, without allowing adequate time for them to rejuvenate and certain popular ingredients, such as avocado, also need a shockingly large amount of water in comparison with the yield of their harvest.
Unfortunately, the larger the natural skincare industry grows to satiate consumer appetite, the more taxing it becomes on the environment. By contrast, synthetic, lab-made ingredients can often be produced in a far more environmentally friendly manner. Now that organic skincare has gone mainstream, is biodynamic beauty the burgeoning trend to watch out for?
What is organic skincare?
In its simplest terms, organic skincare consists of products formulated with ingredients that have been grown naturally without the use of non-organic pesticides and chemicals. As in the organic food industry, the notion behind organic beauty is that these products are better for the skin – due to their increased nutrient density – and also the planet.
However, although the organic and natural skincare market is projected to be worth $7.2 billion (£5.1 billion) worldwide by 2024, there isn’t a unified global certification. This means a product can be deemed organic in one country but wouldn’t pass the testing process in another. The lack of clarity on organic skincare has unsurprisingly led to confusion, worsened by the fact that in the UK, a brand doesn’t need to have an organic certification of the kind that organic foods must have in order to label themselves as such. While several brands are responsibly using organic raw ingredients without certifications, others are simply “greenwashing” by using a minute proportion of organic ingredients alongside other ingredients that eco-conscious consumers would prefer to avoid.
‘We are creating a healthy environment whilst sequestering carbon back into the soil to create carbon-positive crops, and helping combat climate change’
What is biodynamic skincare?
Biodynamic skincare uses ingredients based on biodynamic farming methods. “It’s a regenerative method of agriculture which focuses on giving more life back to the land than is taken away in the form of crops and harvests,” says Jayn Sterland, managing director of Weleda UK. “Optimising and maintaining biodiversity is an essential part of the biodynamic process. The key to farming biodynamically is healthy soil packed full of bacteria and fungi – akin to our own gut biome.”
Demeter, an organisation that runs an incredibly strict voluntary certification scheme, defines biodynamic farming as a system that is “self-contained, self-sustaining and follows the cycles of its local ecology”. For US brand Maison/Made, founded by husband-and-wife duo Adrien de Botin and Carolina Prioglio, the first luxury skincare brand to gain biodynamic certification, the benefits are clear. “We intentionally chose to pursue the Demeter certification to demonstrate our commitment to quality, sustainability, craftsmanship, and tradition,” they say. “It's the only certification that verifies regenerative agriculture, sustainability, high-quality ingredients, and ethical working standards all under one umbrella, whilst also encompassing all the terms in our niche industry – such as ‘natural’, ‘clean’, ‘green’, ‘slow’ – that are typically used as subjective marketing labels.”
Is biodynamic skincare better for your skin?
Truthfully, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to say for sure. Biodynamic skincare won’t automatically make your skin better, in the same way that drinking copious amounts of biodynamic wine won’t give you any less of a hangover. Dermatologists and skincare experts agree that the bioavailability – the extent to which an ingredient is delivered to the relevant area – of a product is the most important factor in its success, but the skin will process that product in the same way whether it’s naturally sourced or lab-made.
That being said, the vitality of plants is key to creating the most nutrient-dense and efficacious skincare. “Non-organically grown plants will often have a lower active pharmaceutical yield than those grown organically, and may be contaminated with chemicals from the artificial fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides used during farming,” says Sterland. “Growing plants according to nature’s rhythms enables them to be healthy and rich, which mimics our own natural processes and rhythms. The more vital the plant ingredients used in the preparation, the more vital the skin’s response to them.” It seems logical, but Boston-based Consultant Dermatologist Dr Ranella Hirsch is keen to add that the true marker “is whether this is a demonstrable benefit to the skin, by using the more nutrient-dense ingredient”.
'The larger the natural skincare industry becomes to satiate consumer appetite, the more taxing it becomes on the environment.'
As it stands, the environment benefits the most from biodynamic skincare, which some would argue is the most important thing. “Farming this way is 40 per cent more expensive than conventional farming,” says Sterland. “We are creating a healthy environment whilst sequestering carbon back into the soil to create carbon-positive crops, and helping combat climate change.” Although sustainability within the beauty industry has often centered on packaging, more elements of the supply chain are rightly coming under the spotlight. “The world doesn’t need ‘just another beauty brand”, says de Botin. “We don’t want our brand to be a burden to the planet, and being biodynamic allows us to respect the land and consider the entire lifecycle of the product.”
Lead image courtesy of Maison/Made
If you want to choose skincare that’s definitely better for the environment and possibly better for your skin, too, biodynamic may be better than organic.
By Rhea Cartwright
Campaigners are calling on the Government to back a scheme to save Britain’s independent businesses. ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ could give independent retailers a boost. Here, we hear from four beauty retail entrepreneurs on why it’s needed.