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Shelf Help: The Nature of Beauty, an encyclopaedic guide to modern natural beauty

December 1st 2016 / Judy Johnson Google+ Judy Johnson

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Imelda Burke’s new book is an honest, fresh look at natural and organic beauty - but anyone interested in good skin will benefit

Beauty is changing; just as the health industry has seen the clean eating movement take hold and grow from being a social media humblebrag to driving shopping trends, there has been a shift towards nature when it comes to skincare and cosmetics. The words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are no longer associated with the time-old stereotype of questionable sandals and a lack of deodorant, nor with unattractive packaging or ineffective mascaras. Natural beauty sales are up 20% year on year in the UK, while 42% of beauty consumers worldwide choose brands promoting natural and organic ingredients; when it comes to better skin, we’re turning to nature for the answers.

Someone who made the switch to naturals years ago is Imelda Burke, the expert behind Marylebone’s Content Beauty and Wellbeing which opened in 2008 to bring cult brands in the natural and organic sector to the capital. Imelda’s knowledge is second to none; I’ve called upon her extensive background in researching brands and their formulations countless times in my search for the best skincare for sensitive skin, and anyone who’s visited the beauty boutique will know there’s no question about the organic beauty market that she can’t help you with. It’s this experience and know-how that has been poured into Imelda’s first book - The Nature of Beauty - an invaluable compendium on the subject of natural and organic beauty, from skincare to cosmetics, haircare to perfume and everything in between.

Not sure you want to go natural? You'll still find it invaluable.

If herbs and essential oils don’t float your beauty boat, don’t look away just yet. This beautifully illustrated and well-written ode to organics does more than just convince you to consider making the move to ‘clean’ beauty; it is an honest, personal account of why one might go green (starting with Imelda’s own story of a skin condition she lived with for years before her lightbulb moment of questioning what was in all those emollients she’d been applying), and how to make the switch if you choose to.

Not sure you want to go natural? You'll still find it invaluable. It is a straight-talking guide to what’s in your skincare and why; what you might wish to avoid or try depending on your skin type; the common ingredients you need to know about; plus the simple changes you can make in your diet for naturally healthier skin. Propelled by her own choices and expertise, Imelda even diligently tackles the nature vs science debate (see below for an extract), with a refreshing stance that shows there’s no need for the two to be compared.

In fact, there’s a wealth of information in the book that could help anyone with, er, skin. From recommended skincare routines according to your skin type (and top tips for working out your skin type in the first place) to recipes for homegrown products (hello budget skincare) and even fake tan hacks, it’s a modern woman’s beauty bible. Best of all is the ‘Love this, try this’ section at the end of the book - a helpful list of some of the most popular high street brands, cosmetics, skin, body and hair care products and their closest natural or organic equivalent; a genius way to help consumers find a natural beauty dupe and make their first step into greener living.

Stylish, smart and brimming with expertise, no beauty junkie should be without a copy if they want to better understand their skin; it’s an education in how to look and feel your best. Who wouldn’t want to learn that?

The Nature of Beauty: Organic Skincare, Botanical Beauty Rituals and Clean Cosmetics by Imelda Burke is published by Ebury Press in hardback, £20. Buy it now on Amazon here


NATURE VS SCIENCE

As soon as I entered the beauty industry, I found myself part of an ongoing debate: nature vs science. It’s a debate I am happy to be part of; however, it’s one that, in reality, is redundant. The premise of these discussions is often that somehow science and synthetically developed ‘scientific ingredients’ straight out of the lab, are superior in performance. But here is the thing – nature IS science. A natural skincare product hasn’t had all the ‘science’ removed from it. Someone hasn’t come along and actively avoided all scientific research on plant ingredients to enable them to formulate a product that is natural – it is not without ‘science’.

A natural skincare formulator has had to study science and do as much research to find the properties of a particular plant oil or extract or develop a method of green chemistry to ensure we are able to get the full benefit of a plant in a final product. There is NO LESS science in a natural product than a synthetic one. In fact, much of the science that mainstream brands will talk about is from the latest plant discovery they have made and are using as their key active ingredient.

Then there is the science of blending all those natural ingredients together so they don’t separate or go ‘bad’ and still look and smell nice after months of being open while actually doing something for our skin so that they can compete with mainstream brands on performance – it’s ALL science.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘synthetic’ is ‘(of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product’. Every beauty breakthrough has come about from studying how nature works e.g. why do some of us seem to be genetically predisposed to fewer lines? How does our body repair or renew itself? Beauty brands spend their time and research budgets trying to mimic, support or stimulate the processes that already occur – the very nature of our bodies.

I think the true benefit in going synthetic is more for the manufacturer than for your skin. Where synthetic ingredients really triumph over natural is that they can be produced to an exacting standard time and time again, they can be made on a mass scale and they can keep a product ‘good’ for a long shelf life. This all makes the manufacturing process significantly easier for producing beauty products on industrial scale. But my question as a user is, as with my food choices: If synthetic ingredients are made to imitate nature, why choose imitation when you can have the real thing?

In the nature vs science debate, I think what some are trying to convey is that natural skincare ingredients are often based on traditional ingredients that have been used for hundreds of years. They are in a way ‘old news’ in a world where we are all conditioned to think the latest is the greatest. We have been taught to dismiss tradition, and seek out the ‘straight-out-of-a-lab’ new developments. But when you think about it, who really benefits from these new latest developments? Hopefully we do, but so do the beauty companies who need to keep innovating to entice us to buy new products (you’ve seen the ads boasting of the newest development in wrinkle reduction or a latest product for smoother, shinier hair). By contrast, once you know that rosehip oil is brilliant at reducing scarring and marks (as proven by scientific research), there’s not a lot new you can keep saying about it. Instead of looking at this as a disadvantage, I prefer to see it as a strength.

I deliberately look for ingredients that have stood the test of time and are proven to deliver results, without the potential of any long-term unknown side effects. An ingredient that has been used on the skin for thousands of years and is still being used today, is proof enough that it not only has real benefits, but also it has a whole lot of history to show it is less likely to have any long-term negative effects on your body when used in the correct way.

If history isn’t enough to convince hardened beauty junkies to make the switch, in addition to these tried-and-tested options, there is a new field of green chemistry (see page 41–8), which includes the discovery of new natural ingredients, the development of naturally derived ingredients, improved methods for extraction and new methods of making non-animal derived ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid. It gives us the ‘wow’ ingredients that lots of us look for in products and these allow natural products to compete with mainstream beauty brands. Natural products can have it all.

Extracted from The Nature of Beauty by Imelda Burke (Ebury Press, £20)

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