I once had only one expectation from my beauty products: that they work. But my purchasing power now depends on factors besides effectiveness. It also details the origins, ingredients and environmental ethics behind each product, in addition to how well it will wear on my face in Australia’s varying weather conditions.
I’m not the only consumer with multiple considerations. Research from IBISWorld shows that the production of cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries in Australia has grown by 5.5% over the past five years.
These smaller niche brands are responding to two big changes in beauty: the first is the increasing demand for “healthy” and ethical beauty products; the second is the emergence of skincare makeup hybrids that promise high performance.
Related: To combat dry skin, turn down the shower and take care of your microbes
Many indie Australian beauty brands are cruelty-free, organic, or both, and many contain local botanicals. Others lean on Australia’s reputation for intense sun and extreme humidity to make claims of efficacy. For example, there is growing domestic and international interest in Australian-made sunscreen due to the rigorous standards placed on local SPF products, and these brands claim that their products are better for local conditions than the major international legacy players.
But how do their claims compare in the real world?
I put some of Australia’s biggest new beauty players to the test and asked experts for their thoughts on the products’ ingredient lists.
The premise: This “multi-use tube of radiance” promises nutrition and a beautiful complexion.
The experience: Perhaps the introduction I’ve been waiting for all my life. This glides on easily, stays put even in intense humidity (and on top of sunscreen) and, remarkably enough, even offers some concealing properties. It comes in three shades.
The expert opinion: “[It is] essentially a cosmetically elegant moisturizer with shimmer that helps smooth skin texture with hydrating ingredients,” says Dr. Michelle Wong, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Lab Muffin.
The premise: An industry’s “first” broad spectrum SPF50+ lip oil with moisturizing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The experience: I am a big fan of the Naked Sundays face mist and this gloss also works wonderfully, but despite the bright color, it is more sheer when put on.
The expert opinion: The combination of chemical and physical sunscreen in a moisturizing lip oil is a plus for medical and cosmetic doctor Dr Yalda Jamali, who says the natural taste is “positive, as chemical sunscreens usually don’t taste good and adherence is poor”.
The premise: A broad-spectrum serum sunscreen for those who want to look “arrogantly radiant” from the brand’s range of all-in-one sun care products.
The experience: I’ve only used cream sunscreen formulas before, but this lightweight SPF 50+ serum packs some serious swinging power—a lighter, dewy alternative that works under makeup as well as solo.
The expert opinion: While she warns that the perfume can irritate some skin types, Jamali says the ingredients are winners. “This is a great chemical sunscreen with two different chemical SPF agents, UV absorber and a UV filter,” she says. “Besides, it has terminalia ferdinandiana [kakadu plum] fruit extract that improves UV protection. The glycerin and silica give this SPF a nice moisturizing texture, which can make it very beneficial under makeup.
The premise: A gel-to-milk cleanser that offers “a first cleanse on dry skin and a second cleanse on wet skin.”
The experience: So luxurious in application, and in the soft and clean feeling it left on my skin afterwards.
The expert opinion: Jamali says the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of this cleanser’s cannabinoid ingredients may be suitable for sensitive skin, with the PH balance in this product less likely to cause irritation.
“I tried this myself and I absolutely loved it,” she says. “The ceramides in this cleanser help restore the skin barrier. [It] melts away makeup beautifully and does not irritate or clog the skin.
The premise: A cruelty-free, wear-resistant and water-resistant mascara to lengthen, curl and volumize lashes.
The experience: Not as dramatic as I’d like (at least for sleepwear), but it gave a good length and didn’t smudge, even under water.
The expert opinion: “Water-resistant mascaras can come in handy in humid weather so it stays put and doesn’t get on your cheeks,” Wong says of this formula’s polymers and waxes, which also provide lasting pigment.
The premise: Part of a wider range of acne-related care with “acne-fighting ingredients” to speed up the recovery time of active breakouts.
Related: ‘Knowledge is power’: how to decipher skin care ingredients
The experience: Effective at minimizing blemishes and, impressively, I got a whopping 18 hours of this when not wearing any makeup.
The expert opinion: “These have great ingredients like tea tree oil, niacinamide, and salicylic acid,” says Jamali. “Not everyone likes ascorbic acid [but] the hydrocolloid protects the skin if the site is already compressed or if the skin barrier is broken.
The premise: A blendable lip and cheek tint with “active ingredients that plump and heal”.
The experience: I’m used to softer, gel-like textures, but this creamy formula meant I had better control over my application, and although I had to work quickly (it dries quite quickly), I was pleased with the subtle result. I’m not sure how much healing it did though.
The expert opinion: “Great if you have dry skin or want a dewy finish for your cheeks,” says Wong, but she points out that it contains polyethylene, despite Flavedo & Albedo’s “zero plastic” claim. “Polyethylene improves the texture and application of wax-based products [but it is] a bit controversial as there is not much transparency on whether the forms used in cosmetics are soluble and biodegradable.
The premise: High-shine, chip-resistant and “natural” breathable nail polish made from vegan, non-toxic ingredients and infused with certified organic ingredients like kefir and avocado oil.
The experience: Loved the quick drying formula but can’t say it lasted much longer than what I’m used to. That said, those who don’t have to wash a million fruits a day for their kids may find it better to wear.
The expert opinion: “Kester Black uses traditional solvents and polymers, such as butyl and ethyl acetate and nitrocellulose to create their chip-resistant lacquer,” says Valerie George, cosmetic chemist at SimplyFormulas.com. “Although they claim to be free of 12 ingredients, some of these ingredients would never be used in nail polishes anyway, and other ingredients have proven safety evaluations for use in nail polish.”
The premise: A “world’s first” soluble, make-up removing wipe that is completely biodegradable, microplastic-free and enriched with a “nourishing blend” of hemp seed, jojoba oil, jojoba esters and squalane, from a brand that focuses on conserving water .
The experience: So convenient! These will become a regular part of my routine when I’m in a rush or traveling. Make-up comes off the same way as an oil cleanser (so I have to wash off the greasy feeling afterwards) and it takes seconds for the wipe to disintegrate in water.
The expert opinion: Jamali says this “oil-heavy” product would work well as a first step for a double cleanse, but warns that the exfoliating element can compromise the skin barrier if used every day. “I don’t recommend wipes in general [but] I can see benefits and get used to them,” she says. “I think it is a wonderful step forward in terms of sustainability.”