The fable of Aesop

Its trademark brown vial seems to adorn every other image on Instagram nowadays, as part of meticulously spontaneous arrangements of skincare bliss on beautiful marble tops. You find its XL soap dispenser next to the sink in many of London’s hip restaurants. I’m referring to Aesop of course, the skincare label founded in Australia in 1987 by hairstylist Dennis Paphitis, which in the meantime has expanded into more than 100 countries and selling points.

Time to find what the hype is really all about.

1. Is Aesop “bio” or “organic”?

No. The Aesop product range is neither exclusively organic nor natural, though truth be told, Aesop has never claimed to be. Their formulations contain a combination of botanical and synthetic ingredients.

According to the label: “While many of our formulas contain ingredients sourced from plants grown organically, they also commonly contain ingredients grown by farmers using non-organic techniques as well as substances developed by Aesop chemists in our Head Office laboratory. (…). We recognize the benefits that organic and biodynamic farming have for the land and for our health, but we are practical about how realistic it would be for us to use only organic ingredients. Sometimes they are not available, sometimes there is not enough of a particular ingredient, sometimes the air miles required to import it would generate an environmental concern of its own.“

A rather reasonable, comprehensible statement.

2. What is the packaging made of?

According to the label’s website, “Aesop uses recyclable glass, plastic and cardboard as much as possible, providing it does not compromise the stability or integrity of our products.“

Reading on, we find what “as much as possible” recyclable means:

“Due to reasons of hygiene and logistics we are unable to refill Aesop containers or to recycle them for you. We suggest that when your Aesop containers are empty, you find a use for them in your home.”

3. Does Aesop use animal testing?

Aesop is 100% animal testing-free and product irritancy testing is conducted on human volunteers.

 4. Are Aesop products palm oil-free?

No. Palm oil accounts for a significant source of vegetable oil worldwide and is contained in almost every other product of your local supermarket (chocolate, detergent) and in Aesop products as well. For palm oil production, rainforest surfaces equivalent to football fields are cut down every hour. I don’t need to go into details about what this means for the population and animal species like the dwarf elephant. Therefore, in nutritional products palm oil can no longer hide behind innocent “plant-based fat” classifications but this is not the case for cosmetic products.

Before I create panic and a possible court case against me, let me clarify: Aesop gives back money to suppliers to support sustainably produced palm oil, where certified sustainability is really an option.

“We appreciate the concerns regarding the use of Palm Oil and Palm Oil-derived substances. Aesop currently uses Sodium Palmate and Sodium Palm Kernelate in our Body Cleansing Slab and Hydrogenated Palm Glycerides in our Sage & Zinc Facial Hydrating Cream. These ingredients are derived from palm oil that is sourced from certified RSPO suppliers (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). RSPO is an internationally recognized, not-for-profit organization formed in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable Palm Oil products by creating and monitoring global standards.”

According to the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), it is “impossible” to fully substitute the oil with other substances. It is possible however, in skincare, as in the products by Dr.Hauschka.

5. Do Aesop products contain parabens?
No.

6. Do Aesop products contain sulfates and what are these really?

Yes, in body washes and shampoos.

Sulfates are cleansing agents that are contained in almost all cleansing cosmetic products, such as washing gels, shampoos, toothpaste etc. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is one of the most commonly used sulfates and is considered aggressive and harmful, which means that it can cause skin irritation and dehydrated skin. Aesop uses the milder tenside sodium laureth sulfate (SleS).

Both substances are suspicious for causing cancer, although to this day there is no specific scientific evidence and the lack thereof is what cosmetic manufacturers often use as an argument to win their case.

If one would wish to play it really safe, it would mean avoiding all products containing SLS, SLES and their common alternative PEG (polyethylene glycol), a pretty ambitious as much as impossible mission, as that would leave us with … baby shampoo.

If you seek some peace of mind, it wouldn’t harm to check the ingredients in your cosmetics on Code Check.

Aesop store ludwig beck münchen

So, why do we think of Aesop as a natural cosmetic brand?
Well, Aesop products are packaged in pharmaceutical-looking brown glass vials, minimal and no-nonsense, as if out of the lab. They are stored in simple, green wooden racks and instead of wild beauty claims, what Aesop staff has to offer is informative consultations and product testing. The pristine, minimalistic setting suggests honesty and validity and affirms our desire for authenticity. So much so, that we find ourselves ordering “hot water with peppermint leaves” instead of “tea”. It would otherwise make as much sense as steeping apple in hot water, but we can’t help it, as it smells so beautifully natural as Aesop itself, even though most of it is an illusion.

But I have pointed the finger quite enough. My own consuming behavior is far from exemplary and often erratic even, though at least I am aware of it. An indisputable aspect of Aesop products is that none of them contain colourants, mineral oils, silicones, parabens and almost no synthetic fragrance compounds (the only exceptions are the Marrakech Intense Eau de Toilette and Parfum, and Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm). Most importantly, Aesop is one of the few companies that is transparent about their ingredients and honest to their consumers. This is just fabulous.

Translation by Maria Giannakopoulou

Photo By: Aesop cosmetics experience

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