Cleanical skin care promises science-backed effectiveness. Does it work?

From Augustus Bader to Drunk Elephant, brands that combine clean ingredients with clinical efficiency are all the rage.
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Eighth Day Skin

· 4 min read

Walk down the aisle(s) of your closest Sephora or Ulta, and you’ll wonder at the array of products that claim to solve almost every one of your skin care problems by using clean, vegan, or cruelty-free ingredients. Still, some consumers want more. Enter: cleanical beauty, a trend that promises to marry clean ingredients with those that have clinical effectiveness.

But will consumers respond to this latest trend with undying loyalty?

Brands like Drunk Elephant and Biossance, which use plant-based ingredients alongside synthetic ones to create products, are prime examples of what the promise of “cleanical” can secure (in revenue).

“As the pandemic took over, people were having to really take into account [their] immunity and the ethics of the effectiveness of the products that they were using,” Pravani Pillay, manager in consulting firm Kearney’s beauty practice, told Retail Brew. She said that’s why “we’re seeing the ‘cleanical’ trend really come to the fore.”

Revenue from cleanical brands rose 55% between September 2020 and September 2021, per the  NPD Group—a testament to the category’s steady growth.

Blending it in

A number of the skin-care brands that fit that category were founded by dermatologists and plastic surgeons who “lead from a position of education,” Pillay said. “That ability to inform and educate the already intelligent consumer about what is in your product—but also what is not in your product—is where the cleanical concept is really successful.”

Dr. Antony Nakhla, dermatologist, skin surgeon, and founder of Eighth Day Skin, agrees.

“Now that we have a really incredible body of knowledge in skin technology and ingredients that actually perform, people are getting away from these fantastical stories of things that really overpromise and under-deliver,” he said. “This terminology—‘cleanical’—is a little bit more beneficial because it doesn’t contain these ingredients that everyone has agreed they don’t want in their skin-care products. But it also does contain something of clinical substance.”

His line of three products—the regenerative serum, the reparative moisturizer, the eye-renewal cream (priced on average between $95 and $225)—are years in the making but the brand itself first debuted in 2019. Dr Nakhla then re-launched the brand at the beginning of the pandemic with his best selling product: the regenerative serum. The proprietary blend, called the peptide rich plasma, combines what Dr Nakhla calls “bioidentical” growth factors, amino acids, and peptides.

  • “I wanted to bridge the gap between what I do in my practice, as far as wound healing and wound care goes and really bring scientific ingredients to the forefront in this very high-end and expensive category, where I believe science is the new luxury,” he said.
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California-based Dr. Amir Karam, whose skin-care brand, KaramMD, debuted in September 2021, echoed similar sentiments when it comes to frivolous marketing in the industry. His skincare line, the “Trifecta” (priced at $260) is made up of three main products: a cleanser, a Vitamin C serum, and an anti-aging cream. The goal was to avoid confusing the customer with several products by creating something that was “all-in-one” but also actually worked.

Looking ahead…While both KaramMD and Eighth Day Skin are relatively new to the skin-care biz game, they have seen substantial growth over the past few months. Dr. Karam, whose brand is currently only DTC, told Retail Brew his product sales grew 30%–40% month over month.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nakhla, who sells both through his website and the Violet Grey location in Beverly Hills, also plans on expanding his product line to Farfetch in the coming months. Both brands plan on adding several products over the next year, as the category continues to flourish.

Pillay predicts the trend to continue but says brands need to keep investing in R&D and developing clinical efficiency to win the day.

“Your skin care routine is only as good as the worst product that you’re using. And your skin care products are only as good as the worst ingredients in them,” she added.—JS

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.