A GUIDE TO “CLEAN BEAUTY”
You’ve heard of “clean eating” but what about “clean beauty”? The term “clean beauty” was a rapid trend of interest in 2018. Now that we are heading into the second later half of 2019, this topic or trend has only snowballed. Five to ten years ago, the term “clean beauty” seemed slightly foreign and vague. There were limited brands and no websites (to be found) which encompassed this trend. Enter 2019 and the “clean beauty” trend is very loud and proud. This is our guide to “clean beauty”.
However, before we review available trending brands and current websites which are available for you “clean beauty” fiends out there, I think it makes sense to really dive into how we define what these relevant terminologies really mean.
Truth be told, this was a post that I’ve been mulling over for the last few years. It drums up a multitude of reactions and opinions. People seem to have very strict ideas (and strong comments) as it relates to how this beauty trend should be addressed. We also know that varying brands are now collecting lists of “good” and “bad” ingredients based on their company ethos. But, in my opinion, how we define what’s “good” and “bad” is personal and relative. At present, there is not one defining guidance that provides a rubric from which these brands perform their “clean beauty” practice.
So we must ask ourselves whether it makes sense for consumers to:
- Follow what brands dictate as “icky” ingredients and “safe” ingredients?
- Follow what regulatory bodies mandate as safe?
- Follow research-based studies as a guide to purchasing power?
These are very personal questions that are critical in understanding how we drive brands to create products we want/need.
But first, let’s define ALL of the relevant terms that are often linked to “clean beauty” and what it actually means.
CLEAN / GREEN / NATURAL
These three terms are synonymous and interchangeable within the “clean beauty” space. It often becomes confusing for consumers (and I include myself in that category) with determining what it actually represents in a brand/product.
Clean is often a term we associate with being “free of” or “pure”. Green is often a term we associate with plants or botanical ingredients. And finally, natural is often a term we associate with “deriving from nature”.
First, the FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.
That being said the term “natural” remains highly subjective in my opinion. In fact, there are very few natural ingredients that can claim certain effective uses. So keep that in mind.
Similar to “natural”, the FDA does not offer a specific definition for “organic beauty” or “organic cosmetics” as it relates to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). In fact, the FDA relinquishes actual guidance of the “organic” term to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Organic Program (NOP). However, regulatory enforcement of the term “organic” is still governed by the FDA. Seems a little strange but it’s no surprise that the regulatory bodies still have a bit of organizational “cleaning” as it relates to the beauty industry. And a discussion on governing regulations of the beauty industry can be a post unto itself.
Overall, “organic” is a labeling term that refers to an agricultural product produced in accordance with the Act and the regulations in this part.
In addition, based on the USDA’s Labeling Organic Products guideline:
If you make a product and want to claim that it or its ingredients are organic, your final product probably needs to be certified. If you are not certified, you must not make any organic claim on the principal display panel or use the USDA organic seal anywhere on the package. You may only, on the information panel, identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.
Next, the USDA’s Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products guideline stipulate the following:
Once certified, cosmetics, personal care products, and body care products are eligible for the same 4 organic labeling categories as all other agricultural products, based on their organic content and other factors:
- “100 percent organic”: Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
- “Organic”: Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or nonorganically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
- “Made with organic ingredients”: Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either “body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary, and chamomile,” or “body lotion made with organic herbs.” Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
- Less than 70 percent organic ingredients: Products cannot use the term “organic” anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are USDA-certified as being organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel. Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and may not display a certifying agent’s name and address. (Water and salt are also excluded here.)
I really loathe this term or phrase. Would you say that water is chemical-free? The answer to that question is a big fat NO. The very composition of water includes chemical elements of two hydrogens covalently bonded to oxygen. So when brands or products claim that they are “chemical-free” – run. There is no such thing. Period.
Free of harmful chemicals and not known to cause any adverse physiological effects in animals, plants, humans, or the environment. This is pretty self-explanatory.
This term is intriguing to me both as a chemist and consumer. As a chemist, an ingredient that is synthetically processed or manufactured seems second nature. What’s the big deal? Some of the most effective ingredients happen to be of synthetic nature. In fact, a manufacturer may process a synthetic ingredient by taking liberties from nature.
Since there has been an explosion of brands and new companies that are cropping up daily from all over the world, it would be impossible to provide a complete review. Therefore, I’ve reviewed some selected US brands and websites that I’ve actively used and/or purchased.
