As a near-obsessive beauty nerd – I can use my job as a cover – I don’t just work in the health and beauty industry: I spend my lunch breaks attending skincare launches, my evenings testing the latest serums, my weekends checking out skinfluencer reels, and my holidays reading about skincare routines. But even for a skincare obsessive, there are only so many ways you can be told how to wash your face (and yes, there’s more than one). So in this book review I turn to three beauty titles that look at beauty not only from three culturally different points of view – British, Irish and Korean – but that also expand beyond the classic realm of the beauty book. 

Sustainable Beauty by Justine Jenkins

It was bound to happen. Sustainability is on everyone’s lips, from energy to finances and fashion, it infiltrates all conversations, lifestyle choices as well as many of our purchase considerations. So it’s no surprise that it’s made its way into the beauty arena, but this is the first book I’ve come across that is entirely dedicated to the topic – finally. British makeup artist Justine Jenkins went entirely cruelty free back in 2012, and is taking it to the next level with this book, introducing readers to the meaning of sustainable beauty and how you can green up your beauty routine (yes, beauty routines are still the bedrock of these books). This is for absolute beginners in sustainable living, so a gentle starting point to widening your take on beauty.

What I liked:

  • Justine acknowledges the breadth of the topic, and how it can take on different meanings depending on your audience: human and animal welfare, employee diversity, the amount of miles ingredients and products have travelled, damage to the environment, carbon footprint, the quality of ingredients and how they are grown, renewable resources, aquatic damage, waste management and unsustainable packaging materials.
  • Flagging the dangers of greenwashing and how brands skirt the issue. On the topic of cruelty-free: if they say ‘this product is not tested on animals’, does that also apply to the ingredients used to make the product? When they say they ‘don’t test on animals unless required by law’ that means they probably sell in China. Oh and there’s also ‘this company does not test on animals’ – no but they might pay a third party to do so on their behalf.

What I didn’t like:

  • Unfortunately the generic photography didn’t add much to the text and felt impersonal
  • The makeup section felt underwhelming, simply running through various makeup products and what they do, rather than providing any new information about how to shop sustainably

What I learned:

  • Finally, how to succinctly explain the word on everyone’s lips: ‘Sustainability is a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse, a circular journey’ 
  • As consumers we expect brands and businesses to do the heavy lifting and feed us the ready-made sustainable solution. Yes, they should be doing the right thing, but also, don’t be a lazy consumer: you have the spending power to lead the beauty industry by choosing to spend with the brands doing the right thing, so look around and don’t settle for the brand that shouts the loudest.

RRP £18.00

The Little Book of Skincare by Charlotte Cho

I love discovering beauty practices from different cultures: for example the difference between the French (pleasure and prevention) and American (pain and instant gratification) approaches to beauty, described in The French Beauty Solution by Caudalie founder Mathilde Thomas. South Korean–American entrepreneur Charlotte Cho, co-founder of US-based K-Beauty site Soko Glam, shares her skin culture shock as she emigrates from California to Seoul: ‘in Korea, taking good care of your skin is something to be enjoyed, it isn’t just beauty or vanity, but an investment in your wellbeing’. I believe Western culture is finally catching up to this, but the way Charlotte shares her journey truly is a joy to read. A very happy, upbeat and personable read.

What I liked:

  • This book is more of an ode to Seoul and Korean culture rather than just skincare. It even features a tourist guide which instantly transported me back to my Seoul trip from years ago and made me want to go back – especially the reference to Myeong-Dong, the legendary promenade lined with beauty shops where I filled my bags with masks and charcoal cleansers.

What I didn’t like:

  • Nothing! Charlotte has a very approachable style and her love of Korean beauty culture is infectious 

What I learned – a lot!

  • The spa is the cornerstone of Korean beauty culture: ‘Jimjilbangs are often multigenerational gathering spots where people go to get clean and chill out with their mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, friends’
  • Italy towels are large mittens made from viscose used for body scrubs. They’re a Korean invention but the fabric was first imported from Italy in the 60s.
  • ‘Selca’ is a merge of ‘selfie’ and ‘camera’ and refers to a picture with cute poses or adorned with stickers
  • Don’t buy skincare based on your age, buy it based on your skin concerns
  • In Western culture it’s us against our skin: we ‘fight’ acne, ‘combat’ wrinkles and ‘banish’ blackheads, but in Korea, skincare is a holistic practice, and the focus is on prevention rather than treatment. Unfortunately though Korea also has the highest per capita rate of cosmetic surgeries in the world due to cultural pressure to strive for perfection.

RRP £18.99

The Skin Nerd by Jennifer Rock

OK this one may not be as horizon widening as the other two titles. Skincare expert Jennifer Rock, also known as The Skin Nerd, still very much focuses on skin types, skin concerns and skincare routines. But she does dedicate the first part of her book to the importance of a holistic approach to healthy skin. Healthy skin will not be achieved through topical products and treatments alone, you need to look at what you’re putting in your body too.

What I liked:

  • The 360 approach to skincare which puts the emphasis not just on topical products and treatments, bit also on the importance of nutrition, supplements and lifestyle: ‘Treating your skin with products alone is like putting water on a fire while the gas is still turned on’.

What I didn’t like:

  • Jennifer isn’t shy about heavily promoting her cleansing mitt throughout the book, as well as consistently highlighting a handful of brands I’d never heard of 
  • As with Sustainable Beauty, the pictures were a let-down, many looked very much like stock imagery

What I learned:

  • Your skin is a barometer of your internal health: in recent years I’ve learned to listen to what my skin is telling me and adapt my habits accordingly (except if it’s telling me to drink less wine)  
  • In the debate between the benefits of natural vs non-natural beauty products, Jennifer made an interesting point: ingredients like witch hazel and tea tree oil have proven skin benefits but they don’t exist in the skin or body. Ceramides, squalane, hyaluronic acid and peptides are naturally found in the skin or body. So which is truly more natural?
  • ‘Angel dusting’ is the practice of adding a negligible amount of an active ingredient to a product to say it contains an on trend ingredient. Beware!

RRP £17.99

Features gifted items

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s