In recent years, skincare-lovers the world over have embraced K-beauty, the Korean approach to skincare that often involves 10 product steps (sometimes even more) in an attempt to achieve perfect “glass” skin. And J-beauty, a Japanese method that involves fewer steps and fewer active ingredients, has also taken off.
Now there’s A-beauty – and you can pat yourself on the back, because it’s all homegrown here in Australia. A-beauty typically reflects the values you might associate with Aussies: the products are hardworking yet laid-back, with an affinity for the natural environment.
“Aussie beauty has always focused on simple, organic, green and natural products, stuff that is easy to use, and gets the job done – no BS,” Zoë Foster Blake, beauty writer, author and founder of cult beauty brand Go-To tells Broadsheet. “[The growth of A-beauty’s popularity] is happy timing given the global shift to clean, plant-based skincare. It helps that our native flora is riddled with astonishing fruits, nuts and plants; most A-beauty brands, including Go-To, use as many of these as possible because they’re genuinely best in class.”
It seems as though the world is paying attention. In 2018 Go-To launched in Sephora in the US, where it’s now stocked in more than 400 stores, and in 2017 Melbourne-based Frank Body – which began with just one product, a coffee body scrub – signed on for distribution with Asos in the UK. More recently, sunscreen company Ultra Violette was picked up by Sephora, becoming one of only eight Australian brands stocked by the global beauty retailer in Australia and in New Zealand, and the first dedicated Aussie sunscreen brand.
There’s no hard-and-fast guide to what is or isn’t an A-Beauty product, but the most prominent brands have a few things in common: they’re transparent about the ingredients they use (which are often locally derived and cruelty-free); the products are multipurpose (which means you can avoid layering cream after serum after oil on your face); and there’s a focus on enhancing – rather than hiding – your natural assets. Here are some of the best.
Foster Blake founded Go-To in 2014, taking 15 years of experience as a beauty writer and author and funnelling it into a line of botanic-heavy products (free of synthetics and silicones) in irreverent peach-coloured packaging. The compact line includes products such as a non-irritating cleanser that uses willow-bark extract (a gentle form of salicylic acid); exfoliating “swipeys”; and the recently launched Fancy Face, a cleansing oil with five botanical plant oils.
Foster Blake’s pick of the bunch? Face Hero. “It’s our jewel in the crown: an all-in-one face oil that nourishes, protects, soothes, revitalises and brightens the skin. It’s loaded with essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants.”
It’d be easy to joke that Melburnians love coffee so much they’re willing to rub it all over their bodies in the name of exfoliation. But the joke loses some of its edge when you realise that Frank Body, which has been selling its pouches of exfoliating coffee grounds since 2013, sends its scrubs to millions of customers all over the world. It started with a simple, vegan-friendly body scrub made with robusta coffee grounds, cold-pressed almond oil, vitamin E and sea salt. Devotees say it makes their skin smoother and fights breakouts. This OG product grew to a whole line that includes a caffeinated hair mask, a petroleum-free coffee-seed oil lip balm, and other scrubs that soften pigmentation, slough away dry skin and make skin shimmer.
Melbourne brand Ultra Violette launched just a year ago, but it’s quickly gained a cult following for its no-nonsense SPFs. Until recently the brand’s products were only available online, but now it’s gone bricks-and-mortar, launching in Sephora stores in Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of February. While Ultra Violette’s sunscreens – or “skinscreens”, as founders Bec Jefferd and Ava Matthews call them – protect the skin from the sun’s rays, they also incorporate active ingredients more typically found in skincare so users can simplify their routines.
“Essentially, it’s a combination of sunscreen and skincare,” Matthews tells Broadsheet. “It’s not just about providing the basic SPF protection in the slip-slop-slap way, it’s about filling our products up with great hydrators, antioxidants and vitamin C so that maybe you can skip a step. We don’t want to add more to a routine – we created these products to enable the customer to use just their Ultra Violette skinscreen as an SPF, with enough hydration to be able to skip their moisturiser or primer.”
One of the forerunners when it comes to A-beauty, Lanolips could hardly be more Australian. Founder Kirsten Carriol would watch her sheepshearer grandfather’s hands turn from calloused to soft thanks to the lanolin found in sheep’s wool. She decided to harness the power of the wax in a multipurpose ointment in 2003, and it now ships to more than 50 countries. The line has since expanded to face creams and cleansers, hand creams and body balms, all of which contain the brand’s signature lanolin, which mimics the naturally producing oils that keep human skin soft.
Chic, recyclable packaging, organic ingredients that stimulate biological functions and a cruelty-free ethos – Grown Alchemist ticks all the important A-beauty boxes. The company’s range of hair, face and body products is all about amping up skin health using “natural” ingredients. Take its bestselling Gentle Gel Facial Cleanser: it uses chamomile, willow bark and bergamot to help reduce the appearance of pores; polyphenols and mucilage from cold-pressed rose petals to tone skin; and polysaccharides from aloe vera to calm skin. And it’s not just on Australian radars: American fashion designer Alexander Wang had his models adhere to a Grown Alchemist skincare regimen to make sure their skin was glowy, while Gwyneth Paltrow’s a fan of the Watermelon and Vanilla lip balm.
Rationale has been kicking around on the A-beauty scene for decades. Founded by Melburnian Richard Parker in 1992, it has something of an obsessive following. Rationale’s hardworking products aim high: the PhotoDynamic Eye Cream has been formulated not only to firm and rejuvenate, but also to target fine lines and wrinkles, protect the skin from UV, soothe and hydrate, and conceal dark shadows.
Aesop’s good-looking products have been found in the most stylish bathrooms around the globe since it launched in 1987, and it’s safe to say it’s probably one of the better-known A-beauty brands. Aesop’s products use botanicals such as cedarwood bark, juniper berry, grape seed and sandalwood to do everything from cleansing to exfoliation to moisturising.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 18, 2020. Some details may have changed since publication.