As any design-obssessed beauty junkie can tell you, the Aussie skincare brand Aesop achieves the pinnacle of minimalist, unisex chic. It is also generally described as being “natural”, though in reality it falls some distance from the natural mark. I find this rather depressing, because aside from the cool factor, Aesop has some lovely products with gorgeous smells. Thankfully, Australia seems to inspire minimalist product design, because another antipodean brand, the achingly-cool Grown Alchemist, espouses a similar Minimalist Apothecary aesthetic to house its elegantly formulated, (mostly) natural products.
I suppose before I go any further, I should explain the reason I give the “mostly” natural caveat, especially because it is also a) my biggest pet peeve about this otherwise fabulous brand, b) the reason why many die-hard green beauty consumers would not consider using Grown Alchemist products, and c) completely unnecessary in this day and age, especially for such a sophisticated line. I am talking about Grown Alchemist’s use of the preservative phenoxyethanol and the surfactant triethanolamine (not in the face wash). Rated a 4 on EWG’s Skin Deep Database, phenoxyethanol is far from the worst skincare offenders, since it is not carcinogenic, does not bioaccumulate and doesn’t affect human development or reproductive organs, which is why it is commonly used in the place of the universally reviled parabens. Still, phenoxy can cause irritation and allergies and although I am not tremendously bothered by its inclusion, I understand why many green beauty consumers steer clear of products containing it. Same goes for triethanolamine, which with its EWG rating of 5 may appear as even more of a suspect ingredient, though the main reason for such a worryingly high score is the risk of contamination, rather than its direct impact on human health or the environment.
Now with that awkwardness out of the way I can get to the task of actually reviewing the Grown Alchemist products and I am, frankly, happy to do so because despite my annoyance with the ingredient malarkey, I actually love them. First up is the Geranium Leaf, Bergamot and Rose Bud (phew!) Cleanser and it is a dream: a lightly scented, exceptionally gentle foaming face wash, it thoroughly cleans the skin without stripping. It’s sort of the ideal daily cleanser: it smells great, it treats the skin with kid gloves and looks good on the sink. Also, for those concerned about the presence of phenoxyehtanol, but interested in trying the brand, this cleanser might be perfect: a foaming cleanser like this one simply does not stay on the skin long enough for an ingredient to cause any real trouble (unless, of course, you actually happen to be seriously allergic to it).
With its sleek metal tube and black-and-white color scheme, the White Tea & Phyto-Peptide Age Repair Moisturizer is possibly the coolest looking and most Instagrammable of the Grown Alchemist products and as it happens, what’s inside that package is just as cool. The cream contains peptides, antioxidants (asthaxanthin from cranberries) and polyphenols – all ingredients beneficial to the skin. It provides a matte, but not dry finish and serves as a perfect base for makeup. I used it under my Kjaer Weis foundation and, corny as it sounds, actually couldn’t believe my eyes: for the first time in my life, the foundation slid over and completely covered my pores, giving my skin that almost uncanny, airbrushed look. The fact that this cream manages to achieve this effect without silicones is especially remarkable. Because I like the dewey look of oil (and because I recently found what might be my dream daytime moisturizer) I am using this cream when I want that flawless, evening face, though it was also fantastic during the hot, muggy NYC days when I couldn’t bear the thought of any extra moisture on my skin.
The Regenerating Night Cream: Neuro-Peptide and Violet Leaf Extract (we have GOT to do something about those names!) is probably my favorite product in the line. It’s a rich, soft, elegant cream, full of quality anti-aging ingredients. It has a lovely, sweet, but not too much so scent and a wonderful, silky texture. I think this cream comes the closest to replicating the experience of using a conventional high-end moisturizer. My skin really responds well to this cream: I wake up in the morning with plump, smooth, well-hydrated skin.
As for the Age Repair Eye Cream: Tetra-Peptide and Centella, my experience with it perfectly encapsulates why I find it so frustrating when companies that make otherwise brilliant products use crap ingredients like phenoxyethanol and triethanolamine. I loved this eye cream! It has an amazing texture: light, easily absorbed, not even a little greasy. It contains excellent, age-defying ingredients, it made my eyes feel moisturized, well-rested and moisturized and it layered beautifully under makeup. In fact, this cream was so good that although I was initially reluctant to use something other than my beloved Decouverte, I ended up using the Grown Alchemist day and night. We lived in happily moisturized bliss for about 2 to 3 weeks and then I got an allergic reaction. I developed a light, but unpleasant and slightly itchy rash around my eyes. I figure that although I am not generally bothered by things like phenoxyethanol, used around the delicate and extra-sensitive skin around my eyes it (or perhaps it’s difficult to pronounce cohort) did what is expected of them and caused an allergic reaction. I still use the cream, but only on the rare occasions when I wear eye makeup, since it works beautifully as a base for makeup. Still, it’s a damn bloody shame.
I thin that Grown Alchemist is a great transition line for those trying to make a change from conventional skincare. It’s much better than many lines out there and for those without skin sensitivities it could, in fact, be perfect. Still, it’s possible to do better and I expect the companies calling themselves green to be better. After all, no one said this luxury green business was going to be easy.