When Emma Hoareau, photographer and beauty influencer, stepped off the plane in Australia to set up a new life in Sydney for a couple of years, she imagined “laid-back beach girls with salt in their hair and no makeup” and a healthy obsession with sunscreen. Interestingly, her preconceived ideas couldn’t be further from the truth. “At first, those were the girls I saw. Then bit by bit, I realised that a lot of the girls in Sydney were the total opposite—very made up and a lot more self-conscious than I would have imagined.”
Hoareau moved to Bondi, a beach suburb outside the city, and instantly felt the pressure to “fit in.” “There’s such a pressure to work out and eat healthy and look great on the beach—it’s a very beauty-conscious suburb, whether it likes to admit it or not. I think part of ‘beauty’ there certainly means body a lot more too, as it’s so much more on show than it would be back in London.”
While Australia may have more sun than we do, their beauty aesthetic changes geographically just like it does here. “Australia is such a huge country; that’s one thing that I realised when living there. Driving to somewhere three hours away and back in one day isn’t considered far. When I visited Perth, the flight took seven hours—just to get to the same country! It’s insane. Having said that, there’s also a lot fewer people; it would only take three times the London population to match all the people in the whole of Australia. So there are lots of different cities and styles but a lot fewer people to be representative of them.
“On the East Coast, Melbourne is probably the most relaxed, beauty wise, and then as you head north to Sydney and Brisbane, the makeup tends to get heavier, which in a way is similar to England! There’s even a city called Newcastle up north, too. But then you also have Byron, which is near to Brisbane, and is the home of beach babes who live in the ocean, surf all day and wear very little makeup. It’s very wholesome and relaxed there. Each town has it’s own ‘look,’ though, definitely.”
As we’re all too aware, women in Britain tend to be fairly self-deprecating when it comes to beauty, while our Australian counterparts are more straightforward. “The girls that I met had the same hang-ups any woman does, but they’ve also grown up outdoors and in their bikinis and so have come to accept themselves as they are, much more than British women perhaps have. Also, if they think they’re fat, then they’ll work out. If they want bigger lips, then they’ll get injectables—they act on it straight away rather than umming and ahhing and waiting around for a magic fix.”
With the economy in Australia thriving, women are in a position to spend more on beauty treatments than we do here in the UK, which was something Hoareau noticed straight away. “People earn quite a lot of money, so they have enough to spend a lot on themselves, whether that’s a weekly manicure or breast implants or being lasered from head to toe,” she tells us.
You see, we may have this view of how we think Australian women are from watching Home & Away—that they’re all naturally beautiful Margot Robbie look-alikes—but women down under have hang-ups too. “It’s such an outdoorsy culture, where you’re often in beachwear and in the water, so lashes, laser and injectables are huge,” Hoareau explains. “Laser is very cheap there (probably as so many people use the machines they can charge less). I used to get my bikini and underarm lasered for $30 a time (around £19), which is cheaper and longer-lasting than a wax! I had been told by an English friend who had previously lived there that it was a must when I moved because it was so affordable compared to London.
“I was also surprised at how normal it is to have your lips or boobs done. I had imagined Australians wouldn’t care about such things, but actually once you start to realise people do have it done, you start to notice how many people have had tweaks, but perfectly subtle tweaks that still look natural.”
It’s not all injectables and plastic surgery, though. The flip side is that there are a lot of women in Oz who are fans of natural therapies (or do both). “Acupuncture, lymphatic drainage, it’s all part of the ‘wellness’ trend. People in Sydney put their well-being and happiness a lot higher on their list of priorities than Londoners do,” Hoareau tells us.
And it wasn’t just the subtle “tweakments” these women are having that surprised Hoareau: “They really don’t care that much about sunscreen!” But this didn’t deter Hoareau from slapping it on herself. In fact, that was probably the biggest change in her beauty routine (which was affected mostly by the climate). “SPF! So. much. sunscreen. When I first moved, I used to apply Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF even if I was just going to the shops. There is a hole in the ozone layer there, which means the sun is far stronger. I’ve always been an SPF preacher, and over there I became one even more because Aussie girls just don’t wear that much of it!
“I remember going to the beach with a group of friends and being shocked that they all only applied it to their faces even though the risk of skin cancer in Australia is so high (two in three Australians will be diagnosed!). For them, they’ve grown up in the sun and have applied sunscreen so often that they are so tired of using it. Bizarrely, I think it’s not such a big deal there to get skin cancer—it’s just something that happens and then you go and get the area removed.
