Clean Beauty: What’s It Really All About?

Millennials are at the forefront of conscious consumerism – leading the way for individuals to better understand just what exactly it is that they’re putting on and inside their bodies. This need-to-know mentality has led to a market-increase for organic products and it has generated an interest and curiosity for clean beauty.

An obsession with wellness and detoxification, both in terms of diet and products, is fueling a demand for stripped-back, ‘clean’ ingredients” explained Victoria Buchanan, a senior futures analyst at The Future Laboratory to Vogue.

While clean beauty sounds safe and friendly enough, the terms have been thrown around so much that most consumers don’t actually know what it means.

Within ‘clean beauty’ there are many, many different elements,” says Sarah Meadows, the head buyer at the beauty chain Space NK, to the Guardian. “Whether it is about sustainability, whether it’s vegan, conscious living, free-from … playing into any of those would make you a clean brand. It can be fairly confusing for the customer.”

So, what is clean beauty?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to provide a definition for clean beauty, thus it can be quite hard to determine what exactly constitutes a clean beauty product.

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Claims such as ‘natural’, ‘clean’, ‘green’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ have no set definition as yet and without a standard, can be misleading and open to misuse,” explained Année de Mamiel, founder of De Mamiel skincare to Glamour. As of this time, the general consensus is that clean beauty refers to products that are free of toxins that could be detrimental to both the skin and one’s general health.

Therefore, clean beauty products can contain natural, organic and man-made ingredients – just as long as they won’t irritate the skin as this has become a growing area of concern,

Dermatologists are reporting a growing phenomenon of sensitized skin caused by increased exposure to pollution, stress and digital aggressors,says Buchanan,For consumers, skin sensitivity is the new, ahead of anti-aging, and this is driving a shift towards caring for skin with natural, honest ingredients.” She continues, “As consumers continue to scrutinize what is in the products they put on their skin, zero-irritants will become the new standard of natural beauty.”

Furthermore, as the FDA has no obligation to approve cosmetic products before they hit shelves, coupled with the fact that, according to the New York Times,  they haven’t updated their regulation codes since 1938, it has become the responsibility of the consumer to be extremely mindful of what exactly they are putting on their bodies. 

So, is my favorite beauty product natural, vegan or organic?

As mentioned, there are currently no FDA mandates on the use of the word ‘natural’. Therefore, brands are free to use the word however they see fit.

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However, the general idea is that ‘natural’ refers to ingredients that come from nature and that have been minimally processed.

However, while some products do contain natural ingredients, not all of them are still intact. In fact, a lot of products don’t use natural ingredients. Rather, their ingredients are derived from nature which means that the chosen natural ingredient has gone through some form of processing,

You can have one natural ingredient and still call it clean or natural. Education comes into play with knowing and understanding the ingredients in your product,” explained the founder of natural deodorant brand Freedom Deodorant,  Ira Green, to StyleCaster.

What about organic?

Unlike the term ‘natural’, the use of the word ‘organic’ is regulated.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a product can be certified organic if it contains at least 95% organic ingredients and said product should carry a certification label. During the manufacturing of organic products, GMO ingredients, and harmful pesticides are not used, and this is what makes organic products so appealing. 

There’s also vegan

Vegan beauty products are labeled as cruelty-free because all of their products, ingredients, and formulations have been developed without the use of animals.

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According to statistics, since 2013 the occurrence of vegan beauty products has risen by 175% (1). The animal rights organization PETA keeps a close eye on companies that produce vegan cosmetics to ensure that they do indeed refrain from making their products using animal derivatives. These derivatives include common cosmetic ingredients such as collagen, honey, cholesterol, and gelatin.

It is very common to see the use of keratin [a protein derived from skins and bones of animals] for strength and repairing the hair; lanolin [sheep fat] and lanolin silk protein [from silk butterflies] for hair softening; and beeswax for emollient and hold.” says Hedda Mirrow, head of market expert at the vegan haircare brand Maria Nila, GlamourInstead, we only use vegetable proteins, butters, and oils – including wheat protein, algaes to repair, shea butter for hold, moringa oil for nourishment and argan oil for softening.

Beauty products and the environment

The sustainability of cosmetic products is also an area of concern for consumers, especially when you consider reports from Zero Waste Week that state that 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, much of which is not recyclable (2).

In order to counter this, a lot of companies, such as ESSE, are using glass packaging as it not only protects their active ingredients but it can also be reused. NUXE, which is a French beauty brand, has created its packaging from plant-derived ingredients. Also, their packaging is free of ingredient leaflets that are often found in a number of cosmetic packages. Instead, NUXE has decided to print out the ingredients on the inside of their packaging using plant-derived ink.

Becoming clean

In embracing clean beauty, the best thing you can do is research.

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Investigate which ingredients are likely to irritate the skin and cause health problems and then become better acquainted at reading labels.

When reading the ingredient list, the compounds that you need to stay clear of include parabens, fragrance, phthalates, SLS and SLES, formaldehyde, oxybenzone, and aluminum. Each of these ingredients is most likely to irritate the skin and they’ve also been linked to cancer and other hormonal-related disorders.

Want to know more?

Vegan makeup has been giving other cosmetic lines a serious run for it in the past few years. Click here to find out what this entails and all about the brands behind them.

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