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January 10, 2023
Industry News

What is Clean Beauty: A Deep Dive into the Movement

Adrienne Brabant

Clean beauty is a trending topic — as it has been for years. It’s currently marking its force in the beauty industry by influencing brands everywhere to have a cleaner conscience. 

However, the term “clean beauty” can mean various things. If any beauty brand wants to succeed, it’s crucial to understand what clean beauty means.

What is the Clean Beauty Movement?

by Alena Koval via Pexels

The clean beauty movement can be summed up in 4 major points:

  • Understanding unsafe cosmetic ingredients and harmful manufacturing practices
  • Enforcing responsible sourcing
  • Ethical testing and treatment of animals
  • Environmental awareness

Ultimately, the clean beauty movement is about getting beauty brands to focus on doing more good and less harm.

For brands, this movement encourages brand transparency and the use of safe practices and ingredients when producing products. 

This movement also focuses on mindfulness regarding ingredient research. Because of this, many beauty brands adopt “clean” standards in the production of their cosmetics.

“Clean” beauty is a relatively new concept. There’s no real industry standard or definition for what “clean” means, so there’s room for interpretation of what it’s supposed to achieve. However, there are different standards that brands can consider to aid in developing a clean brand or product, such as:

Organic Standards

According to the United States Organic (USDA) Seal label for a brand to have organic products, its products must include materials that are 95% organic. The products must not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

All ingredients in the product need to come from organic sources.

The USDA Organic Seal label is quite costly to obtain because of all the processes these materials need to go through to be considered organic. Brands can always get a certification from other independent certifiers, such as the Soil Association

Having organic materials in a product doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more environmentally friendly. Brands still need to consider the impact of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.

Some other organic certifications brands can look at adopting include the following:

Cruelty-Free Standards

What does cruelty-free mean, and how does it apply to beauty products? 

Cruelty-free means that as a brand doesn’t test products on animals. It also means that the individual ingredients they use in their products aren’t tested on animals.

It’s also common to use animal-derived ingredients in beauty products. Animal-derived ingredients are either sourced from animals, or animal by-products. Common animal-derived ingredients in cosmetics include the following:

  • Carmine: A red colorant derived from the cochineal insect and found in blush, nail varnish, and lipsticks.
  • Guanine: Derived from fish scales for its shimmering quality. Commonly found in nail varnishes, lipsticks, eyeshadows, and bronzers.
  • Lanolin: Sourced from sheep’s wool. It softens and soothes the skin, so is typically used in lip balms, glosses, and hair conditioners.

However, there are ways to obtain animal-derived substances through ethical means that would still make a brand part of the clean beauty movement. 

To sum up, having clean beauty products means finding safe alternative testing methods that aren’t at the expense of any animal. 

Environmental Impact - A Green Pillar

Part of being a clean brand means making decisions that consider the health of the environment. There are various steps brands can take to reduce their impact on the environment.

Some strategies a brand can take include the following:

  • Use more sustainable packaging
  • Incorporate practices to reduce your company’s carbon footprint
  • Consider other certifications for your brand, like going vegan

Because being responsible and ethical can apply to any practice in business, it’s often linked to clean beauty. Thus, being environmentally aware of a business' impact means being one step closer to becoming a clean beauty brand.

Natural Standards

“Natural” doesn’t have a clear definition in the beauty industry, so there are many different ways a brand can determine what natural standards are. 

A broad explanation of what natural is can be anything included in a product that comes from nature. However, just because the ingredient is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Only some natural ingredients are safe or non-toxic, which is what clean beauty wants to achieve.

For example, essential oils are considered a natural beauty product. Yet, some essential oils include potent plant compounds that can damage a consumer’s health and skin if not formulated correctly. 

Please note that brands need to do more than just abide by these standards to make a brand a clean brand. 

Being transparent is crucial because brands need to inform their consumers about the processes and ingredients that go into producing a cosmetic product. 

Without transparency in their supply chain, brands won’t know whether ingredients are organic, vegan, cruelty-free, or derived from renewable sources. So, transparency is crucial if a brand wants to be part of the clean beauty movement. 

Once a beauty brand establishes itself as a clean beauty brand, they can enjoy the support of consumers for much longer. This support directly translates into more profits, a recognized brand, and being kinder to the world.

These are all goals that clean beauty wants responsible cosmetic brands to achieve.

How Did the Clean Beauty Movement Start?

by Ann H via Pexels

The clean beauty movement started as a way to spotlight what exactly formulators are putting into their products. 

This movement got consumers to question what ingredients are in the products they’re buying - especially those that irritate and, in some cases, are carcinogenic or endocrine disruptors. 

For many years, the cosmetic industry included toxic chemicals that did more harm than good. And often, consumers notice these side effects only after using the product for a long time. 

Not only did these ingredients have harmful effects on the consumer, but also on nature. Manufacturers released harsh chemicals into nature and conducted animal testing to determine if the products were safe. 

Because of this, consumers want to invest in brands that use safe, non-toxic ingredients in their formulas. They want brands that treat nature ethically and responsibly.

Now, beauty brands worldwide have started to be more “clean” in their cosmetic production by understanding what harmful ingredients and practices are.

Below, we discuss the ingredients that helped start the clean beauty movement and why brands and formulators should avoid them to succeed in an ever-changing industry.

