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What is Clean Beauty?

Over the past few years clean beauty has become a buzzword, emerging from niche industry into mainstream. But clean beauty can be a minefield to navigate. What exactly is it?




Over the past few years clean beauty has become a buzzword, emerging from niche industry into mainstream. As the backlash against traditional commercial beauty companies gathers serious momentum, companies have jumped on the clean beauty bandwagon in response to consumers’ concerns about potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics and skincare with products excluding phthalates, parabens and other concerning ingredients. Quite understandable. As your largest organ your skin stands to absorb a lot of what you put on it, so it’s worth thinking twice about what you put on your face and body. But clean beauty can be a minefield to navigate. What exactly is it?


So, how do you define clean beauty?

Here’s the thing, clean beauty is still open to interpretation. There is no international or industry set definition of the term, and brands marketing themselves as clean offer their own definition of what that is. The cosmetics industry is one of the least regulated industries, and notorious in its lack of transparency. Without an international standard, the term can be misleading, sometimes deliberately so. Clean, like organic, green, and natural, are ambiguous terms often employed by brands as a marketing tool, or a greenwashing ploy to attract your money. Often these terms are used interchangeably adding further confusion.


The EU has banned more than 1,300 ingredients deemed unsafe for household products, with a small percentage making up ingredients used in cosmetics. But certain ingredients banned in the EU may not be considered toxic in the US. In fact, in the U.S. where there is no FDA approved definition of clean, less than a dozen harmful chemicals have been banned. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is the only US Government monitor of ingredients in cosmetics, and not much has changed since it was first passed in 1938. That’s older than most beauty companies operating today! This has given the beauty industry a lot of room to make its own rules, and to define and interpret terms like clean, natural, organic any way they see fit.

In the U.S. where there is no FDA approved definition of clean, less than a dozen harmful chemicals have been banned.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a US based non-profit research and advocacy group, a shocking eighty percent of the chemicals in personal-care products have never been tested for safety. Your favourite skincare or beauty products could contain plasticisers, surfectants, harmful preservatives and formaldehyde (used as embalming fluid). Since 2009, 595 cosmetics manufacturers have reported using 88 chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm in more than 73,000 products. Although many argue that the chemicals and contaminants in cosmetics and personal care products likely pose little risk, exposure to some over a long period of time has been linked to serious health problems, including cancer. And we tend to use products repeatedly and daily. And while tests may still be inconclusive, if there is a cleaner better product out there that is not linked to adverse health effects, wouldn’t you choose it?