What It Really Means to Be a Clean Beauty Brand

photo by klenova/iStock/Getty Images Plus(photo by @klenova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Overhauling your beauty cabinet with sustainable products is at first incredibly daunting. Just a few years ago, I found myself questioning if I really needed to concern myself with ingredients, packaging and brand ethos. But collectively, as consumers, we are all becoming more conscious—it’s hard to deny the impact we each have as we become educated with new information. And as clean living and clean beauty become more important to consumers, it should be equally important to brands.

"I see clean beauty as part of the larger sustainability movement, the goal of which is to minimize the negative impact we have on our bodies and our world as we go about our normal, modern lives," says Eli Halliwell, Hairstory’s CEO. "It's important to recognize that all commercial activity has an impact—it consumes resources, generates some form of pollution and creates waste. The trick is to be more thoughtful about how you do business in order to minimize this impact.” 

Hairstory is aiming to be the first brand with 100 percent refillable products, reducing consumers' plastic consumption and carbon footprints—something that Halliwell says is the biggest differentiator between “clean” and “sustainable” beauty. While clean products exclude harmful ingredients from formulas, sustainable products require brands to completely rethink the way they do things. "All of our cleansing products are currently sold as a refill system, and we are launching our first refillable styling product later this year," Halliwell says. "Refill solutions enable us to reduce packaging significantly, while still offering the customer a wonderful usage experience."

The work doesn't stop there. Being a sustainable and clean brand goes far beyond how a product is packaged. "When I took the job as CEO of Jurlique in 2006, a ‘clean’ beauty brand far before anyone was using that term, greenwashing was rampant. Many brands justified calling themselves ‘organic’ because it was in their trademark, even though there was no way their products could ever pass an actual organic certification," Halliwell says.

In the years since, Halliwell says brands have moved away from words like "all-natural and organic," in favor of words like "clean." "They’ve shifted the conversation from what’s in the products and focused more on what’s not," he says. "That’s a much more honest way to talk about healthfulness, but it is still very undefined. It is very hard for consumers to understand exactly which ingredients are potentially harmful and which are not."

Ultimately, Halliwell says sustainability is a journey, not a destination. "It used to be that people who grew up on communes with Hippie parents, like me, were the only ones who cared about eating locally raised meat, whole grains, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, and organic milk. We had to shop in special co-ops that smelled like hemp and patchouli oil," he says. "Now we have Whole Foods and every mass supermarket has an entire aisle dedicated to organic/vegan/gluten-free/antibiotic-free foods. I think the future of sustainable beauty looks a lot like the present day offering for sustainable food," Halliwell adds. "Lots of great brands who offer wonderful, better-for-you products at prices that are likely slightly higher than, yet generally comparable to, conventional alternatives." 

So what does the future of sustainable professional beauty look like? Halliwell sees it like this: “…more refills, ongoing improvements in…formulations, new products that restore and respect your body’s natural balance, and ongoing e-commerce and technology innovations that restore and respect the value hairdressers create through their relationships with their clients."