How Clean is Clean Beauty?

The beauty industry is always changing. Consumer demands and advancements in technology dictate what types of products and services companies will create. A large trend in recent years is that of clean beauty. 

The term “clean beauty” itself is very vague and has led many people to be confused about what actually constitutes clean beauty.  We are here to clear up what clean beauty is and how clean it actually is.

What Does Clean Beauty Mean?

Many people associate clean beauty with sustainability, but that is not true. Simply put, clean beauty uses clean ingredients. That is, ingredients that have not been proven to harm human health. That being said, it can have roots in sustainability. Clean beauty is harmless beauty. This goes for both humans and the environment. While products should not harm the human body, they should also not harm the environment. This means ethically sourcing your ingredients. 

What Ingredients are Considered “Unclean?”

There are a large number of harmful ingredients used in personal care products. While there has been a large shift towards getting rid of them, some formulations still use them. Here are a few ingredients to avoid when looking for clean beauty as well as how they would be written in the ingredient list:

  • Parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, propyl-)
  • Phthalates (DBP, DEP, BPA)
  • Formaldehyde (Formaldehyde, Quanternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate)
  • Triclosan
  • SLES, SLS (BHA and BHT)

Some of these names may look familiar to you. Chances are you have had a product that boasts on their packaging, “Free from parabens, phthalates, etc.” 

So, How Clean is Clean Beauty Actually?

This can be a very tricky question. The beauty industry is self-regulated, so the government does not often step in to make sure everyone is doing what they should be. Because of this, many companies do what is called “greenwashing” or “cleanwashing.” This means that even if their formulations are not clean or their practices are not sustainable, they can lie about it on the packaging and get away with it. This is why it is important to double check ingredients if clean beauty is something that is important to you. Just because a brand claims they are clean does not necessarily mean they are. 

That being said, there are genuinely products that are considered clean and companies that do not lie. However, dermatologists believe that clean beauty may not be all it is hyped up to be. We previously wrote an article on your skin microbiome and how a little bit of grime is needed to keep your skin healthy. Likewise, sometimes using these so-called “nasty” ingredients is necessary. Long winded chemical names on the back of products have led to widespread fear in consumers. 

In reality, using these ingredients in small doses is beneficial to your skin. The key word here is small doses. Most products will include non-clean ingredients in very small amounts, whereas large amounts of exposure is where you should be concerned. Every person’s skin is different, so everyone will have different reactions to these harsher ingredients. No formulation is going to be perfect, no matter how “clean” it is. You could cut out parabens, SLS, phthalates, etc. from your products and there is still someone out there who may experience sensitivity or irritations. Moreover, some of these ingredients are necessary to include. They may have certain benefits such as preserving or thickening the product. 

Is Clean Beauty Important?

Dermatologists do not think so. In conversation with The Guardian, Dr. Anjali Mahto, a London based Deramtologist, said that consumer perception is the reason for this shift. She claims that people are scared of chemical names they don’t understand and have created this belief that cleaner beauty is better for you. On the topic of whether clean beauty is important she said, “It is unnecessary…It creates and propagates a myth that ‘chemicals’ are bad and ‘clean’ is better or more virtuous.” Mahto fears that this will also cause consumers to trust less in science, no matter how much it has proved in the past. 

When it comes down to it, deciding whether or not to use clean beauty is a matter of preference. Some people may feel more comfortable using products they know are beneficial to humans and the environment. Others may feel more comfortable sticking to their usual products that may include some of these more negatively perceived products. At the end of the day, you should always do your research. We also recommend patch testing any product before full usage to make sure you will not have any sort of reaction to it. 

There is a clear shift towards clean beauty and many brands are ready to embrace it, while others already have. Regardless of whether or not you chose to buy these brands, clean beauty is one trend that is here to stay.

Interested in our article on the skin microbiome mentioned earlier? Check it out here:

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