What is Clean Beauty? All You Need to Know

what is clean beauty

As the largest organ of our body, anything we apply to our skin finds its way into our bloodstream - whether it's good or bad for us!

And if you read the label of most conventional beauty and skincare products, you'll find out that many of the ingredients and chemicals conventionally used have been proven to be harmful for our health!

But customers are not letting it slide anymore - there is a growing movement that is advocating the use of natural, non-toxic, and good for us.. and that's what clean beauty is!

Read on to know more about this skincare revolution and why it matters for your well-being. 

Table of Contents

Clean Beauty 101: What is this Movement All About?

Before we talk about the clean beauty movement, we’d like you to head to your vanity or makeup cabinet and read the ingredients on the back of some products.

Chances are you’ll find words like parabens, sulfates, fragrances, talc, silica, formaldehyde, and oxybenzone on their fine print. These toxic and possibly carcinogenic elements are widely found in skincare, makeup, and hair products. They might work, though not always, in delivering glowy, dewy skin and shiny hair, but at the cost of your health.

While there isn’t a technical definition for “Clean Beauty” yet, experts recommend using products that are natural, non-toxic, free of irritants, and not tested on animals.

In recent decades, the rising cases of skin sensitivity and a desire to opt for a healthy, plant-based lifestyle have spread the reach of this movement across the globe. 

Say Bye to These Ingredients

The fact that Europe has over 1328 ingredients that are banned from beauty products while the U.S. has only 11 is an eye-opener!

In other words, our markets and drug stores are teeming with cosmetic products that contain harmful chemicals.

Many of these ingredients make zero difference to our skin and only work in extending the shelf-life of the product. 

While the list of ingredients to avoid can is pretty long, here are some of the top few that need to be ditched from your life, pronto! 

1. Parabens

We mentioned earlier that some ingredients aren’t added to help the skin but only as preservatives to keep the products on the shelf longer.

Parabens like Methyl, Ethyl, Butyl, and Propyl prevent the growth of bacteria and molds and are found in almost every conventional skincare product.

They’re known to cause allergic reactions to the skin and alter the hormonal balance, at times leading to reproductive issues and even cancer.

2. Synthetic Fragrance

While they make our creams and lotions smell great, the word “artificial fragrance” or “perfume” isn’t good news. The term is freely used by brands to cover up hundreds of ingredients, many of which are carcinogenic.

3. Phthalates

While fragrance in itself is a red flag, accompanying phthalates are even more dangerous.

This ingredient makes our product smell good by acting as a binding agent and perfume solvent. Typically found in shampoos, nail enamels, and hair sprays, phthalates are believed to be endocrine disruptors, and increased exposure can cause infertility, hormonal imbalance, allergies, and developmental issues.

4. Sulfates

The foam and lather made by your face wash, shampoo, toothpaste, and soaps are all courtesy of sulfates. These bubble-producing cleansers, particularly sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), are harsh on skin, hair, and teeth and are best avoided.

5. Formaldehyde

The next on the list of controversial beauty ingredients are formaldehyde-releasing ingredients like Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, and Imidazolidinyl Urea.

They’re found in many personal-care products and prolong their shelf life by preventing microbial growth.

While formaldehyde on its own is classified as carcinogenic, its releasors are still found in wide circulation in beauty products.

6. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are UV filters and staples in the formula for chemical sunscreens. Not only are these harmful to humans, but also damaging to aquatic life.

They’ve been identified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals that cause reproductive toxicity and increase the risk of breast cancer and endometriosis.

On top of that, these agents are readily absorbed by the skin, making them that much more worrisome! 

Impact of Clean Beauty on the Environment

Whenever there’s a new, path-breaking movement that promises to shake up our lives for the better, some companies misuse it as a marketing gimmick rather than making a real difference.

Not all clean beauty brands are equal. Simply focusing on one natural ingredient or formula is not enough. These brands should ideally be committed to positively impacting the environment and the community.

Related Article: 50 Easy Tips on How to be More Sustainable.

While it’s still evolving, the clean beauty movement prioritizes ethically sourced plant-based ingredients to create gentle, toxic-free, and cruelty-free products through sustainable operations.

Clean beauty + Organic Beauty = A Dream Combination 

The fact remains that our beauty industry is shockingly under-regulated. So it’s no surprise that people use clean, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, natural, and ethical as interchangeable buzzwords.

If we’re only talking about the formula, all clean beauty products may or may not use organic ingredients.

However, a core requirement of clean beauty is to be nature-derived, gentle, hypoallergenic, safe, and all the better if eco-friendly as well.

