Do you know what’s in your cleanser or face oil? If you can't tell your mineral oil from your monoi oil and your parabens from your papaya enzymes, you're not the only one. Customer knowledge of the contents of beauty products and demand for ranges containing little or no artificial additives and pure natural ingredients is growing fast, mirroring the ‘clean eating’ trend of the last few years.
Enter Dominika Minarovic and Elsie Rutterford, the female duo behind independent beauty brand, Clean Beauty Co, who believe so strongly in ingredients over everything else that, turning conventional business models on their heads, they established their brand by educating people about making their own products rather than using ‘natural’ as a marketing concept to sell anything ready-made.
"We honestly believe that some products are better when made fresh and used on the day," explains Dominika. "Like scrubs and masks. That’s why we wrote our book and hold workshops teaching people the recipes and how to make them and customise them to suit their skin."
The pair – both 30 and with skin that advocates for their brand pretty well – met while working together in advertising sales and began their joint mission, evolving from enthusiastic beauty DIYers to full-time entrepreneurs via a blog and increasingly engaged Instagram following, leading to a literary agent and book deal with Penguin Random House. The book, containing over 100 recipes for natural skin and haircare treats, doesn’t necessitate a science lab's-worth of ingredients. Sample recipes include coffee, avocado and grapefruit scrub or coconut milk and saffron face mask; pretty appetising, and Instagram catnip. "We’re not formulations chemists, we’re making things with easily accessible ingredients. We understand what our readers want and we know that none of our customers have Bunsen burners and lots of equipment! So we make it fun and interesting, but easy and accessible for people," explains Dominika.
The duo use diet as an analogy to describe their brand ethos. "[When we met] we both followed plant-based bloggers like Deliciously Ella and Madeleine Shaw. We became savvy at identifying ingredients, avoiding sugar and salt, veering away from over-processed food and focusing on nutrients." Then, finding out their favourite cosmetics and skincare brands were often far from being ‘natural’, regardless of smelling of lavender or rose petals, the pair turned to their kitchen cupboards for substances such as avocado, honey and oats to use on their skin instead. Initial research on blogs and DIY beauty forums led them eventually to qualify in organic skincare. "Looking into ingredients, we decided to take things back to basics and formulate products. At the time it was a passion project and we enjoyed spending our evenings and weekends on it and interacting with the natural community online," says Dominika.
Now, the pair have responded to demand and launched a select edit of products to buy off-the-shelf. The challenge was to create products with the all-natural integrity of homemade, but on a commercial scale. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but one they’ve approached with tenacity. The range, branded BYBI (it stands for By Beauty Insiders) is small so far, with three products – Babe Balm, a multipurpose beauty balm that triples up as a highlighter, moisturiser and cleanser with a nourishing kokum butter, monoi, squalene, hibiscus and calendula; Priming Polish, a creamy priming facial polish with fruit enzymes and marshmallow root to prep skin to absorb other skincare products; and Detox Dust, a charcoal-packed powder for a deeper cleanse – available now, and two more products including a luxury serum due to launch during August.
"We stick to oil-based formulas in many of our products which eliminates the need for preservatives as bacteria doesn’t grow in oil," explains Dominika. "We’ve worked really hard to use natural preservatives in our few water-based products. The high street mentality is cheap formulation which includes a lot of water – which needs a lot of preservative," adds Elsie. "The reason we avoid artificial preservatives is because they kill active ingredients, so a cream that has been kept for two years is going to have far fewer benefits than when new. We are open about the fact BYBI products have a shorter shelf-life; about six months, though you’ll easily use them up in that time!"
Focusing on high quality, active ingredients and minimising or eliminating fillers earns customer loyalty, although it does reduce profit margins and puts the range in a more premium category, with prices from £22 and up (still a lower price point than many cult brands).
Retail analysts have shown that shoppers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly concerned with the contents of their beauty buys, and that the new generation of independent beauty brands has the edge over established brands (household names owned by multinational corporations) which are struggling to keep up when it comes to being seen as ‘natural’ or ‘clean’. This chimes with the women's’ experience; "Consumers are moving towards greater transparency," says Elsie. "We need a bit of a re-education around beauty products. We’ve come to expect them to last for years – but what if you bought bread and it said it would last a year? You’d think that was weird," agrees Dominika.
As the brand expands into retail products and, behind the scenes, an office and a few new staff, both Elsie and Dominika remain focused on their original ethos. "Everything we do is about empowerment. It’s not about bashing the beauty industry, but educating people and getting them excited about great ingredients."