A No BS Guide to Clean Beauty
Clean beauty is confusing, there's no doubt about that. Since clean beauty started trending years ago, it seems that our beauty products have become cleaner, healthier, and safer. The problem? With no regulation or consistency across brands and retailers, consumers are left to determine whether the products they are buying actually good for them.
Beautyocracy is all about clean beauty. Every brand on our platform meets our standards for clean formulations free of harmful ingredients - and we review the ingredient list of every product sold on our platform so YOU don't have to. Because who has time to figure out what a triclosan is? So, we're breaking it all down for you in this short, no BS guide to clean beauty.
The Context on Clean Beauty
Simply put, clean beauty refers to beauty products that are made without ingredients or production processes that are harmful to human health and/or our environment. It usually focuses on the ingredients, but can extend to the packaging, processes, fulfillment, ingredient sourcing, manufacturing of the product or brand. However each brand or retailer determines their own standards.
The journey to transparency in beauty is often linked to the journey to transparency in food. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 first established quality standards for food, drugs, medical devices, and cosmetics manufactured and sold in the United States. For the first time, the government provided for federal oversight and enforcement of standards meant to protect the public. While limited in scope, it was a step in the right direction and encouraged the general public to take an interest in their own safety and health as it related to the products they purchased.
Decades later, beauty is still - however - a true Wild West. The US Food & Drug Administration provides limited regulatory oversight to beauty companies - cosmetics are FDA regulated, but they are not FDA approved. And, the number of ingredients banned by the FDA for use in beauty products is, well, small. For instance, the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals show to be hazardous or potentially hazardous to human health and the environment. In Canada, that number is around 600. In the US? Just 30.
That means that in the States, it’s up to you as a consumer to choose products that are best for you, or trust your chosen retailer to do the hard work for you. Many people prefer to let retailers figure it out. Yet, each clean beauty brand and retailer - from Goop to Beautycounter to The Detox Market to Credo - has its own standards.
Clean Beauty Terminology
The terms used across beauty brands and companies are as subjective as sizing in fashion. Natural. Organic. Cruelty-free. These terms are unregulated, which means brands can (within reason) ascribe their own standard for how the word is applied. For example, one brand might consider any product with 51%+ organic ingredients to be organic while another using 70% as their benchmark.
You've probably shopped our site and seen our badges attached to each product indicating whether its organic, cruelty-free, etc. Let us break it all down for you. Terms that are regulated (that is, not just any company can use it them) are marked with an asterisk.
NATURAL / PLANT-BASED
Used to imply that all ingredients in the formulation are from natural sources and not synthetically created in a lab. This often exists on a spectrum, meaning that a lot of brands who make this claim are usually mostly natural and might have a small percentage of something synthetic.
Implies that all of the ingredients were grown and handled in a way that did not involve chemical fertilizer or pesticides. Typically, products only need to be a certain percentage organic to put the claim on their label, and this varies from state to state (in California, it's 70%). The ingredient list usually clearly indicates what’s organic and what’s not.
Implies the same thing as 'Organic', except this is a regulated term given and managed by the USDA. Typically, products only need to be a certain percentage organic to put the claim on their label, and this varies from state to state (in California, it's 70%). The ingredient list usually clearly indicates what’s organic and what’s not.
There are vegan certifications, but the majority of the time this claim appears on skin care and makeup lines without a certification. “Vegan” means that there are zero ingredients in the formula that are derived from an animal, including byproducts, bee and insect-related ingredients. Vegan DOES NOT equal cruelty-free.
Implies that products were made with ingredients obtained through responsible and sustainable methods. This typically means a fair wage is paid to all participants in the supply chain, all human rights are met, work environments are clean and safe, and the social and environmental aspects of production as well as the impacted communities are considered.
This implies that the product - given the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria - will eventually break down to its basic components and blend back in with the earth. It's important to determine how much of the product is biodegradable - this may or may not include the packaging the product is in, or may refer to the packaging but not the product itself.
Implies that the ingredients were grown and harvested in ways that support the environment around them and does not result in depletion, devastation, or exploitation of any land or populations that are involved. Can also refer to packaging, shipping methods and production facility operations.
Implies that there is no or minimal negative impact as a result of ingredient sourcing. Could also refer to compostable or recyclable packaging or the product itself is biodegradable.
Implies that the product was not tested on animals.
LEAPING BUNNY CERTIFIED*
The Leaping Bunny is the only internationally recognized symbol guaranteeing consumers that no new animal tests were used in the development of any product displaying it. It's the only regulated certification for cruelty-free products and is given and managed by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). Leaping Bunny certification DOES NOT = vegan. More information can be found at leapingbunny.org.
Brands use these to indicate that this one specific ingredient of concern is not present in the product. There can often be a misunderstanding that if a product has one of these labels that it’s also free of other potentially harmful ingredients or that it's "clean" or "natural" or "vegan" overall. This is rarely true. There are also instances of brands claiming “paraben-free” but then another paraben-related ingredient is in the formulation but under another name. Once again, the truth lies in the actual ingredient list.
EWG Verified is a certification given and manged by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It certifies that a product is free to from any of the ingredients found on EWG's "Unacceptable" list, that the ingredient label provides a certain level of transparency, and that manufacturing practices meet a certain standard. More information can be found at ewg.org.
Very similar to “clean”. When companies claim to be non-toxic, they are specifically referring to leaving out ingredients that have been linked to toxic responses in humans like neuro-disruption, hormone disruption, cancer, even death.
Resources for Becoming a More Informed Beauty Lover
The following resources are great to bookmark and use while searching the web.
INCI Decoder (https://incidecoder.com/)
Use this easy to navigate site to decode the ingredients list of almost any product on the web. It spits out an easy to digest rating system (suspicious ingredients are labelled 'Icky' while uncomplicated clean ingredients are 'Goodies'). We also love that each ingredient has a short snippet on why it's used in beauty products or the benefits it brings as an ingredient.
Think Dirty Shop Clean (https://www.thinkdirtyapp.com/)
The Think Dirty Shop Clean app provides easy to understand information on over 68,000 beauty and wellness products, include major brands like Shea Moisture.
EWG Skin Deep Database (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/)
The EWG Skin Deep Database is a comprehensive source that allows you to deep dive into different ingredients and the research behind them. This a great way to better understand the main (or hero) ingredients in the products you use.
Do you have questions about ingredients or clean beauty? Email us at email@example.com. We love to chat :)