3 Mistakes You’re Making When Buying Clean Beauty

Clean beauty has good intentions. The idea that you shouldn’t slather poison on your face is, objectively a good thing. Ingredients like phthalates and formaldehyde probably shouldn’t be anywhere near your delicate (and gorgeous) pores. That being said, I think we can also agree it’s a terrible idea to rub poison ivy on your face. Poison Ivy is all natural. Nature doesn’t intrinsically mean something is safe, and everything is a chemical. Water? Chemical. Vitamin C? Chemical.

The first mistake in clean beauty is thinking “clean” has a singular definition. Clean doesn’t mean anything; from ingredients to packaging and carbon footprints brands can claim clean according to their rules, not anyone else's. There is no regulatory body looking over clean beauty products. The same rules that apply to “big beauty” corporations apply to clean beauty. This means that companies can bend truth and ingredients to the marketing (and sales) goals they have. Clean doesn’t mean they’re tested for safety, microbial content, efficacy or cosmetic claims. While brands will focus on what their products are “free from,” few focus on how their products are proven to work and rigorous testing. When buying a brand that is upwards of $70, look for research or clinical studies justifying the markup.

Another misconception with clean beauty is that it’s better for the environment. Depleting nature is rarely better for the planet. Farming is one of the bigger strains on the environment. While the necessity of food farming is clear, for ingredients that are just as easily made in a lab (and require less processing/water to grow), the overall carbon footprint and water use in clean beauty doesn’t appear to be “better.” Farming requires land which displaces wildlife, crops need to be fed, requires an enormous amount of water and processing plants into by-products that are suitable for beauty requires more water and more energy.

While some cosmetic ingredients do have by-products called “volatile organic compounds” or “VOCs,” in skincare this isn’t really the case. You’ll see it more in aerosol products and haircare, formaldehyde, for example, isn’t an ingredient that is good for you or the environment. Is it found in skincare? No. When it comes to “natural” beauty being better for the environment, there isn’t much data to back that up. Look for brands that are honest about their carbon footprint and are thoughtful about the plants they use to minimize their impact. Regenerative farming practices and crops like hemp are good places to start.

The third and most common misconception in “clean beauty” is it’ll be gentle on your skin. Just because a fragrance is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s less irritating than a synthetic fragrance, it just means it ame from a flower versus a lab. While certain ingredients in plants are calming, like oatmeal and aloe vera, other ingredients can be highly irritating. Ever get hay fever in spring? Allergies in seasonal changes? Same concept for your face. Certain ingredients will trigger your face, some won’t, nature can be just as if not more irritating than what’s made in a lab. If a brand is positioning their product as “safe” because it’s from nature, be wary. No brand should be fear-mongering to sell a product, particularly when it’s untrue.

While clean beauty has good intentions, you can’t implicitly trust a product because it self-proclaims to be clean. Context matters in beauty and blanketing synthetics or natural products to be good or bad is the wrong way to look at it. When choosing “clean” products, brands should be promoting safety and integrity in ingredients and supply chain. Instead of looking for clean, look for transparent brands that are honest on pricing, show who formulated the products, dermatologists that advised on the brand, how they source ingredients, why the ingredients work and what they’re doing for sustainability.