Despite Brexit, economic turmoil and a global pandemic, the UK’s skincare industry is thriving – we round up the ethically-minded breakout brands you need to know
Certain countries are renowned for their game-changing approach to beauty. There is the cultic mythology of the French pharmacy, for example, where dewy-skinned gallic women stock up on their no-frills, science-led skincare (the practical secret to their effortless glow). More recently, South Korea’s hallowed ten-step routine – overloaded with sheet masks, essences, serums and sleep creams – has gone global, leading to a maximalist wave of new products and overflowing bathroom shelves. Its neighbour, Japan, has been similarly influential, experimenting with scientific innovation and mindbogglingly complex ingredients (I have one J-Beauty product on my shelf that contains eggshell membrane and ionised platinum – it’s scarily effective, obviously, but I have no idea why).
Unfortunately, British beauty has never really had the same clout. There may have been some stand-out brands and releases, but a consistent sense of identity – a “B-Beauty approach” – has been lacking. But that may soon change. In the last few years, a range of independent breakout companies has begun to emerge, many of which have a distinctly green message. “The innovation coming out of the UK is fantastic,” says Sarah Brown, founder of Pai. “It has so much to offer the wider beauty industry, especially in the organic space.”
A lot of these products fuse forward-thinking science with the botanical magic of the UK countryside, capitalising on the raw power of natural ingredients and plant-based oils. This focus on nature can also be seen through many of these brand’s mission statements: the majority are vegan, cruelty-free, carbon neutral (if not negative) and aiming for zero-waste solutions and plastic-free packaging. “We both spent our childhood in the countryside surrounded by animals, and our affinity towards them is reflected in our products,” add the founders of new skincare brand Loopeco, who manufacture all of their remedies from their London laboratory. “We are privileged to have many resources at our disposal.” Below, we round up some of the most exciting new British brands for you to support.
Medik8 is one of the more impressive breakout beauty brands to come out of the UK in the last few years. The company prides itself on being an “anti-ageing brand that thinks like a natural brand” – in other words, it creates cutting edge, science-based skincare with a social conscience. Everything is 100 per cent vegan, cruelty-free and carbon offset, and the brand has an ambitious 2023 zero-waste target. A fantastic bonus, really, given how genuinely effective (and affordable) their products are. “Medik8 was born out of a passion to deliver the benefits of serious skincare without needing to compromise on the demand for ethics, transparency, sustainability and beautiful textures and fragrances,” explains Daniel Isaacs, director of research at Medik8. The brand’s main focus is on SPFs, Vitamin A (Retinol) and Vitamin C – and they develop all three with a clinical precision that’s unusual in the industry. “We work to an ‘ultra-clean’ standard, and frankly our process is way over the top for cosmetics,” jokes Isaacs. “Quality is not just a word for us. It’s an obsession and we probably need help.”
The Nue Co
The Nue Co is known primarily for its supplements. The brand creates nutrient-rich oral treatments for all kinds of 21st-century-inflicted ailments, promising to soothe stress, skin issues and immunity problems from the inside. In recent months, though, it has started branching out into topical remedies – though it aims to keep things as simple as possible. Rather than releasing an abundance of cleansers, toners, serums, essences and moisturisers, The Nue Co is working on a limited number of all-in-one products. This Barrier Culture cleanser is an example of one of these multi-purpose wonders – a treatment bubbling with reparative probiotics to help ease breakouts, redness and rebuild the skin’s barrier.
MONTAMONTA had simple beginnings. “It was initially a passion project to supply fancy hand wash and hand balm to trendy east London bars,” admits the brand’s founder, Monty Ashley-Craig. The Glasgow-born cosmetic scientist initially wanted to create a small company with a closed-loop packaging system, to help encourage local recycling. But in the last six years, MONTAMONTA has grown into something much bigger, branching out into cleansing masks, body scrubs and pulse rollers. All products are made in-house, from a converted shipping container in east London, and all of them are infused with plant botanicals and essential oils (Ashley-Craig used to work for Aesop, and the scents are as delectable). “Our aim is to produce multi-functional and refillable, locally made products with integrity,” she says proudly.
The Decree By AJ Sturnham
Dr Anita Sturnham spent 15 years as a GP specialising in dermatology and aesthetics, and currently runs her own skin clinic in central London – so presumably, she knows what she’s talking about. Her “measured, clear and unfussy” skincare brand, The Decree, offers a streamlined approach to beauty – with clear daily and weekly guides for anyone feeling overwhelmed by all the new “miracle” ingredients they’re supposed to be incorporating into their routines. The brand’s vegan Protect Elixir, for example, serves as multiple day serums in one: it has vitamins C, B and E, as well as niacinamide, copper, zinc, magnesium and hyaluronic acid.
