Real Deal: Is Clean Beauty REALLY "Clean Beauty"
“Clean Beauty” is one of the ultimate buzz words in the beauty sphere these days, but what does it actually mean? So many brands build themselves on the term and consumers eat it up. Does clean beauty really hold weight or is it just a way of selling products through fear by demonizing ingredients that aren’t actually harmful?
What is clean beauty?
According to industry leader, Goop, clean means “a non-toxic product that is made without a long, ever-evolving list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, to cancer, to plan-old skin irritation.” That definitely sounds like a plus, and it’s true that regulation is certainly lacking in the beauty industry. Just a couple months ago, a bill failed to pass that would regulate harmful chemicals in personal products, such as lead, mercury, and formaldehyde. On the surface, clean beauty seems like a necessity if the rest of the industry is allowing these harmful ingredients to come into direct contact with our bodies.
Okay, but what is it actually?
The natural beauty world has some-what commandeered the word, making its definition murky. According to an interview with Année de Mamiel, founder of de Mamiel skincare from Vogue UK, “Claims such as ‘natural,’ ‘clean,’ ‘green’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ have no set definition as yet and without a standard, can be misleading and open to misuse.” She goes on to say that “terms like chemical-free are silly because all ingredients are chemicals, whether they are from nature or synthetic.” As a society, we’ve been trained to see these terms as inherently good, even though we don’t actually know what they mean. This has given the beauty industry the opportunity to greenwash their brands by adding these unregulated and undefined terms to their marketing materials.
How can we avoid falling victim to greenwashing?
Now, more than ever, we as consumers must become smarter. Rather than believing what we’re being advertised, it’s important to do more research and fully understand what we’re putting on our bodies and how we’re delegating our purchasing power. It’s no easy feat, but familiarizing yourself with ingredient lists can make a huge difference and help you steer clear of the actual harmful things, while perhaps not worrying so much about the “100% natural” claims.
One great tool to use is the app by the Environmental Working Group. You scan the barcode of a product and it gives you a rundown of its environmental impact and lets you know how safe the ingredients are. Building your own knowledge is the first step in choosing the right products for you and cutting through the noise of all the “clean beauty” brands being marketed to us.
A quick Google search can also help you dispel rumors, or at least give you a better idea of both sides of the argument. For example, a quick search taught me that sulfates aren’t actually harmful to humans, despite commonly being labeled a toxic ingredient. The claim is that sulfates can irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs, but according to Healthline, “there is no direct evidence linking [sulfates] to cancer, infertility, or development issues.” People with sensitive skin will most likely want to avoid them, but there’s no real physical harm done by sulfates. However, the sulfates used in personal products are often derived from palm oil, a very controversial ingredient due to its environmental impact, both in the destruction of rainforests, and in the potential to be toxic to aquatic life when washed down the drain.
This is just one example out of countless ingredients. I personally find it so much more useful to actually understand why certain ingredients are given a bad rap. After reading more about sulfates, I’ve decided to avoid them due to their environmental impact, but was so relieved to find out that they’re not actually “toxic” to our bodies. Doing this sort of research before blindly following trends or buying that fancy natural beauty product can help you become a more conscious consumer. Until the industry is more strictly regulated, it’s up to us!
Cover image via Very Good Light