Your questions on clean beauty, answered by skin care leaders from Joanna Vargas, Lauren Napier Beauty, and La Maison Valmont.

By Maya Kachroo-Levine
June 11, 2021
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Joanna Vargas Daily Serum on Hands
Credit: Courtesy of Joanna Vargas

You know how, sometimes, you use a phrase so much you forget what it means? That's how the skin care world feels about the words "clean beauty." Achieving clean beauty status earns your favorite skin care products a stamp of approval at major retailers. The designation shows up in the product's marketing materials, it becomes a reason shoppers buy, yet somehow, the more we say "clean beauty," the less it means.

"For me, [clean beauty means] being mindful about sources and where you're getting your ingredients from," said Joanna Vargas, who is known for her N.Y.C. and L.A. salons and best-selling skin care line.

"I think clean beauty is a bit of a confusing topic for the consumer," said the sought-after esthetician. "I definitely don't think that there's toxic beauty, but I think that being a little bit more mindful of everything that you're putting into a formula is a good thing." 

Vargas raises a point that leaders in her field often get stuck on: There is no set standard for what clean beauty means. 

"I have beauty retailers ask me, 'Well, what percentage of your products are toxic and what percentage are clean?'-and that's actually not a thing. Just because something is organic doesn't make it better than something that's not organic. You can label something a chemical, but it could also be taken from a natural source. I feel like the word 'chemical' and the word 'clean' have been misused so often that we've all gotten jumbled up," said Vargas. 

If clean beauty is ultimately subjective, then how do we choose products that use natural ingredients or are sustainably made? If this clean beauty designation has become little more than two buzzwords, where does that leave those of us who are trying to make healthier choices for our skin?

One of Vargas' contemporaries, Lauren Napier, known of course for her luxurious Lauren Napier Beauty cleansing face wipes, suggests starting with retailers keen on cultivating more of a clean, eco-conscious experience. 

"Retailers are really trying to expand their clean beauty product offerings [with] products that are made with efficacy," she explained. When shopping for skin care, Napier favors Net-a-Porter, Credo Beauty, Heyday, and Marsh + Mane, "a small Black woman-owned retailer in Philadelphia."

Vargas also suggested pinpointing your top skin priorities when looking for clean products. "I would really focus on what you're trying to handle in your skin. Every person I've ever given a facial to-and we're talking over a 20-year period-has some issue with their skin that they want to have handled or addressed in some manner. I would pick out your top thing that you'd [like to see change] and then look for a product that highlights that benefit," she advised.

Napier also reminds consumers that it's not just the ingredients that make a product 'clean,' it's the manufacturing. 

"It's important to walk the walk," said Napier, meaning, it's important that beauty brands practice eco- and socially conscious manufacturing, rather than just making sure their ingredients are clean. "While our Lauren Napier products are cruelty-free, they're also manufactured with solar energy, and the packaging is recyclable," Napier offered as an example.

"I would not be an ethical business owner or global citizen if I was manufacturing any other way," she said.

On that same note, Amanda Macino, La Maison Valmont's director of training for North America, who specializes in luxury skin care and is immersed in Valmont's sourcing practices, said that how your skin care ingredients are treated is important to the overall product. 

"It's not just about the ingredient itself but the environment [that ingredient] grows up in," she explained. "For example, the precious plants [Valmont grows] in the Alps - there are no pesticides, they have the best sunlight. The ingredients we source have the most extreme and pristine living conditions so they can give the best benefits."

Valmont is known for "walking the walk," to borrow Napier's turn of phrase. The skin care company sources honey from their own beehives and ingredients from their own gardens. 

"[In] our own private garden in the Swiss Alps, we grow an array of precious plant extract, [like] rose moscato and sea buckthorn," said Macino. 

And there's a reason these European-bred products have such a cult following, and boast impressive results. "U.S. standards and European standards are quite different," explained Napier. "I find that if a product is being sold in Europe and in the U.K., then that's a product I'd reach for and grab." 

In terms of finding the right products for you - what specific ingredients should you look for? We asked our beauty experts to weigh in on ingredients to either use or be wary of.

Both Vargas and Napier use natural extracts like chamomile to soothe their clients' skin. 

"It's extremely successful at calming down skin that's highly sensitized or prone to redness. In fact, when clients can't get in for facials and they're somewhere far away and they're having a reaction with the skin, I often recommend that you wash your face in chamomile tea because it calms down inflammation," said Vargas.

Vargas also recommends scouting products with vitamin C, specifically for "reducing inflammation, evening up uneven pigment in the skin, if you struggle with melasma." 

Napier, of course, warns against products with parabens in them. Parabens have long since been seen as a no-good ingredient in beauty products. "Parabens are often used to prevent yeast, mold, and bacteria from growing on cosmetic products," explained Napier in advocating for paraben-free products. "They've even been linked to hormonal imbalances."

Finally, these beauty gurus recommend fresh water-based products-Napier's primary ingredient in her face wipes is water, followed by botanical extract, aloe, cucumber, and chamomile. And Valmont's leading ingredient is glacial spring water from the Alps' Arola Glacier, often followed by plant extracts from their private gardens. 