“Since the sun is so strong, even if you do wear sunscreen, you’ll likely develop melanoma anyway. And I’m the proof of that—even though I wore SPF 50 every day and a hat almost the whole time at the beach, I’ve still developed poikiloderma (red pigment) on my chest and am going to need a serious round of IPL to remove it.”
Overzealous sunscreen use meant Hoareau had to spend more time on her skincare routine at the end of each day. “The constant sunscreen application affected my beauty routine in that I made a conscious effort to double cleanse to remove all the SPF from my pores. I also had to keep my skin well hydrated in the heat. I have quite a laid-back beauty look in terms of makeup, so I didn’t feel out of place, but I did have to start using powder as well as foundation, as things get so hot there."
I spent two years in Sydney, and I was probably in my bikini 60% of the time. It makes you a lot more body conscious.
The sunny weather also affected her grooming routine too, and in a pretty unexpected way. “I spent two years in Sydney, and I was probably in my bikini 60% of the time,” she tells us. “It makes you a lot more body-conscious, and having smooth, glowing skin is a must. I used to love using the Frank Body Coffee Scrub (£14) and also discovered the magical benefits of dry-brushing.
“Also, I assumed everyone in Sydney was brown because they went to the beach, but there’s actually a huge love of fake tanners! Some people do it for sun safety, but also it’s easy to forget that most people still have to go to work in offices every day and can’t be at the beach 24/7, but when the weekend rolls around, they still want to look healthy and bronzed. I remember being sent so much fake tan by brands and thinking, What? Why would anyone need fake tan here; they’ve got the sun! Since I was working freelance and (like a total English cliché) lived 100 metres from the ocean, I was swimming each morning and topping up my tan every day. Eventually I realised fake tanning was such a big thing there because people want the perfect tan when they arrive at the beach, not just when they leave it.”
Ed. note: Fake tan brand Bondi Sands hails from Australia.
It wasn’t all surprises in the beauty department, however—when it comes to products, natural is the first choice. “There’s definitely a love for natural products, and nonchemical is a big trend,” says Hoareau. “People love coconut oil and organic products. Generally, girls want to look healthy and glowing, so highlighter and bronzer are popular. Also, in the heat it can be hard to wear a lot of makeup, so people tend to be more laid-back in the day and then more dolled up at night when it’s cooler and your makeup isn’t going to melt off your face.
“There are so many great Aussie brands: Skinsitut, A’kin, Ella Baché and Grown Alchemist to name a few. Luckily most of them are available here in England. I definitely miss Mecca Cosmetica, which is an amazing beauty store that stocks the best brands and also has its own line of products.
“I think Australians have a tendency to like natural products because it’s been drilled into them to wear SPF all the time, but SPF is full of chemicals and can—to an extent—be harmful, too. So natural products are a break from this. Plus, the outdoorsy lifestyle and love of healthy food means they’ve already signed up to this type of ‘wholesome/natural’ trend, where nature is everything and can only do you good.
“Personally, I have nothing against (non-harmful) chemicals. Our bodies and skin aren’t made from coconut oil and shea butter, it’s made from chemicals and acids, and I think a good beauty routine needs these to see results. Sure, I love a good rose-hip oil as much as the next person, but when brands advertise as ‘made with essential oils,’ I want to cringe, as essential oils can be allergens and irritate the skin. Nature can be just as harsh as chemicals, which I think often isn’t clearly relayed to the everyday customer.”
While Hoareau mentioned earlier that Australian women are more confident that us Brits, they still have beauty concerns (as the popularity in injectables only serves to prove). Other concerns stem mostly from the effect of the sun. “Pigmentation is huge in Australia,” says Hoareau. “A lot of problems in London come from pollution, in Sydney they come from overexposure to the sun. I think the sun and salt certainly help any acne problems women may have, so it’s rarely seen there (plus the air is much cleaner, which I think makes a huge difference).
“Since laser is readily available and affordable, pigmentation can be dealt with. Wrinkles go two ways—either people don’t mind because it’s so inevitable, or they do and they get Botox. No fuss. I certainly became more aware of using products for hyperpigmentation, I added serums like the Dermalogica C12 Pure Bright (£80) to make sure my skin was always radiant and avoid brown spots developing.
“At first I didn’t understand how they could be so laid-back about their skin. I’m always so aware of it—comes with the job—but eventually I grew to love how blasé they were. It’s just so Australian; they don’t make something an issue until it is one. And that’s one of the reasons I loved living there so much: It’s so relaxed. Yes, there’s the pressure to look good on the beach, but these girls aren’t going to be the ones who judge you if you don’t. They’re very accepting. They make you feel at home and welcome you with open arms into their way of life.”
Next up, the beauty habits of Brazilian women.