The Story Behind Instagram’s Most Controversial Beauty Brand

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard a lot about Australian Pink Clay facial masks. But what you might not have heard is the crafty marketing tactics some beauty brands have employed… and where their ideas originally stemmed from.


Along with Hugh Jackman, kangaroos, and Muriel’s Wedding, Australia has given the world a true marvel: pink clay. In just about a year, the millennial pink beauty phenomenon has captured the hearts and Instafeeds of beauty influencers everywhere. In just ten minutes, you can find out why: an Australian Pink Clay facial mask will give your face new life. After one go with the mask, you’ll find yourself with a brighter complexion, smaller pores, and a youthful glow.

“It’s a very potent ingredient but is still gentle enough for sensitive skin,” explains Sarah Hamilton, cofounder of Sand & Sky. “It powerfully absorbs dirt and impurities, drawing out toxins and fighting pollution. Non-drying and gentle on sensitive skin, it restores the skin’s natural defense shield and instantly shrinks and refines pores.”

Sarah and her sister and cofounder, Emily, were met with an amazing response to their brand, with all of their face masks selling out in under three months. The pink clay is native to Australia, but surprisingly, it’s still not a household beauty ingredient. “Sand & Sky innovated using Australian Pink Clay in skincare,” Sarah says. “Alya is the only brand we found replicating our product.”

Alya Skin, another Australian skincare label, launched earlier this year and has also chosen a business model centered around Australian Pink Clay. “We chose to base our brand around pink clay simply because it is pink… as funny as it may sound,” the brand’s founder, Manny Barbas, says.

Before Sand & Sky busted into the skincare scene in April 2017, there was little to no talk of Australian Pink Clay. The brand brought light to the once-unknown product, making it a beauty cabinet staple. While Alya Skin is the only other brand wholly focused on pink clay products, they’re not the only other brand who has joined in on the pink clay game—Australian brands Generation Clay and Life Basics, and even Dior has offered a pink clay facial mask. Yet Alya has been hit with cease and desist motions from Sand & Sky’s legal team.

When Alya Skin launched, the brand’s 22-year-old cofounders looked to Sand & Sky for inspiration in more than just product ideas. Alya directly copied imagery and wording from Sand & Sky in their initial web launch, and weren’t very careful about copy editing before going to publish—the description to the Alya Skin product webpage read: “Use the Sand and Sky brush to apply your mask.”

pink clay, The Story Behind Instagram’s Most Controversial Beauty Brand

Screenshot from January 2018

This wasn’t an isolated incident of content theft on Alya’s part. Youtube influencer Queenshirin accused the brand of using her testimony to the brand’s pink clay mask as their own advertisement in a Facebook video. The brand had reached out to Shirin for a testimony in exchange for a product sample, but after the Youtuber posted her video on her own channel, Alya edited out her watermark and incorporated bits of the video into their ad. Shirin didn’t give the brand permission to do this, and asked the brand to remove her video from the ad, explaining that this was copyright infringement. According to Shirin, Facebook ultimately removed the ad.

With these run-ins, it isn’t surprising that Alya Skin has made some enemies. But are the young brand’s blunders forgivable? Sand & Sky doesn’t own the rights to all pink clay. Creating a similar product to another brand isn’t legally wrong; it’s for the consumer to decide whether that’s morally wrong. However, repeating another company’s marketing copy word for word or claiming a video is your own are both clearly wrong, legally and morally.

The brands co-founders are both 22, and who hasn’t made a mistake or had a lapse in judgement at 22? If the Daily Mail’s intel is right, the young entrepreneurs earned $1 million in just four months, which would indicate that they must know what they’re doing. But like Sand & Sky and Queenshiring, the Daily Mail’s readers weren’t impressed with Alya Skin, commenting under the article that Alya copied another brand’s product and that they overcharge for pink clay. Still, Alya Skin probably does know what they’re doing—it takes a certain level of know-how to determine the right products and marketing tactics to replicate.



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