Our review of these brands and websites looked at the following:
- Business Ethos: Clarity on business ethos and purpose.
- Restricted Ingredients: Whether the website/brand provided a list of restricted ingredients.
- Sources: Whether the website/brand utilized regulatory or company-based guidelines.
- Selection/Formulation Process: If the company incorporated a selection/formulation process and how (if applicable)
- Product Reviews: Whether we performed product reviews or provided comparisons.
- Availability: Whether the brand/website is available online or in stores.
- Transparency: We reviewed the overall transparency of the brand/website.
- Not transparent:
- Partly transparent (transparent but may lack some components):
- Bottom line: Our overall opinion based on our research.
In addition, we can’t provide our review without acknowledging Sephora, the first and the gold standard of purchasing websites/stores that provided consumers with a myriad of beauty products. It’s long been the resource where consumers (much like our fellow readers) ventured for the latest products. We rely on reviews that are sourced from peer-to-peer. Well up until recently that is; as a scathing account of fake Sephora reviews of Sunday Riley products came out in 2018. So peer-to-peer transparency such as comments or reviews is certainly a topic of contention. And that’s a whole larger conversation to be had.
And finally, throughout our review, the term clean beauty will most likely be under quotations as to denote that it is highly probable that each particular brand/website is generally encompassing the following terms: green, natural, organic, chemical-free, non-toxic, and synthetic-free.
Ok, let’s look at the brands and websites!
THE GOOD & THE BAD
It is no surprise that the conventional beauty industry has slowly adopted the “clean” concept into its current product pipeline. They’ve seen the growth that indie brands have accomplished in the last few years, and like any other business, are heeding the call toward improved ingredients and company transparency.
We are demanding it and they are slowly listening. So, in that respect, the “clean beauty” trend has made an impact on traditional beauty.
However, it is also interesting to note that much like any new concept deemed progressive, there are aggressive followers. Dare I say, extremists. Those that are militant with what they restrict in their skincare routine. But of course, we do need to note that there are varying patrons of this “clean beauty” trend.
There are three categories of “clean beauty” go-ers:
- Those that are “clean beauty militant” in how what they purchase (as mentioned earlier). Rigid in what they “allow” with respect to ingredients.
- Those that are “clean beauty malleable” with respect to what they consider “allowable”. Allowing varying ingredients which may include synthetics (for example).
- And those that are “clean beauty conventional” utilizing conventional brands/products with the occasional incorporation of “clean beauty” in their repertoire.
I follow somewhere between category 2 and 3. I have not reached (or will likely ever reach) full-blown militant status, but I am very much aware of trying to make cleaner choices if given the option. But as I said before, I am a chemist by training (and industry) and the use of synthetic/nano/manufactured ingredients don’t really trigger me to warrant elimination of a purchase. However, I do try to be vigilant about what is safe and what is classified as unsafe based on thorough scientific examination. That being said, I apply this mindset with respect to my reviews with having a more pragmatic approach to beauty, skincare, and wellness.
DO I NEED THIS?
Do we need “clean beauty” options?
The answer to that is relative and dependent on the individual. As science continues to more comprehensive research as it relates to botanical ingredients versus synthetic ingredients, we are able to make more sound decisions in both formulation and product selection.
So depending on what camp you follow with respect to the three (3) categories of “clean beauty” go-ers, you’ll likely have a better stance with respect to need or want.
If the price point is your concern, then fear not, “clean beauty” is not just for the spendy. In fact, there are some beautiful brands out there providing impactful products at an affordable (dare I say reasonable) price point. You just need to do your research, or better yet; follow us and we will continue to guide and review more brands/products.
Either way, the choice is always yours.
ARE THE CLAIMS BACKED BY SCIENCE?
In the end, the claims for “clean beauty” tend to be quite general. It can be very difficult for brands (convention or clean) to claim therapeutic results either way. Therefore, we always suggest that our readers continue the dialogue and investigate what they are using. Make a decision based on your own personal preference and not what a brand/website or industry deems is acceptable.
We aim to provide the most comprehensive review with respect to ingredients but science is ever-evolving and what is deemed safe today may be considered toxic or harsh tomorrow. So keep that in mind. Much like fitness fads, beauty fads do come and go. So do your research but be pragmatic in your decision making and purchasing power and we hope our guide to “clean beauty” provided a moment of clarity in a sea of beauty industry chaos!
Until my next review!