What Is Clean Beauty? Everything You Need To Know

Clean beauty is a label for brands that don’t use toxic or harmful ingredients in their products. Before clean beauty, the movement for clean products actually began with food. Stores like Whole Foods rose in popularity as more and more people concerned with harmful additives like GMOS and pesticides searched for non-GMO and organic food options. 

Later, the movement for clean products grew as pregnant women started to think twice about the ingredients they were bringing into their homes out of concern for their babies. As word started getting out that the ingredients in the products we use daily can have a significant impact on our health and wellness, the demand for clean products grew. Over time, brands started offering more options for non-toxic home, personal care, and beauty products.

These days, the clean beauty movement has become pretty mainstream. During the pandemic, when we were stuck at home for months, skincare became a primary form of self care for many of us. We scrolled endlessly through skincare TikTok and pored over ingredient labels to take a closer look at what exactly we were putting on our faces and into our bodies.

Since 2020, we’ve started caring about more than just ingredients, though. As consumers, we want to know what our favorite brands stand for before we purchase from them. We want to be conscious consumers and support brands that prioritize social impact and are doing good in the world, whether it’s by using sustainably-sourced ingredients, funding important research, or making donations to support causes we care about.

“Good product matters, but what matters more is standing for something, whether it’s being cruelty free (E.L.F. Cosmetics) or simply being the best version of yourself (Glossier),” says Rachel Strugatz. We expect brands to live up to the missions, values, and standards they set. With information literally at our fingertips, we’re able to demand honesty and transparency in exchange for our loyalty (and our money!). 

Clean beauty brands have become so popular because they stand for something: safety. As we become more cautious of what we put into our bodies, we want reassurance that the products we’re using are actually safe and won’t have long term effects on our health or on the environment.

As clean beauty becomes more popular, here is everything you need to know about what clean beauty is and how to determine whether a brand that claims to be clean actually is.


The beauty industry is totally unregulated

The clean beauty movement took off once consumers started becoming more aware that the FDA, which is responsible for overseeing safety in the beauty industry, doesn’t ban nearly as many ingredients as it should—not even ingredients that have been shown to cause harmful health side effects. “A whopping 11 ingredients have been banned by the FDA, which pales in comparison to the European Union’s ban on more than 1,300 ingredients,” says The Good Face Project.

There are four main reasons why you want to avoid toxic ingredients:

  • They can disrupt your hormone system.
  • They contain carcinogens that have been linked to cancer.
  • They contain toxic ingredients that can damage your organs.
  • They can cause irritation or allergies.

Some ingredients to watch out for include parabens, fragrance, formaldehyde, and phthalates. When using ingredients like fragrance, for example, you want to make sure it’s non-toxic and non-allergenic.

It’s also important to note that it’s not the individual amount of toxin in a single product that will have significant side effects like those listed above.

Rather, the impact actually comes from the frequency with which you’re using products and the length of time that you’re using them. For example, if you use lip balm every day, it’s inevitable that some of it will make its way inside your body (do you really want to be eating paraffin for 20 years?).

Because of the lack of regulation, these toxic ingredients make their way into our makeup, skincare, hair care, and other products. It’s up to us as consumers to research 

the ingredients that are in our products and to avoid anything we don’t want to consume.


“Clean” is a marketing term

In the beauty industry, brands can label themselves as “clean” without having to meet any clearly defined standards. Because there is no oversight, regulation, or anyone to determine what “clean” means, clean beauty has become a marketing term that brands use to appeal to consumers.

The term “clean” has become more than just a label, though. “Clean beauty is more like a movement. It’s a mindful decision to create products and market under pillars of human safety, transparency, environmental consciousness and ethics,” says Robyn Watkins, CEO of Holistic Beauty Group.

Under the larger clean beauty umbrella, terms like organic, natural, vegan, cruelty-free, or green don’t have clearly defined standards either. Since many of these labels are simply used for advertising purposes, it’s really up to you to determine your values and do your own research before purchasing a product.

If you’re new to clean beauty, some great places to start your research are Credo Clean and Clean at Sephora. Beauty retailers like Credo Clean and Sephora took the initiative to set their own clean beauty standards to help consumers to easily identify clean products because of the lack of regulation within the industry (all Calling products are formulated to meet these standards, by the way!).

Now, let’s clear up some clean beauty basics you need to know.


Clean beauty and natural beauty are not the same

Natural beauty refers to products that only use ingredients that are found in nature. On the other hand, clean beauty products avoid toxic ingredients. That means that clean beauty products can include synthetic ingredients, as long as those ingredients are safe and non-toxic. 

Most beauty products in general will include synthetically-produced preservatives that keep products from growing bacteria and going bad. It’s important to note that not all synthetic products are bad, which is why many clean beauty brands still use them in their products.

Natural and synthetic ingredients each have positives and negatives, since even natural ingredients can cause harm if not used properly. For example, 100% natural essential oils can cause irritation in some cases.

Some positives of using lab-grown synthetic ingredients is that they can decrease the over harvesting of plants and other natural ingredients, lessening the strain on the environment  

TLDR; what ultimately matters is that ingredients in your products are safe and non-toxic.


Clean beauty isn’t always organic

Clean beauty sometimes contains ingredients that aren’t organic. As long as ingredients in the product are non-toxic, they’re considered clean. Consider whether using only organic ingredients is important to you when purchasing clean beauty products.


Clean beauty isn’t always cruelty free

Because some clean beauty products include animal-derived ingredients such as beeswax or honey, they aren’t always vegan or cruelty free. 

→ Cruelty free means the product wasn’t tested on animals. 

→ Vegan means the product wasn’t tested on animals and doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. 

But as long as the ingredients themselves are non-toxic, the product can still be considered “clean” — even if, ethically, some of us may disagree. 


Clean beauty isn’t always sustainable

Some clean beauty brands don’t use environmentally-friendly packaging. They might use materials that are non-recyclable or non-biodegradable.

Also, while the ingredients in clean beauty might be non-toxic, that doesn’t mean they are sustainably-sourced. If sustainability is important to you, you might want to consider whether the ingredients in your products are being over harvested and causing environmental harm.


Beware of greenwashing

Greenwashing is when brands use labels like clean, natural, vegan, and organic to attract conscious consumers but don’t actually deliver what they promise.

“Greenwashing occurs when a company uses advertising and marketing to convey the false message that their products are good for you and/or the environment. Many companies want to appeal to conscious consumers who care about their health and sustainability,” explains The Good Face Project.

You can protect yourself by reading the product label and looking up the ingredients to ensure their safety. Before you purchase a product, get familiar with ingredients you need to watch out for. To make it easier, download an app to your phone that checks the ingredients for you.

Keep in mind that this responsibility is up to you since there is no regulation to verify the claims that brands make about their products!


Is clean beauty worth it?

In our opinion, clean beauty is worth the price when you invest in honest brands that actually screen their ingredients, test their products, and ensure that everything they put out is safe to use for their consumers. 

Clean beauty isn’t always affordable, but if it’s in your budget, we think it’s worth the splurge. Think of it as an investment in your future health by taking preventative measures to avoid toxic ingredients.

There are a lot of brands that are trying to be mindful of their consumers’ concerns for clean beauty and are always looking for ways to improve their products and practices. If clean beauty standards are something you care about, make your voice heard! Encourage your favorite brands to make the switch towards supporting a brighter future for us and for the planet. 

So, what do you think: is clean beauty worth it?