Scroll through your Instagram feed or your inbox these days and chances are, you’ll see a reference to “clean beauty.” From skincare to personal care products to makeup, the clean beauty industry is booming—and it’s only predicted to keep growing. But what does the term “clean beauty” mean exactly, and how and why should you make the switch to these products when you already have an arsenal of brands you love? As a natural, organic and clean CBD skin care brand, we at MASK understand that clean beauty is better—and we know you don’t have to sacrifice performance for ingredient safety. Here’s why.
What does “clean beauty” mean?
The term “clean beauty” generally refers to skincare, makeup and personal care products that are formulated with natural, botanically-derived ingredients and formulated without toxic or questionable ingredients that can have a negative impact on our health and the environment. Clean beauty is also often used interchangeably with terms like “natural,” “organic,” “safe,” or “green beauty.”
It is important to note however, that here in the U.S., these terms are not regulated by the FDA—nor are most ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. In fact, the last time Congress passed a law pertaining to this industry was the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, which, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “only prohibited the sale of cosmetics with any ‘poisonous or deleterious substance,’ or any ‘filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance.”
To put this in perspective, the European Union (EU) has far outpaced the U.S. in regulating the ingredients in the products we use every day. The average American woman reaches for 12 different products and applies 168 different ingredients to her body daily, and according to The Guardian, “The disparity in standards between the EU and US has grown to the extent it touches almost every element of most Americans’ lives. In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11.”
Today’s beauty customers are engaged in the products they buy in ways the industry has never seen before. Once considered the realm of “tree huggers” and quaint products sold at farmers’ markets, clean beauty products today are propelling an industry toward explosive growth. According to Formula Botanica, “The global natural cosmetics market is estimated to be worth $36bn in 2019 and is now predicted to grow to $54bn by 2027.” That means that clean beauty customers are not only mainstream, but they’re also demanding more transparency about what’s in the formulas they reach for every day. They care about the ingredients used, how they’re sourced, if they’re sustainable and whether or not they’re gentle on the planet.
Of course, money talks…so many beauty brands are jumping on the clean beauty bandwagon by “green washing” their products—that is, using marketing terms like “natural” or “chemical free” to fool buyers into believing their ingredients are much more “clean” than they actually are. Whether they’re derived from plants or created in a lab, it’s important to remember that all ingredients are made up of chemicals, just as we need to remember that not all natural ingredients are good for our skin (think poison ivy) and not all synthetic ingredients are bad for us (“safe synthetics” can actually be powerful tools in clean beauty and skincare products). It’s up to brands to set the standards by which they formulate and source their ingredients, and up to buyers—especially here in the U.S.—to ask the questions that hold brands to their promises of healthy, good-for-you products. That’s why transparency surrounding ingredient lists matter.
The dirty truth about conventional personal care products
The clean beauty movement began partly in response to the secrecy and toxicity of the conventional personal care market. The ingredient lists for conventional personal care products can contain words like “methylparaben” or “SLS” or a seemingly endless stream of letters that form words impossible to pronounce. For many of us, assuming that these ingredients are safe simply because they’re on the shelves of our favorite store has been enough to lull us into a false sense of security for decades. But as we learn more about the long term side effects of common preservatives, foaming agents and fragrances in these conventional beauty products, we understand that we may be negatively impacting our health just by slathering on our favorite body lotion or spritzing our favorite perfume every day.
In fact, while the 1966 Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) requires manufacturers to list all of the ingredients on a product label, the blanket term “fragrance”—which can contain thousands of different chemicals—is exempt from listing individual ingredients because it is considered to be a “trade secret.” Ingredients in fragrance may contain endocrine disrupters, asthma and allergy triggers, skin irritants and environmental toxins; in an effort to smell “good,” then, what we may be exposing our bodies to is anything but. And since nearly 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstreams, the ingredients in our skin care products, makeup and beauty products really do matter.
