Have you ever wondered what really makes an item sustainable? Or debated the qualities of an "it" item? Maybe you've pondered the future of retail in a post-pandemic world?

In a strange cycle of 'normal' life starting, pausing and restarting, more questions than answers have arisen in our daily lives. But in an effort to understand our surroundings better, we've decided to get some answers.  

We're starting with what we know best and that is the questions driving the fashion and beauty industry forward. From topics on sustainability to the merits of organic beauty, we'll be digging into the questions that have perplexed us and piqued our curiosity; and to do so, we enlist the help of industry experts to get the full run-down.

We're often told that a natural and organic lifestyle is better for us these days; whether that's eating a vegan diet or opting for natural fibres within our clothes. And beauty has been no exception: over the years, the demand for skincare that's made earthly produce has risen substantially, and the organic skin care market is now expecting to reach $19.8 Billion USD by 2022. But does it actually work? We asked the questions, so you could find out.

Is there any evidence that natural ingredients benefit our skin?
Plant-based skincare has been used for far longer than a selfie-obsessed Gen Z could guess: archeologists found evidence of Egyptians using plant based skin protection as far back as 6000 BC. 

Founder of Mawena, Helena Mendès, incorporates ancient techniques into her skincare brand, utilising tepezcohuite – which is found in Mimosa Tenuiflora bark, which native Mayan women have been making use of for centuries – as the base of her products. "It has healing, soothing and regenerating properties thanks to the saponoids it contains, which makes it ideal for dry skin," explains Mendès. "It is an antioxidant active, capturing free radicals and inhibits the enzyme responsible for skin ageing. It's also suitable for oily and combination skin because it is rich in zinc, and has an astringent, anti-fungal and antibacterial action." It's this, as well as it's unique origins that interests Mendès. "The extensive and rich history of its use and heritage in the local community is what excites me the most," she says, having witnessed it first hand when she visited the region in Mexico. After gaining the trust of the Maya women, having shown that she was going to respect these traditions, she founded Mawena. "Even though we have discovered quite a lot about this fantastic plant, there still is so much more to uncover and learn." So yes, there is centuries worth of evidence that natural ingredients are effective, but that begs the questions as to why we still use chemical formulations to this day?

Why would you then opt for a chemical formulation over this? What is it that natural ingredients can’t do?
In Dr. Barbara Sturm's eyes, it's because there's more scientific evidence that proves that these formulations really work – or so she proves with her own skincare business. "When I began developing my Dr. Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics line, I did a survey of then-available skincare and I was shocked by the non-ingredient science, non-efficacy based characteristics of skincare options," shares Sturm, and it was through her prior experience working in orthopaedics, and her knowledge of anti-inflammatory medicine, that led her to creating world renowned products. "I use ingredient science that has been widely clinically studied for its properties. Advanced ingredient science is what I build my skincare solutions around – potent, key ingredients that have been widely clinically studied for their properties and efficacy." 

With this approach to developing skincare, the consumer can feel confident that they haven't been duped into buying a product that won't work, as Sturm explains. "Nature can produce aggressive substances and toxins which are not necessarily effective – something which is labelled ‘organic’ has no consistent definition and tells you nothing about a product’s safety or efficacy."

Why have chemical formulations got a bad rep?
If what Sturm said is the case, then why is the public so drawn to natural beauty brands that use these terms, sometimes wrongly? "I think that people are becoming more interested in how best to take care of themselves, whether that’s through their diet, fitness or through self-care." This explains why there was an increase of beauty brands who fall into that 'natural' definition; to keep inline with that ethos. However, Sturm believes that consumers have wised up to the fact that brands do use these phrases as marketing tools without having any ground to stand on. "With skincare, the [consumers] are losing interest in hollow marketing concepts and products that don’t work, or even worse, that attack healthy skin. Nature produces compounds with remarkable medical efficacy for many health issues. But it’s the science, not the word that interests me."

On the other hand, all natural skincare can have other benefits as well as being good to the skin: it's more likely that they can be sourced sustainably – take UpCircle's approach of reusing food by-products for their beauty products – and in Mawena's case, remunerative to the community it comes from. "One of my mottos is that; you can do good by doing good to others in the way you consume." says Mendès, who donates €2 back to the Maya community with every product purchased, and works with their local authorities to help support education in the region. Introducing these traditions to the Western world while still respecting them are just as important to Mendès as the commercial aspect of the brand itself. "It is a promise I made when I first met them, and as such we do not intervene in the manufacturing process," expounds Mendès. "As a black woman, I am sensitive to cultural appropriation and want to ensure we are showcasing the local culture and Mayan tradition, so all our active ingredients are processed directly on site in Mexico. Our role is to help transmit this ritual around the world and ultimately, I’m just a small player in all of this.​"

In short, it seems one is neither better than the other. But with natural ingredients, you have to be careful not to fall culprit to some marketing jargon that makes it seem better than it actually is, making traditional, science-based formulations a failsafe. Although, picking the right natural brands could be sustainably and philanthropically better for the world. We'll let you decide which one you should be filling your beauty cabinets with. 

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