What's the deal with clean beauty?

Posted by Liz Cook on

As a quick scroll through social media will attest, the clean beauty movement has gone from niche to normal. The hashtag alone pulls up 2.8 million posts on Instagram and many retailers - e.g Sephora - have entire sections of their stores dedicated to the cause.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what the term even means? If a fragrance is marketed as ‘clean,’ you can safely assume it’s all-natural, right?

Well, not exactly…

To date, there’s no universal or official definition, so any brand can make this claim without the need for certification. This isn’t surprising given that the cosmetics industry is incredibly lax when it comes to labeling laws. But this lack of transparency is frustrating for consumers who unwittingly believe they are making an informed choice about what they’re choosing to use on their skin. 

“What one brand says is ‘clean’ and what they don’t include in their formulae is not necessarily what the next brand includes or adheres to,” One Seed’s founder Liz Cook explains. “There’s no set parameters or criteria for the use of the word, so marketers are depending on us to associate it with something positive. Take ‘pure’ or ‘fresh’ for example... There’s a lot of reading between the lines to be had.”

The lean towards clean originally started with the concept of clean eating, which primarily involves consuming whole and unprocessed foods. This, by the way, is a lot more cut and dry.

“We know when food is processed because we can see it,” Liz says. “We think about clean eating as being as close to nature as possible, but that doesn’t apply to clean beauty. You can actually have a product that contains nothing natural and still call it clean.”

When it comes to clean fragrances, in particular, most companies are trying to do the right thing by their customers by not including ingredients that have been proven to be toxic. One of the biggest concerns, however, surrounds the use of synthetics. Many of which, haven’t been tested to determine whether or not they are safe.

There are anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 fragrance ingredients currently available and more being launched each year. But out of those, 75 per cent aren’t tested and likely never will be due to how expensive this process is.

“There’s too many questions, too many loopholes, too many pitfalls in the whole concept of clean,” Liz continues. “Certainly, if you’re looking at clean beauty as opposed to conventional beauty, you’re going to get a more truer, cleaner product because there’s some effort being made. But it just doesn’t go far enough.”

It begs the question: how do you choose a product that *actually* aligns with your values? 

Liz says the best place to start is to do your own research. Look for a brand that meets your needs and has strong ethics and stick with them. 

“Find out more about the company itself and see how much transparency there is within that company because that should then flow down to all of the products they create,” she says. “If you had to delve into the ingredients every time they released a new mascara or new lipstick or perfume, it would be exhausting. We want to buy from people we trust, and I think if you find a brand that has great disclosure, is great at communicating with the customer and seems to have transparency on all levels, then you know that the products they’re putting out are likely going to be great too.”

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