10th year retrospective: WTF is Green Beauty anyway?

Hey! You can listen to this post, read by me, below!

To celebrate 10 years in the bizz, I'll do my darndest to dismantle what "my" industry has evolved into. Ha, and if that's not a contrarian-Jess-move I don't know what is. I have a 10th year series planned to explore the ups and downs of this segment of the beauty industry...and finally dusting off the ol' blog at the same time. If you follow me on Instagram (I do recommend!) then you know I have a few things I need to say. And I'm excited! Hope you are too!

Trust me when I say I only do this because I love Green Beauty. Well, I love my version of it, but not necessarily what the "mass" GB has become. It can mean different things to different brands (or consumers), but the intention was meant to be authentic and non-judgmental. It is not supposed to be fear-based. Or snobby. It is not meant to be elite, exclusive or "othering". It's not meant to be another empty marketing term, which admittedly, it has become. (And you know, it'll fall out of fashion and we'll just have the next one...and so the cycle continues.)

Green beauty takes some flack in the beautysphere for having no clear definition & for being an unregulated term. We will be seeing this "argument" more and more in the coming years, mark my words. This notion, that green beauty is just a wild-free-for-all of unsafe practices and zero-fact-checking, is something that the "science-camp" of chemists and derms on Instagram clutch onto for dear life. But I actually love those guys, and agree with so much of their views. I hate that there's this divide... green beauty is not (supposed to be) anti-science. It isn't. At least, MY version is not. And yes, the general marketing is problematic, but that doesn't mean that the products themselves are bad. (Some are, naturally.) A common argument of theirs is also that naturally-formulated products aren't doing sh*t for anybody's skin, but that's also untrue. In fact, most people stick with green beauty because they get the results that they want, NOT because they are afraid of drugstore products (or like me, they use a combination of both.) They accuse clean/green beauty of cherry-picking studies to suite their needs, but are they maybe doing the same? Feels like it.

(By the way, I don't mean to sound bitter. I am not. Nobody has ever "come after me" or said anything negative about Stark... I'm not defending myself. This is definitely more about my general exhaustion of industry-infighting that just doesn't need to exist.) 

But the main argument "against" clean/green is the fear-mongering and marketing language, which I agree, sucks. I have long been anti-fear mongering in my industry. But the thing is that when it comes to beauty vocabulary, most of it is unregulated. Clinical skincare isn't a thing. Professional-strength isn't a thing (unless you're getting a professional treatment). Cosmeceutical isn't a thing. Medical-grade isn't a thing. Hmmmm....seems camp-science is making stuff up too. (Again, love the scientists. So much so I married one.)

Sadly for Green Beauty, it gets lumped in with the problematic "clean beauty" disaster of a marketing scam, but IMO it's not the same.⁠ Saying something is clean implies that the opposite is dirty, and that's a lie. Lab-made products (we'll say that as a short-hand...I mean products that aren't mainly plant-derived) aren't dirty. In some respects, a lab-made product can be even better for the skin AND environment than an improperly made "clean" product.

For example, a lotion made with fruit juice, argan oil, an e-wax emulsifer that isn't stable, botanical extracts and an inadequate preservative system (and there are effective ones that are eco-cert compatible as well as ones that aren't, but do their job well) that goes moldy in 10 days is demonstrably less safe than a lotion made with distilled water, mineral oil, a stable emulsifier and a complete preservation system based on parabens and has a shelf life of 5 years.... no frills, but also no mold, and is therefore safer... and I'd say, far cleaner.

Of course, it's not so black and white. (The amounts of times I have talked about polarity, black and white and nuance over the past 18 months is staggering.)  What Green Beauty was, and what it is now, and what the generally perception of it is becoming more complex (and annoying IMO!!)

Although I want to detach from the GB label, here is my opinion on what the label has meant to me. (But wouldn't it be nice if there were no labels? This is what I am striving for....maybe this series is my detachment from it? I don't know.)⁠

Green Beauty is a formulating, sourcing and packaging criteria a brand chooses to adhere to. It's a set of values and ethics a brand strives to maintain throughout their entire manufacturing chain: from sourcing raw ingredients, to choosing their type of packaging, to the marketing and language they use around their products. It's not regulated, because it is personal to every brand.

Green Beauty reflects a love and knowledge of plant material as this is the basis for creating a formula. Often, the idea for a particular product stems from the excitement over an ingredient or two, and evolves from there. Formulators in our industry are absolutely obsessed with their plants... they are the muse, and kind of run the whole show.

Green Beauty has a deep respect for the environment, but as I have come to understand at an even deeper level than my days at university studying the environment, it's complex and constantly evolving. That also makes striving for a realistic version of sustainability my greatest passion these days. It's a moving target, and that's kinda cool.... although infuriating at the same time. Ha! We'll get into this in another post. However, I just need to acknowledge that A LOT OF the "green" attempts in green/clean beauty just ends up being performative, and part of the marketing package. Womp womp.

Green Beauty is an enthusiasm for sensory experience. The colours, textures, scents and feel of a beautifully made product should not be disregarded. It creates an emotional response and THAT is actually a very important aspect of a good beauty routine. In my opinion, those of us in Green Beauty have got this part down to the art and science that it really is. Some in camp science say there's no place for fun in skincare ("Who cares about scent and texture!? That's for pudding, dammit." <--- said nobody in particular.) But I disagree. Why shouldn't effective skin habits come with a side of joy? Is eating simply an activity to stay alive? Do we not tryin out different modes of exercise to see which we enjoy the most?

Green Beauty is also a sense of creativity and curiosity for crafting effective formulas. Not one of us isn't interested in efficacy. This is the business of beauty, after all. We'll talk about skin health and ingredient performance in another post.

Green Beauty wasn't meant to be anti-science, we always just dealt with having LESS studies on our side, relying a bit more on folk medicine.⁠ But ethnopharmacology is a real thing... it is the study of traditional/folk medicine and this has been instrumental in many of our basic medicine that we rely on: aspirin from willow bark, digoxin (heart failure)  from foxglove, quinine (malaria treatment) from Cinchona and morphine from poppies, to name a few. Sounds pretty elitist to say that folk remedies aren't scientific, IMO.

But overall, I think Green Beauty (to me) has also meant truly independent brands, small businesses with approachable founders, of all walks of life, who work together as a team.⁠ True indie beauty! That part is definitely becoming diluted as big brands jump on the green bandwagon. But capitalism surges on. And even back when Green beauty was "small", were we not part of this monster "capitalism"? We were. And are. I love women in business, doing their own thing, but at the end of the day, it's all just business. Whether the company remains small, sells out, goes big, shuts down... if it ever made a dollar profit, it's business. I know, I know. But there's something amazing when you feel like a bit of a pioneer, and those who are supposed to be your competitors feel like trusted colleagues. It's special, truly.

Green beauty felt like a small yet welcoming, club. A point of common interest for a community to be born. It has been changing for a few years, and in another 5 years, who knows? It's sad to see something I love deeply, something so ingrained in my story, change, but it's happening.⁠ I think I can be ok with it though. But you know...I've got some thoughts. ;) Please stick around for this series, where we get into some nitty gritty! I hope you find it all as interesting as I do.