What’s Behind the Rise of G-Beauty

K-Beauty got us hooked on Korean BB Creams and jelly cleansers. J-Beauty convinced us of the benefits of Japanese essences and sake ingredients. Probably we were bound to grab our beauty passports and move on to another country. And so we did: Now there’s G-Beauty.

In the last few years, German beauty brands have begun to inhabit nearly every beauty aisle, including Whole Foods and high-end beauty retailers like Bluemercury.

But unlike, say, K-Beauty, which started as a concerted effort by the Korean government to market Korean brands abroad, G-Beauty is less about pushing novel routines than it is about making clean beauty — a confusing space with many conflicting definitions — more approachable.

“Our customers like that Germany beauty follows the European standards for clean, which automatically means they don’t include many toxins,” said Jessica Richards, the founder of the influential Brooklyn boutique Shen Beauty. German brands also tend to have fairly minimalist, straightforward packaging, which is a good thing in today’s noisy beauty aisles.

Cassandra Grey, the founder of Violet Grey, a luxury beauty retailer in Los Angeles, is even more emphatic. “Customers now look for the Made in Germany stamp on skin-care products the same way we look for the organic sticker on our tomatoes,” she said. The three top-selling skin-care lines at her shop are from Germany.

In German beauty, clean, efficacious skin care can mean taking a farm-based, organic approach, as is the case with Weleda, a natural skin-care pioneer with Swiss-German roots that was founded in 1921; and Dr. Hauschka, a natural skin care and cosmetics line that has been around since 1967. Both have had decades to build out their biodynamic farms, labs and manufacturing processes.

“We have a lot of control over our ingredients, which is key for a natural beauty brand,” said Rob Keen, the chief executive of Weleda North America. “You don’t know where some of these companies are getting their naturals from.”

Weleda is experiencing a resurgence in the United States and gaining a cultish following for its classic Skin Food moisturizer ($18.99), a staple for many top makeup artists and, InStyle reports, for Rihanna, Julia Roberts, Victoria Beckham and more.

Last year, sales in the United States were up 19 percent, Mr. Keen said. (According to the market researchers Spins and Nielsen, German natural personal-care brands are up 13 percent in the United States compared with 11 percent for all natural personal-care brands.)

And while the German government is not helping its companies market abroad, “the country truly does support biodynamic farming and this idea of sustainability,” said Martina Joseph, the chief executive of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care. “If you look across many different categories and businesses in Germany, it’s about quality and ingredient integrity.”

For the most demanding clientele, though, the exciting brands are the ones that offer not only clean formulations, but also new science. That includes such German skin-care darlings as Augustinus Bader, Dr. Barbara Sturm and Royal Fern.

Timm Golueke, the dermatologist in Munich who is behind Royal Fern, thinks of his line, which includes an ingredient patented from fern extract, as “marrying wellness with German engineering.”

He points out that German brands are particularly transparent. The packaging is clear, the ingredients are laid out simply, and claims are backed up with science (in his case, his patent and decades seeing patients as a dermatologist).

“The patients I see in London and in Germany, they want the same thing,” Dr. Golueke said. “They want skin care that works, but they also want things to be nontoxic. That’s what German brands are building trust in.”

As a retailer, Marla Beck, the co-founder and chief executive of Bluemercury, has bought in. “German beauty is known for science-backed, clean formulas that deliver highly effective results,” she said, noting her particular admiration for the Dr. Barbara Sturm Brightening Serum, which features cress sprouts extract as well as shimmer particles that give a glow. (Bluemercury is the largest retailer of the Dr. Barbara Sturm line in the United States.)

Ms. Beck also mentioned the high quality of the ingredients, especially important when customers are shelling out $310 for said brightening serum.

Barbara Sturm, an aesthetic medical doctor in Düsseldorf, became the talk of social media for creating custom-blended creams with blood drawn from the patient. She created her highly regarded line based on the philosophy of eliminating all damaging ingredients.

“Clean beauty, which I take to mean nontoxic, nonirritating and noninflammatory, is at the center of my approach to healing the skin,” Dr. Sturm said.

Then there is the professor and scientist Augustinus Bader, who founded his namesake skin-care line two years ago. According to the company, it closed out last year with $6 million in revenue with just two products (moisturizers called the Cream and the Rich Cream). In February the company appointed a new chief executive, Maureen Case, a veteran of Estée Lauder, and has plans to introduce a new product this summer.

Dr. Bader, who has serious science credentials in stem cell research, took years to develop the two products. He approached his formulas from an epigenetics point of view — that is, using ingredients to stimulate repair signals inside the body.

“The stem cells, they work, but they work too slowly,” Dr. Bader said. “I thought, ‘How can we use the body’s own repair mechanisms?’ We have some inner clock as our skin ages that shuts down the repair mechanisms. My idea here is you can jump-start skin healing with the right triggers.”

“It’s a different form of treatment,” he said.

A last thought from Dr. Sturm, who, for all of her momentum, cautioned that G-Beauty is a marketing concept and that nationality doesn’t tell you if a product is “clean.” “Skin care is not the Olympics,” she said.

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