With these experts' tips in mind, we've gathered some of the leading skin care products on the market now. These 11 products are known for using all-natural ingredients.

Flaunt Facial Wipes, Lauren Napier Beauty

A pack of Flaunt Facial Wipes by Lauren Napier Beauty
Credit: Courtesy of Revolve

Lauren Napier's masterful formula yields a makeup wipe that smells great, feels great, and removes makeup while soothing your skin with ingredients like chamomile, pink guava (which is rich in vitamin K), and noni (packed with vitamin C). Her Flaunt wipes, like her La Rose and Cleanse wipes) come individually packaged, in recyclable packaging, so you never waste a wipe.

To buy: $46, revolve.com

Superfood Kale Antioxidant Rich Face Cleanser, Youth to the People

A bottle of Superfood Kale Antioxidant Rich Face Cleanser by Youth to the People
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Using a blend of kale, spinach, and green tea, Youth to the People makes a game-changing cleanser. Not only does it harvest the power of all-natural ingredients, it removes the day's makeup and dirt with a gentle and nourishing formula. This is the type of cleanser that leaves your face feeling truly clean, without stripping away the natural oils your skin needs. 

To buy: From $36, sephora.com

Twilight Sheet Mask, Joanna Vargas

A pack of Twilight Sheet Mask by Joanna Vargas
Credit: Courtesy of Joanna Vargas

Joanna Vargas said that when she thinks about making a sheet mask, she wants it to be gentle enough that her children could use it. With vitamin B3 and witch hazel water, this mask is meant to condition the skin, reduce redness, temper breakouts, and leave users with a refreshed glow. 

To buy: $75, joannavargas.com

Primary Veil, La Maison Valmont

A bottle of Primary Veil by La Maison Valmont
Credit: Courtesy of La Maison Valmont

Valmont's Primary line is their most natural skin care line, utilizing Swiss glacier water and natural, European-sourced elements to create a simple yet highly effective suite of products. Their Primary products are all about creating a pre- and probiotic balance, which is perhaps why they refer to Primary Veil as their "essential balancing act for the skin's ecosystem." Primary Veil is meant to be used immediately after you cleanse to soothe, rebuild, and protect skin while priming it for the rest of your routine.

To buy: $118, lamaisonvalmont.com

Filling Good, Farmacy

Courtesy of Filling Good by Farmacy
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Farmacy is a great brand for when you want a fairly affordable but extremely well-made and all-natural product. Their products are streamlined, such that they use only results-oriented ingredients without incorporating parabens or sulfates. Filling Good is their hyaluronic acid serum that's meant to smooth and plump skin, revealing a more even texture of your skin.

To buy: $44, sephora.com

Virgin Marula Facial Oil, Drunk Elephant

A bottle of Virgin Marula Facial Oil by Drunk Elephant
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

There's a reason Drunk Elephant's facial oil is a long-time cult favorite. It is truly one of the most nourishing facial oils on the market. Not only does it absorb into skin particularly well, it's strong enough to soothe dry skin in the winter, but light enough to use all year-round.

To buy: $72, sephora.com

Primary Pomade, La Maison Valmont

A jar of Primary Pomade by La Maison Valmont
Credit: Courtesy La Maison Valmont

Also from the Primary line, Valmont's pomade is one of the most restorative and purely natural moisturizers on the market right now. It's meant to restore your skin's most important barriers, while simultaneously healing irritation and dryness. 

To buy: $275, lamaisonvalmont.com

Crème Riche, Tata Harper Skincare

A jar of Crème Riche by Tata Harper Skincare
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Tata Harper is an all-natural beauty icon. Her products are luxurious and 100% green. Tata Harper's crème riche is known for its red maple bark and hyaluronic acid. This cream is silky smooth and is meant to be used as your nighttime moisturizer.

To buy: $195, sephora.com

Emerald CBD Deep Moisture Glow Oil, Herbivore Botanicals

A bottle of Emerald CBD Deep Moisture Glow Oil by Herbivore Botanicals
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Herbivore Botanicals is known for making cruelty-free, vegan skincare with innovative ingredients. This light face oil is all about calming your skin and reducing redness-with Colorado-sourced CBD.

To buy: $58, sephora.com

Caffeine Eye Cream, INKEY

A tube of Caffeine Eye Cream by INKEY
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

If you're looking for an all-natural brand that makes affordable duplicates of high-end face products, INKEY is a great place to start. Made without sulfates and parabens, INKEY wakes your dark circles up with actual caffeine.

To buy: $10, sephora.com

Unseen Sunscreen, Supergoop

A tube of Unseen Sunscreen by Supergoop
Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Every skin care enthusiast needs a sunscreen to seal in their moisturizer and protect their skin from sun damage. Supergoop's sunscreen is light, effective, and best of all, uses ingredients like red algae to combat blue light and frankincense to soothe skin. It's a gel formula that doesn't interfere with your makeup.

To buy: $34, sephora.com

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