Organic products are grown and harvested responsibly, with no use of pesticide or GMO technology, placing them a few notches higher than natural products for a clean and healthy beauty routine. 

Benefits of Adopting a Clean Beauty Routine

Now that you’ve learned what clean beauty stands for, here are a few reasons to get you excited about making it a part of your lifestyle.

  • Earth-Friendly:

For many brands, clean beauty extends beyond an all-natural formula to make sure it’s produced in an as eco-friendly and sustainable way as possible.

Using organic ingredients, energy-efficient manufacturing to reusable and recyclable packaging are some factors we’ve observed to be common across many clean beauty brands.

One of the ways in which you can make your clean beauty routine even more planet-friendly is by including eco-friendly, organic cotton makeup remover rounds instead of single-use wipes and Q-tips.

  • Less Exposure to toxic chemicals:

Sadly, we live in a world where we’re constantly surrounded by chemicals in the form of household items, furnishings, and cleaners. The least we can do is stop applying anything toxic to our skin and hair. 

By using sustainable beauty products free of harsh, carcinogenic elements, we become one step closer to a safer and healthier world.

  • Hypoallergic and Delicate on the Skin:

Is your skin prone to breakouts, rashes, and allergic reactions?

A possible culprit could be the fragrances, preservatives, and dyes in your skincare and hair products.

Consider switching to fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products for well-nourished, happy skin. 

  • Cruelty-Free:

It’d be strange to call a product “Clean” if it has been tested on helpless animals. Most clean beauty brands claim to be 100% cruelty-free certified, meaning none of their ingredients, processes, or final product involved animal testing.

  • Packed with Nourishing Ingredients:

Clean beauty products are formulated with wholesome, natural ingredients without synthetic chemicals, fillers, and fragrances. It might take a while for the results to show, but when they do, you’ll notice your skin becoming visibly healthier with a radiating glow and your hair shiny and well-nourished.

3 Easy Steps to Transition to Clean Beauty 

Are you ready to elevate your skincare and makeup routine by switching to clean beauty products?

Like with any new habit, the transition can be tricky.

Here are some tried and tested tips and pointers that’ll help come in handy while making the switchover. 

Read the Labels

Now that you know some of the toxic chemicals to stay clear of, it’s time to start paying close attention to the fine print when you go beauty shopping.

If you notice any mention of paraben, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, and phthalates, put the product back on the shelf and move on.

Besides the ones we mentioned, there are ingredients like silicones, mineral oils, pegs, petroleum, propylene glycol, dyes, and many more that need to go into your “no-no” list.

Keep yourself updated with information on harmful chemicals by regularly checking out the Environment Working Group (EWG)’s website.  

Sort, Discard and Replace

Whenever you try to break a habit and make a big change in your lifestyle, decluttering always helps.

We suggest you start by emptying out your drawer and shelves and sorting your skincare and beauty products.

Rank your stock in the order of toxicity and frequency of use. Discard the staples nearing their expiry and swap them with clean alternatives.

Instead of throwing them out in one go, keep replacing them as they get over or reach the expiry date. It’ll make the switch easy without hurting your pockets.  

Use Only Reusable Beauty Rounds

washable makeup remover pads

This is an important one! Many of us make generous use of disposable cleansing wipes, Q-tips, and cotton balls in our beauty routine. While convenient, they need to be discarded right after use.

Instead, opt for a pack of washable makeup remover pads or muslin face cloth. Being made from 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton and reusable, these are not only great for your skin but all for the planet, not to mention cost-effective!

Related Article: Cotton Balls vs Reusable Cotton Rounds

Final Thoughts

Clean beauty is new and evolving. It’s promising but also vulnerable to greenwashing due to the lack of a clear, regulated definition.

Instead of trusting all brands that market their products as “Clean Beauty,” we could try and move towards a mindful beauty routine by making small changes to it, start reading labels, and educating ourselves on harmful ingredients that are still widely used in the cosmetic industry.

There are, of course, several brands that have shown the world with their natural and clean skincare, makeup, and personal care products that it’s possible to deliver performance and outstanding results without compromising anyone’s health- ours or the planet’s.

Author: Karen Lamar

Karen is the Chief Content Officer at Organic Cotton Mart. She has a Master's Degree in Environmental Science from NC State with a special focus in Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy. Since her High School days, she has been an Environmentalist and was the President of her High School's Environmental Club for 3 years before starting her freshman year at NC State. She has a deep knowledge and understanding of various environment-friendly movements like zero waste, minimalistic living, recycling, and upcycling.

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