Neighbourhood Botanicals is another London-based skincare brand with impeccable green values. It’s vegan, cruelty-free and carbon negative, with sustainable (soon to be refillable) packaging. These are all good things, but what is perhaps most exciting are the products themselves: as well as being designed by artists, the remedies are almost instantly effective. Take the Dream Dream Dream Facial Oil – an indulgent night-time treat for dry and tired skin, infused with cold-pressed Rosehip oil, Moringa and vitamin C. The subtle scent of sleepy essential oils aids a peaceful night’s sleep, while the ingredients themselves help to plump, brighten and moisturise.
Evolve Beauty is another brand fusing both science and plant-based skincare ingredients. Like many of the others on this list, it’s also vegan, cruelty-free and organic, blended by hand in the company’s Hertfordshire wind-powered eco studio. Their Hyaluronic Serum – made with pomegranate and rosewater – is a multi-award winner, offering visibly plumped and glowy skin when used daily. “I don’t believe in constantly jumping on every new hype, as it encourages customers to continuously keep buying the next new miracle product, rather than using their current products consistently and using them until they’re finished so that nothing goes to waste,” says the brand’s founder, Laura Rudoe. “Evolve Beauty is also all about the idea that good skin is a process, which encompasses much more than just the products you put on your skin.”
For Tim Bosworth, founder of Bonum Pellis, beauty is about much more than sweet scents and silky soft textures. The brand wants to work from the inside out – touting the saccharine (but maybe true?) theory that “kindness” is the real key to glowing skin. It’s a message that is central to Bonum Pellis’s branding, and one they’re looking to back up with science-based evidence. “We want to continue to inspire positive change by getting people to do good,” he says. “We believe that if we take a moment to be ego-conscious, directly and indirectly, we can make the world a better place to live.” It’s a lofty goal for a skincare brand. At the very least, the transportive smell of their Neroli and Mandarin Hand Lotion will improve your mood, and – in turn – maybe make you a slightly nicer person.
Yet another British brand that has mastered the art of effective, cruelty-free natural botanicals. Votary was founded by makeup artist Arabella Preston and entrepreneur Charlotte Semler, after the former began experimenting with plant-oil-based remedies at her kitchen table. Years later, and the brand is now a multi-award-winning powerhouse, selling nourishing masks, cleansers, serums, creams and facial oils. This indulgent Intense Overnight Mask is one of their bestsellers – a “comforting, cocooning” treat, made from rosehip and hyaluronic acid, to ease signs of fatigue and dullness.
When it comes to ingredients, Pai is known for its perfectionism. The organic beauty brand creates all of its industry-esteemed skincare products in-house, with all formulating and manufacturing taking place in its London laboratory. No outsourcing is allowed. “Owning that process is so important to us – sourcing all our organic ingredients, obsessing over how they’re handled and stored, how each product is made, every element of our packaging, everything,” explains Pai’s founder, Sarah Brown. The results have propelled the brand to global renown, partly due to their bestselling Rosehip Face Oil (one is apparently sold every three minutes). The multi-tasking treatment – which, of course, is vegan, organic and cruelty-free – works to “regenerate” your skin, soothing blemishes, pigmentation and dryness. They have also just released a more summer-friendly oil, The Light Fantastic, for those wanting feather-light texture and swifter absorption.
“There are no miracle ingredients, there is just clever marketing,” says James Brainchild, founder of Loopeco. The UK skincare brand, which launched earlier this year, pledges to be radically “transparent” about all of its product ingredients, without making any bad faith, over-hyped promises. Another integral part of the Loopeco manifesto is its closed-loop, plastic-free packaging system – an issue that, even now, surprisingly few “sustainable” brands are taking serious action on. “Packaging is a major factor in the beauty industry, and it should be considered just as much as the cosmetics themselves,” adds Brainchild. “For too long have companies put profit and convenience before anything else. They haven’t been held accountable for the untold damage they have caused the environment.” Thankfully, the final products are as steadfast as the ethics: the Salubrious Serum is like topically applying the Instagram Paris filter to your face, giving a fuzzy, luminous glow that somehow seems to carry throughout the day.
“My approach to consumption has always been, you buy the best you can afford and you don’t buy often,” says 79 Lux founder, Karen Cummings-Palmer. The health and nutrition expert began working in skincare when she found herself disappointed with the quality of bodycare that was on offer in the beauty industry. After experimenting with a combination of plant and science-based ingredients, she founded 79 Lux two years ago. The minimalist, body-focused beauty brand places quality over quantity, offering only three meticulously crafted products: a cream, balm and oil. The latter is pure bottled regality, infused with frankincense, rose and gold – an opulent aroma, complete with shimmer, to lift your mood and senses.