Close your eyes and imagine the first time the words “natural skincare” landed on your ears. Maybe they tumbled out of the mouth of your eccentric aunt who exclusively wears muumuus, or that one well-meaning-but-weird family friend, and you forever associated “natural” with “hippie dippy stuff.” I get it. But that’s not the case anymore… and maybe, it never really was? Historians would argue that luxury natural skincare brands and products have always been around, from the frankincense essential oil used to anoint kings to the thick olive oil poured over Cleopatra’s skin. But somewhere between Roman times and modern times, the definition of “luxury skincare” shifted to encompass the lab-created synthetics dominating department store countertops (which, tellingly, are cheaper and easier to produce on the whole). Today’s clean beauty brands are on a mission to restore naturals to their rightful former glory.
“Many larger beauty companies have marketed technology and science as the definition of luxury,” Elena Severin, the Director of Brand Partnerships for Detox Market, tells The Zoe Report. “What people may not realize is that natural ingredients and green beauty overall actually rely just as heavily on science and technology as their non-natural counterparts. Their ingredients are rarer and often more expensive.” Severin, who spends her days curating indulgent, effective products for the clean beauty retailer, cites May Lindstrom’s The Blue Cocoon ($180) as the ultimate example. “It’s one of the most coveted products in beauty and is a very difficult and expensive product to make,” she says. “It is an exact science to mix each batch. The packaging is beautiful. It is the very definition of luxury.”
From this viewpoint, high-end naturals aren’t luxurious in spite of their ingredients, but rather, because of them. “Modern luxury is knowing that the products you are using are safe and efficacious,” Severin adds. Here’s where I make the prerequisite disclaimer that not all natural ingredients are safe (dermatologists love to point to poison ivy as an example) and not all lab-created ingredients are unsafe. But the facts remain: No natural brands formulate with poison ivy, but tens of thousands of traditional beauty brands formulate with synthetics shown to degrade skin health and lead to respiratory issues, hormonal disruption, and even cancer.
Perhaps clean beauty’s battle cry of “No Harmful Ingredients!” is part of its perception problem. “The biggest challenge is one the ‘green beauty’ category has largely created for themselves,” May Lindstrom, the founder and CEO of her namesake company, tells TZR. “With so much marketing pointed towards what is not in our products, many brands have forgotten to share just how special the beautiful ingredients they actually include are. It's time to shift from a stance of defense to one of celebration: These formulas and these founders are worth talking about.”
Ahead, discover five clean, natural, and completely decadent beauty brands out to prove that “natural” and “luxury” are not mutually exclusive.
Look up “cult-favorite beauty product” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a note that says, “See: Vintner’s Daughter.” The brand has found devotees in everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Tracee Ellis Ross, and with good reason: Not only are its only two products — the Active Botanical Serum and the Active Treatment Essence — highly effective, they’re also all-natural and meticulously-crafted.
April Gargiulo, the brand’s founder, credits the company’s luxury status to the effort that goes into formulating both products. “Time is the most luxurious part of our formulation,” she says. “It takes over 21 days to make our Active Botanical Serum and 35 days to make Active Treatment Essence.” Over that period of time, the plant-based ingredients infuse and ferment — which boosts both the nutrient absorption of the carrier oils and the products’ ability to absorb deep into your pores. “We lovingly refer to it as ‘the speed of quality,’” Garguilo says. “Anything less wouldn’t result in the very finest skincare, and that is what our customers deserve.”
“Besides the gorgeous packaging — a must for inspiring life-changing personal beauty rituals — I use really, really good ingredients to create potent formulas which garner serious results,” Lindstrom says. That may sound like a simple approach, but procuring rare, exotic naturals that have been farmed sustainably and mindfully is no easy (or cheap) feat. “I purchase raw ingredients in their fresh and active state from a very small handful of suppliers who work directly with farms from all over the world,” she tells TZR. For the highest quality control, Lindstrom doesn't outsource any aspect of the production process. “This means I do not purchase base formulas or use labs, generics, or shortcuts,” the founder explains. “My highly concentrated formulas do not contain fillers.”
Blue tansy is arguably the star of Lindstrom’s line. “Nothing gets results like this does, and blue tansy is the single plant I go to when it's time to get serious,” she says. “It’s one of the most difficult to procure ingredients I incorporate into my formulas, and unfortunately one of the most adulterated.” Since blue tansy is both pricey and highly sought-after, counterfeiting is common; Lindstrom notes that much of the “blue tansy” on the market is cut with cheaper materials (like chamomile) or artificially dyed to fake its famous blue hue. “Ours is wild-harvested in a very tedious and expensive process,” Lindstrom explains. “Should you discover ‘blue tansy’ within a formula that is at a low price point, note both the ratio and source quality. Investing in the best and without compromise is not optional for me — it is simply the way we do business.”
For Shiva Rose, founder of her eponymous personal care line, skincare is self-care — and self-care is an integral part of overall health. You know the phrase “health is wealth”? That’s essentially what inspired Rose to launch her luxe, Goop-endorsed beauty line. “For me, it's been a path towards healing from autoimmune issues,” Rose tells The Zoe Report after her panel at Create & Cultivate’s Self-Care Summit in Los Angeles. “I sort of took my healthcare philosophy into my own products.”
Her most popular offerings — a body butter scented with 1,000 rose petals per jar; a honey-soaked “glow balm” — go beyond the sensorial experience (which, of course, is incredible). They’re also infused with intention, and crafted with ingredients that are good for you and good for the planet. She recommends incorporating them into simple self-care practices for best results. “Keep a jar of body better next to your bed, rub the soles of your feet at night, and give thanks to them,” Rose suggests. “Little things like that can really make an impact.”
“I would argue that true luxury ingredients are exclusively clean today,” Chase Polan, the founder of Kypris Beauty, tells The Zoe Report. “If this misconception [about natural ingredients] exists, perhaps consumers are perceiving the myriad of polysyllabic chemicals of questionable origin and effect as more potent.” Which, she says, is not the case. Potency and efficacy — and using organic, wildcrafted botanicals, of course — are Kypris’ top priorities. “First and foremost, all quality skincare must be trustworthy and reliable,” Polan says. “Luxury skincare, however, must additionally deliver on its many promises of efficacy, being authentically special, beautiful to use and experience.” Considering the consistent, near-perfect reviews of its Antioxidant Dew and Moonlight Catalyst, Kypris does all that and more.
“There are so many special, beautiful, well-procured ingredients throughout the Kypris line, but the first truly luxury ingredient I found while creating Kypris was the biodynamically grown Bulgarian rose essential oil,” Polan says. “Damask roses are a botanical treasure that have laced human history for generations and romanced some of the most famous queens, kings, rulers, and despots. Marc Antony famously waded through waist high rose petals to reach Cleopatra's bed.” Find the indulgent ingredient in Kypris’ much-loved Beauty Elixirs.
“My family has practiced Ayurveda for centuries, most notably as the family physicians for the royal family in India,” Shrankhla Holeck, the founder of UMA Oils, tells The Zoe Report of the inspiration behind her high-end line of Ayurvedic wellness products. What’s more luxurious than a royal pedigree? A focus on the mind-body connection.
“The Ayurvedic approach to skincare is centered around fostering balance, and taking into account that your skincare, well-being, and health work in concert,” Holeck says. Her oils feature dual-action botanicals: chamomile to calm the skin and the nervous system; frankincense essential oil to brighten hyperpigmentation and ease anxiety through aromatherapy. “Often, ingredients that are great for pacifying your skin can also have a balancing effect on the mind and body,” the founder says. Consider it one of nature’s (many) miracles.