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. Meanwhile, French-girl beauty offers a gateway to that certain je ne sais quoi we seem to constantly crave.
But you can add A-beauty to your vocabulary, too – and pat yourself on the back, because it’s all homegrown here in Australia and New Zealand. A-beauty typically reflects values you might associate with antipodeans: the products are hardworking yet laid-back, with an affinity for the natural environment.
And it seems as though the world is paying attention to what’s happening Down Under. In 2021 Ultra Violette launched in the UK at retailers like Space NK, Cult Beauty and Net-a-Porter. Earlier this month, men’s grooming brand Stuff was picked up by Sephora, becoming one of only a handful of Australian brands – and the first men’s label – stocked by the global beauty retailer in Australia and in New Zealand. Kiwi favourite Emma Lewisham has its sights set on a growing international community ahead of the brand’s September launch in Space NK. Mecca has announced plans to debut its in-house brand Mecca Cosmetica as a direct-to-consumer offering in the UK as well, after launching its much-loved To Save Face sunscreen.
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Back at home, Adore Beauty continues to expand its Ab Lab range. Darl bucks the trend of overly complicated routines with its three just-launched skin-loving products. And new Australian beauty e-tailer Bambii is furthering the antipodean agenda, spotlighting sustainable brands like Ere Perez, Remi and Raaie.
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.
Named after a Greek island where people regularly live to 100, Ikkari launched earlier this year. A venture from Aje co-founder Adrian Norris, the range spans from serums to supplements and scented mists. Bestselling topical products include the Overnight Renewal cream, Illuminating serum and Skin Refining Enzyme mask. Bath and body products are gently fragranced with essential oils like green mandarin, clary sage and lavender blossom. And the sleek green packaging (a mix of glass containers and aluminium bottles) can be reused in your home or disposed of via Terracycle at your nearest Aje Athletica store (where the products are also available).
Stuff is a personal care brand that’s not just good for your body, your face and your hair – but your head, too. The brand addresses toxic masculinity through its marketing campaigns, positive male role modelling and its website, which doubles as a resource centre for young men, with a blog addressing issues such as consent, first-time fatherhood and mindfulness. The products also help to fund preventative mental health programs for thousands of young men at Johnson’s charity, The Man Cave, which he launched in 2014. Stuff is a simple collection of products – namely a pair of body-and-head washes, deodorant, and a face wash. All are Australian-made, vegan-friendly products that use local botanicals and essential oils. Each product proudly states that it contains no parabens, no sulphates and no aluminium, and the bottles made from 100 per cent recycled materials.
Described as Australia’s first waterless beauty brand, Conserving Beauty’s products are as innovative as they are effective. “Without water, the ingredients in our formulas aren’t diluted,” founder Natassia Nicolao says. “This means that not only are our precious natural resources never wasted, but also your results are never watered down.” Fan favourites include the Instamelt sheet mask, Sea You cleansing balm and Conserve You face oil.
In 2021, just two years after launching, Emma Lewisham became the world’s first “carbon-positive” beauty brand. The New Zealand-born business has since shared the intellectual property for its circular-designed packaging. An impressive feat for a brand hailing from the bottom of the world. But it’s what’s inside the signature purple bottles that has kept customers coming back for top-ups. The Supernatural sleep mask and the brand’s face oil, which offers a natural alternative to retinol, are two consistent bestsellers.
Zoë 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 botanical-heavy products (free of synthetics and silicones) in irreverent peach-coloured packaging. The compact line includes products such as the Fancy Face cleanser; Nifty Fifty, a hydrating sunscreen; and Broadsheet favourites The Removalist mask and Very Luxe face cream. 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.” The brand also encompasses Bro-To and Gro-To, keeping the whole family’s faces (and bodies) feeling fancy.
Melbourne brand Ultra Violette launched in 2019, but it quickly gained a cult following for its no-nonsense SPFs. 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.” The brand’s latest launch, Fave Fluid, is set to become another favourite.
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.
Australia’s “skin whisperer”, James Vivian, launched a cosmeceutical skincare line last year, offering “everything you need and nothing you don’t, in addition to being as confusion-free as possible”. Available from Adore Beauty, the brand offers seven skincare helpers, all with active ingredients: a foaming cleanser; a liquid exfoliant; a retinol serum; a hydrating niacinamide and hyaluronic acid serum; a brightening vitamin C serum; a ceramide moisturiser; and a mineral sunscreen.
Alpha H might be best-known for its Liquid Gold exfoliator but the Gold Coast brand has a whole suite of products that draw on the power of glycolic acid (a chemical exfoliator that is derived from sugar cane). And while not all skin types suit this form of AHA, hydrating serums, skin-protecting moisturisers and targeted eye and lip products round out the 25 year old brand’s range.
Inika Organic’s skincare collection is centred around the brand’s values: certified organic, cruelty-free, halal and vegan. The Phytofuse Renew cream cleanser features a silicon brush as part of the packaging, designed to work the product deeper into the skin as you wash your face. The Phyto-Active face oil is an overnight favourite thanks to its blend of botanical oils that are said to strengthen the skin’s natural barrier. And the Detoxifying clay mask makes a great weekly complexion pick-me-up for skin suffering from active breakouts.
Chic, recyclable packaging, organic ingredients said to 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 gel facial cleanser: it uses chamomile, willow bark and bergamot, which are meant to help reduce the appearance of pores; polyphenols and mucilage from cold-pressed rose petals to tone; and polysaccharides from aloe vera to calm your skin.
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: #6 the Eye Creme 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. The brand also offers a range of skincare-inspired make-up complete with SPF for everyday wear.
Aesop’s good-looking products have been found in the most stylish bathrooms around the globe since the company 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 in products designed to do everything from cleansing to exfoliation to moisturising.
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 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 scalp scrub, a petroleum-free coffee-seed-oil lip balm, and other scrubs meant to soften pigmentation, slough away dry skin and make skin shimmer. The new Everyday collection expands on the brand’s personal care line-up with face wash, body wash and body lotion offered in four ranges: clearing, brightening, nourishing and hydrating.
Melbourne brand Darl is the new kid on the A-beauty block. And it’s bringing a fresh perspective to cluttered bathroom cabinets around the country. “The skincare industry is full of buzz words like ‘anti-aging’ and ‘instant result’, but we wanted to create products that have lasting future benefits rather than short-term fixes,” says co-founder Josie Penn, a clinical nutritionist. “We’re moving away from elaborate skincare routines and shifting the focus to skin health and skin love instead.” The three-step routine includes a water-activated powder-to-foam cleanser, a vitamin C-charged serum and a lightweight face oil.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 18, 2020, and has since been updated.
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