Ingredients to avoid
It may seem overwhelming to begin a journey toward a cleaner, safer, non-toxic beauty movement, but it doesn’t have to be when you know what you’re looking for. Odacité, a natural beauty brand out of California founded by a breast cancer survivor, lists the top 12 ingredients to avoid to help protect your health:
- Aluminum - Found in antiperspirants and myriad personal care products; can disrupt the endocrine system.
- DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine)- Found in foaming products, fragrances, makeup and haircare products. May react with other ingredients to create carcinogens.
- Mineral Oil- Found in creams, lotions and ointments. This petroleum by-product blocks pores and prevents them from releasing toxins.
- DMDM HYDANTOIN & UREA (Imidazolidinyl)- Found in skincare, haircare and makeup. Acts as a preservative that can release formaldehyde, a carcinogen that may cause headaches, sleep loss, skin allergies and joint pain.
- PARABENS (Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl)- Found in moisturizers and deodorants, used as a preservative. May contribute to hormone imbalance and disruption of the endocrine system.
- PEG (Polyethylene glycol)- Found in cleansers. Can alter and reduce skin’s natural moisture balance.
- Phthalates- Used to increase the flexibility of plastics and hidden under the term “fragrance.” Linked to asthma, ADHD, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues.
- PROPYLENE GLYCOL (PG) & BUTYLENE GLYCOL- Used to make extracts from herbs. Surfactants that penetrate skin so quickly that they can weaken the cellular structure.
- Siloxanes- Used to soften, smooth or moisten cosmetics. May act as an endocrine disruptor; toxic to fish and wildlife.
- SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) & SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES)- Used as a foaming agent. Acts as skin and eye irritant.
- Synthetic fragrances- Used in cosmetics, skincare, personal and haircare products, candles, air fresheners, cleaning agents. Ingredients do not have to be disclosed, so there is no telling what you are exposed to.
- Triclosan- Once popular in antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer, but also found in mouthwash, shaving cream, deodorants. Linked to thyroid disruption and possibly cancer.
Clean beauty swaps to make now
When transitioning away from toxic products, there is no need to throw out everything you own immediately and begin anew. Not only is that expensive, but it can make you feel defeated before you even begin.
Start first by replacing your body moisturizer: Because your body has the largest surface area, it makes sense to choose a moisturizer that is free of toxic ingredients and that you don’t have to worry about your skin absorbing. Next, consider making the switch to natural deodorant, as it is applied where your delicate lymph nodes and breast tissue converge. Finally, swap out your foaming face wash and mineral oil-based cream and replace with plant-based ingredients that are truly clean—and pay attention to what that means for each brand.
“We have created our formulas with only hand-picked, plant-derived ingredients and broad spectrum CBD oil,” says Sarah Mirsini, founder of MASK CBD Skincare. With a quick glance at MASK’s ingredient lists, you’ll see just how clean the ingredients are. “Since clean beauty isn’t regulated, we at MASK define ‘clean' as sourced straight from nature, formulated without any toxic or questionable ingredients. Everything that goes into MASK products is done so with skin’s integrity and health in mind.” In addition, MASK offers a Certificate of Authenticity for every product formula. This level of transparency is the goal of using clean beauty. And, if you’re unsure about the sourcing or ingredients themselves, don’t be afraid to contact the brand directly to have your questions answered.
Beauty brands we love
One of the most exciting elements of the growing clean beauty movement is the variety of excellent quality brands on the market right now. There’s no need to continue using toxic makeup when brands like RMS Beauty, Kjaer Weiss, W3LL People, Kosas, Saie, Inner Beauty, Vapour, Au Naturale Cosmetics and Axiology are at the forefront of clean ingredients, professional performance and vegan and eco-friendly formulas.
Osmia Organics, OSEA Malibu, May Lindstrom, Tata Harper and Josh Rosebrook all deliver spa-like luxury products to care for your skin; Soapwalla remains at the forefront of the natural deodorant trend.
As the clean beauty industry continues to thrive, the momentum behind it may spur the FDA and Congress to begin catching up to the EU’s high standards to protect the safety of their citizens and consumers. Until then, we will remain our own best advocates for safe, non-toxic ingredients in the products we use every day.