Know Your Stuff When It Comes To ‘Clean Beauty’
By Melissa Gulden
In the Clear
Story by Melissa Gulden
BRING ON THE LUXURIOUS, incredible-smelling, beautifully pigmented beauty products. We love to bask in the smells and indulge in the sumptuous ingredients. But have you ever wondered what exactly is in that face cream or perfume?
The beauty buzzword of the moment is “clean.” Along with terms “green” and “natural,” clean beauty is a term used to describe certain types of skincare, hair, makeup and fragrance products.
So what does clean beauty mean? It means a non-toxic product that is made without a long list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects. Despite a booming industry, U.S. laws for cosmetics safety are largely unchanged since the last piece of regulation was passed in 1938. This means the personal care industry is largely unregulated, meaning companies are basically free to use whatever adjectives they want when marketing and “greenwashing” their products – green, natural, eco – literally have no enforceable definition. In other words, what is touted on the front of the label in no way needs to match the list of ingredients on the back.
People are more concerned than ever about health and the environment, and it’s leading us to question what exactly is in the products we are applying directly on our skin. Retailers are catching on that consumers want cosmetics and beauty products that aren’t laden with potentially harmful ingredients. But identifying the “cleanest” makeup products or “safest” cosmetic brands on the market isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the United States – unlike in Europe and Canada, where well over 1,300 unsafe ingredients are banned for use in beauty products – the FDA has prohibited only 11 ingredients or compounds. Nor does the FDA have to approve beauty products before they hit the shelves. The onus goes to you, the consumer, if you want to educate yourself on clean beauty.
Sephora has recently launched “Clean at Sephora,” an initiative in which the beauty brand has named 2,000 of its products as “clean,” meaning they are free of ingredients like sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, phthalates and mineral oil. And wellness juggernaut goop has also launched a “clean” beauty line to reflect the absence of ingredients linked to harmful health effects, from hormone disruption to cancer.
As for other “clean beauty” terms, there’s an overload of related claims and buzzwords on product packaging. Here’s a rundown on what some of these terms mean.
1. “Natural” or “All-Natural.”
Implies that a product is made from ingredients sourced from nature and minimally modified. Few ingredients are used as-is from nature, so you can trust it when you see the Ecocert Natural Cosmetic stamp, which means at least half the ingredients are plant-based.
The product’s ingredients and formula are produced without harmful pesticides. This is the only government-regulated term in the “clean” beauty space. Trust it when it’s USDA-Certified Organic (contains at least 95 percent organically-cultivated ingredients) or NSF Organic-Certified (at least 70 percent organic ingredients).
3. “Naturally Derived.”
Implies the natural ingredients in a product have undergone some chemical processing. When you see this term, or others such as “made with natural ingredients,” look for a qualifier as to what percentage of ingredients it applies to.
4. “Chemical Free.”
Implies a product doesn’t contain harmful ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene or lead. However, every ingredient, natural or synthetic, is made up of chemicals. Trust it when it is ingredient specific, as in “paraben free,” and holds a seal of approval from a company that validates ingredient claims.
Implies the product is not harmful to humans, but such a general term is useless unless it applies to a specific ingredient. After all, anything can be harmful in large quantities – even drinking water. Bottom line: don’t trust this line.
6. “Green” or “Sustainable.”
Implies products are developed with minimal present and future environmental impact. This broad term applies to everything from how a product is made to how it’s made, packaged, distributed and disposed of. Look for certifications to validate both sustainability and product performance.
So what does this all mean for the average consumer? Do your research. If you’re concerned about what you are putting into your body, be just as concerned about what you are putting on it. Do an ingredient check – if you don’t know what something is, look it up. Choose fragrance- and dye-free; choose products with less packaging; look for companies that give back. Do a little shopping around and enjoy a clean beauty movement in your own home. •