words by Kayli Kunkel (she/her)
“Simple can be harder than complex,” quipped Steve Jobs, “but when you get there you can move mountains.”
In other words, adding is easy. Subtracting is difficult. Stripping something down to essentials — whether it’s a message, a plan, or a beauty product — takes skill and precision, as well as plenty of knowledge.
When we talk about clean beauty, instead of focusing on what isn’t there, we can think instead about the simplicity and discretion of what is.
My journey with clean beauty started with the simplest of butters, essential oils and herbs, from Salvia rosmarinus to Theobroma cacao. I learned that these ingredients have evolved over centuries; in many cases, nature has already done her hard work.
Let’s take a look at Calendula officinalis.
Calendula, a rich gold flower with soothing properties in salves and tinctures, was cultivated alongside human civilization over thousands of years. The bloom spread from southern Europe and southwest Asia all throughout the world. Aztecs to Hindus, Ancient Romans, Greeks and beyond used its golden petals for meaningful ceremonies, added it as a poultice for wounds to speed healing time on a battlefield, and mixed it into edible remedies for detoxification.
In the simplicity of the flower, there is plenty of complexity in its compounds and properties, down to the molecular and even quantum level.
I was amazed when I started using herbs and flowers in my own homemade products: You mean I can infuse this into an oil, calm down eczema on my skin, freshen my carpet, *and* brew as a tea to calm my nerves? Everything from lemon to rosemary, echinacea to jojoba, has myriad benefits and purposes. With a simply equipped cupboard, I had so much potential to make beautiful, clean, natural products from so few items. Not to mention they were super ingredients I could grow in my own small, concrete balcony garden.
Reframing Clean Beauty Conversations: it's more than the scaries
Often in clean beauty conversations, we zero in on the “scaries:” the ingredients of notoriety that we’ve heard studies about or see blacklisted from beauty brands. Parabens, preservatives, sulfates… the list only grows. But this fearful mindset forces us to fixate on what we believe we should avoid and we too easily ignore the abundance of benefits from the plants we’ve already been given, which are plentiful and wonderful for us.
Some of my very favorite skincare products have just one carrier oil and a few herbal infusions on the ingredient list. My most-used (and universal) cleaning product is the simplest of soaps made from saponified olive oils and the essences of fruits.
It’s also why I love Momotaro Apotheca — multifunctional formulas with very few ingredients we can all recognize, plus plant-based healing properties from mama nature herself.
I may be a beginner herbalist, but I know from my experience crafting items and curating products from dozens of small-batch makers: We don’t need to add dozens of ingredients to make effective beauty or household products. Nature has spent millennia evolving her plants. We’ve known many of her nuts, trees, seeds, oils, and petals intimately for as long as humans have existed. It’s a shortcut we can take advantage of — and feel good about.
So what is clean about clean beauty? It’s good for people & the planet.
What is “clean” about clean beauty? Beyond ingredients, anything considered clean must be good for people and the planet.
Yes, there’s certainly the well-being of the individual applying skincare or makeup to consider — how do these ingredients affect my skin, absorb into my bloodstream, or affect my health? But something we don’t often consider in the pursuit of clean beauty is the health of the person or many people behind the creation of the product.
We need to ask: Who harvested these ingredients? Who bottled this and how? What energy did they put into this — was it love, care, urgency, haste, or even despair?
There’s something incredibly special and important about ingredients grown with care, harvested by hand, then turned into products ideated and formulated by a real person. Especially one who is empowered in their craft. To be “clean,” everyone involved in that process was paid a fair wage, treated with dignity, and benefited as much from the creation of that product as we do from receiving it. Even better, it can be someone we know by name. Someone we can learn from.
Momotaro Apotheca takes great care to invest in sustainable farms that have invested in solar energy, water-saving harvesting techniques, and pesticide-free growth. Our suppliers focus heavily on living wage jobs and opportunities for local workers to ensure a positive social and environmental impact.
Sustainable & Low waste Packaging
The ingredients themselves may be of nature, but what about the packaging? If the bottle ends up in a landfill or an ocean for 400 years, harming wildlife and leeching microplastics, we are missing a large component of “clean.” Clean for whom? Definitely not the ecosystems that helped create such wonderful, special ingredients for us.
It’s why at my zero-waste store, Earth & Me, we prioritize low-waste packaging for everything on our shelves. From glass bottles to aluminum, recycled (and recyclable) paper, and refillable products, we contribute to cleanliness for our skin and body, but also for our world. Just like the ingredients list, we don’t need additives of stickers, plastic, or single-use fluff. We can focus on the simplicity of the product itself. What’s inside is what counts.
So our conversation about clean beauty needs to evolve — not from a scarcity mindset of fear of what we don’t know, what we feel we must subtract. But into an appreciation for the abundance of what we have, the hands of those who harvest it, and the dignity of the planet that created it.
Reduce • Recycle • Reuse
Shop Multifunctional Formulas
Bath & Body Concentrate
A fragrance and filler free shave oil or spot treatment for ingrowns, or bath tonic for soothing symptoms of vulvovaginal irritation or infection.
Moisturize without the additives
Many commercial moisturizers contain filler ingredients that can further irritate your skin or disrupt your hormones. A generous layer of this luxurious blend of organic cold pressed Argan, Jojoba, and Sweet Almond oils and steam distilled essential oils packs in a healthy helping of vitamins, minerals, and nourishing fatty acids, without the fake fragrance or irritants from pesticides or herbicides.
SHOP BODY OIL
pH Balanced Face & Body Spray
If you don’t have time to shower after a sweat, no problem! Wipe away excess sweat and spritz Hydrosol all over. Its natural antiseptic properties help rebalance sebum production and acts as an antimicrobial on skin to help prevent irritation and body breakouts.
Sip for Symptoms of Stress & PMS
Smoothly spiced and sweet like honey, Tincture only tastes like it’s bad for you. This botanical blend delivers full-spectrum Hemp for mental stress alongside organic Ginger and Raspberry to support digestive issues like cramps, nausea, and bloating.
Safe & Sustainable Sexual Self Care: An Interview with CoFounder Taylor Samuelsen
Earth Day 2020: How the EPA Rollbacks Affect the Health of People & the Planet
ICYMI: Cofounder Lindsay Wynn on Cleaner, Greener Vulvovaginal Care
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: What Are They & How Can I Reduce My Exposure?
Meet the Author
Kayli Kunkel (she/her), founder of zero waste shop @earthandme.nyc, Queens’ first zero-waste store and refillery.
Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.