What Exactly Does Clean Beauty Mean In 2023?

what is clean beauty?
6 min reading time

For years, we’ve been using beauty products that have questionable ingredients, and it’s only been in recent years that we’ve become more conscious about it.

These days, you don’t have to be a hippie to care about the ingredients in your cosmetics. It’s a huge and rapidly-growing trend for women all over the world.

But what does clean beauty really mean?

While there’s no universally-accepted definition of clean beauty, at Better Goods, we believe this is what clean beauty looks like.

Non-Toxic Ingredients

The most important trait of a clean beauty brand—by far—is having a great and non-toxic list ingredients.

A truly clean beauty brand will use no ingredients that are believed to be toxic to human health or harmful to the environment.

Examples of ingredients that no clean beauty product should have are:

Parabens – Artificial preservatives that have been linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neuro-toxicity and more.

Formaldehyde – A known carcinogen that can show up in products even when not listed as an ingredient as a byproduct of manufacturing.

Synthetic fragrance – Fragrances fall under “trade secrets”, meaning manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the exact cocktail of chemicals that go into them. These ingredients could be anything from irritants, to hormone disruptors, and worse.

PEGs (polyethylene glycols) – Petroleum-based compounds that, depending on the manufacturing process of the product, can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. These two chemicals are thought to be human carcinogens and dangerous to the nervous system.

Transparent Labeling

Another crucial aspect of any truly clean beauty brand is transparent labeling. This means being 100% honest about all of the ingredients used in the product.

We can look at fragrance again as an example: since manufacturers are allowed to hide their exact fragrance ingredients under the umbrella term “fragrance”, that’s extremely non-transparent. No truly clean beauty brand would do this.

organic vs natural vs non-toxic

Look Out For Greenwashing & Cleanwashing

We need to beware of brands that participate in greenwashing and cleanwashing.

As the clean beauty market becomes more and more lucrative, brands are quick to jump onto the trend, many times with self-serving and misleading intentions.

You don’t have to look very far to come across brands that throw buzzwords like “clean” & “natural” at you. But since these terms are unregulated, they don’t necessarily mean anything, and sometimes brands call their products clean or natural when they really aren’t.

Also beware of brands that use the term “organic” in their marketing, or even their name. In 2019, the brand Truly Organic was ordered to pay $1.76 million because they falsely claimed their products were organic.

Another trick to watch out for is brands using green or flowery imagery in their packaging or marketing materials. Sometimes, like in the case of greenwashing company Babyganics, they literally make the products green in an attempt to mislead customers into thinking their products are more green or natural.

Also be on the lookout for “free-from” lists.

What we mean by this is the common practice of putting phrasing like “No parabens,” or “Free from formaldehyde.”

The way this tricks consumers is two-fold: first, it makes you think “Wow, I guess these other brands must have these awful ingredients!”

Second of all, just because they’re missing a few toxic ingredients doesn’t mean they’re not using other toxic ingredients. A good example of this is sunscreens; many will say “free of oxybenzone” which is widely-accepted to be a toxic chemical sunscreen ingredient.

But what they don’t say is that they’re still using several other known toxic ingredients as alternatives to oxybenzone.

The Benefits of Choosing Clean Beauty

Making the move to clean beauty has a lot of great benefits. Here are just a few of them:

  • If you have sensitive skin, clean beauty is often far less triggering to allergies, redness and sensitivity.
  • You’ll be avoiding many known toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer, hormone disruption and more.
  • Since the ingredients in clean beauty should be non-toxic, it also makes them better for our environment.
  • You’ll feel better just knowing that you’re exposing yourself to less toxic ingredients.
  • Voting with your dollar is the most effective way to initiate change. Choosing to buy clean beauty gives a huge signal to companies that we, as consumers, are sick of toxic beauty products and demand clean, non-toxic alternatives.

Clean Beauty Is Not Necessarily Organic Beauty

Don’t get it confused—clean beauty isn’t necessarily organic.

While many times you’ll find organic ingredients in a clean beauty product, it doesn’t have to have organic ingredients to be considered clean beauty.

While organic ingredients are always nice to have, the ingredients used aren’t unsafe just because they’re not organic.

Clean Beauty Is Also Not Necessarily Cruelty-Free or Vegan

Another common misconception is that a clean beauty brand needs to be cruelty-free or vegan.

While vegan and cruelty-free brands are great to support, clean beauty focuses more on the ingredients and their effect on human health.

While many clean beauty brands are cruelty-free or contain vegan ingredients, it’s not a necessity.

Clean Beauty Doesn’t Mean “All-Natural”

Many people believe that clean beauty needs to have only natural ingredients.

While we—and most people—would prefer as many natural ingredients as possible, the industry has evolved to the point where there are synthetic ingredients that are perfectly safe to use.

A good example is preservatives. While preservative-free beauty and skincare is on the rise, it’s often crucial to have some form of preservation in the formulation. This is because—especially in water-based products—bacteria, mold and fungi can quickly grow.

Clean beauty can have synthetic ingredients as long as they’re 100% proven to be non-toxic and safe to use.

The Truth Is In the List of Ingredients

When it comes down to it, the absolute most important part of judging whether a product is clean, safe and non-toxic or not is by taking a close look at the list of ingredients.

Don’t fall for what the label says. Just because a brand says their product is natural or clean doesn’t necessarily mean so—it’s up to us to do our own research and make our own decisions on whether products are safe to use or not.

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