The Questionable Ingredients that Shaped Clean Beauty

by Davide Baraldi via Pexels

The ingredients listed below are some of the concerns the beauty industry has. It’s best to avoid using these ingredients in beauty products because of the effects they have on customers’ skin and the environment. 

Refined Petroleum

Refined petroleum is derived from fossil fuels, a non-renewable source that contains chemical contaminants like PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). These chemicals have been linked to the development of cancer in consumers.

Refined petroleum is a conversion of mineral oils commonly used in beauty products as a moisturizing agent. For instance, it’s easy to find petroleum in most lip balms and creams. 

Refined petroleum accumulates in the body over time the more consumers use it. It can be harmful if consumers ingest this substance or get it in their eyes. 

It is also linked to cancer and respiratory issues. 

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Donors

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical formed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. High levels of formaldehyde exposure are incredibly harmful to people.

Traditionally, formaldehyde has been used as a preservative.

Today, the use of formaldehyde is deemed unsafe in many products. Formaldehyde releases compounds, known as Formaldehyde donors, over time. Exposure in small amounts caused consumers to experience irritation in their eyes, nose, and throat.

The use of formaldehyde donors in products is monitored, and there are stringent rules regarding its use. For example, a product containing formaldehyde donors must have a formaldehyde concentration of 0.05% when sold. 

This strict rule is why many people in the industry view formaldehyde use as a controversial and unsafe practice. 

Ethoxylated chemicals

Ethoxylated agents refer to a process where ethylene oxide is mixed with other chemicals, like surfactants to make them milder.

This process creates by-products that are harmful to consumers. One of these by-products, 1,4-dioxane, has been linked to the development of breast cancer. 

Both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are incredibly harmful, and when ethoxylated products are prepared improperly, these chemicals remain in the product. 

These by-products are usually not listed on the product ingredient list, and the lack of transparency adds to harm caused to consumers. 


Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES) are sulfate chemicals used in skin care products, typically derived from palm and coconut oils.

Just like ethoxylated agents, these sulfate chemicals share the risk of being contaminated with 1,4-dioxane during the manufacturing process.

The manufacturing process around SLS and SLES makes these ingredients controversial as they risk becoming contaminated with harmful substances. 

Another harmful side of producing these sulfates is their environmental impact. Their production leads to the destruction of rainforests to create palm tree plantations and palm oil factories. 

While sulfates alone are not very harmful to the consumer, the risk they carry and the environmental destruction turn people away from their use. 


Phthalates are chemical compounds known as plasticizers. They act as a durability enhancer in many cosmetic products, such as hairsprays and nail polishes. 

Phthalates also bind fragrance to a product.

It would be best to avoid including this ingredient in cosmetic products because it negatively affects hormones and irritates the skin.  

Phthalates have already been banned in Europe due to their harmful effects found in various studies. It is also part of many retailers’ banned lists  along with formaldehyde and ethoxylated agents. 

The most significant risk of using phthalates in products is endocrine disruption, as  they are toxic to reproductive organs. That means they negatively affect the production and quality of human reproductive cells. 

It’s also linked to developmental issues, causing early puberty. It can also cause cancer and trigger allergic reactions.

Clean Beauty is Changing the Cosmetic Industry

by Akil Mazumder via Pexels

Clean beauty is changing the cosmetic industry one step at a time. 

As people become more aware of what they consume, their lifestyles change. That means brands have to change too. 

The banned lists are just the start of this movement because innovation is driving the use of sustainable and renewable products.

So what exactly is clean beauty changing in the industry, and how do those changes benefit brands?

Clean Beauty Nurtures Accountability and Transparency

Typically, consumers research ingredients, manufacturing processes, and other business practices.  The clean beauty movement aims to shift this responsibility  to brands. Brands now take the lead to inform consumers about:

  • Ingredients: Their source, use, and purpose in the product(s).
  • Manufacturing: Standard practices, including efforts to reduce environmental impact.
  • Society: Worker welfare, including fair wages and working hours. Philanthropy, such as donations to conservation efforts and programs to uplift underserved communities.

In sum, while knowing what’s in a beauty product is important, it isn’t the only reason for the rise of clean beauty. It’s about being able to see what really goes on as a whole.

Clean Beauty Looks After the Environment

Clean beauty strives to reduce the harmful impact of sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution on the environment.

It’s not enough for just the end-result beauty product to be vegan, biodegradable, or any other environmental certification. The manufacturing process of all the product’s “parts” must be up to standards as well.

For example, many clean beauty brands like Peach do not use single-use plastic packaging. They also move away from plastic packaging altogether.

The clean beauty movement teaches brands to adopt responsible, transparent methods and trends. To join the clean beauty movement, pioneering brands can:

  • Understand their ingredients: Eliminate the use of toxic and unethically sourced ingredients.
  • Incorporate sustainable sourcing: Protect the environment, workers, and consumers by adopting sustainable sourcing practices. Or work with reliable, transparent suppliers.
  • Eliminate waste: From sustainable packaging to establishing a circular economy, there are many things brands can do to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Don’t Miss Out on the Growing Trend of Clean Beauty Products

Clean beauty is where the beauty industry is headed because it encourages accountability and transparency in ingredients and business practices.

It only takes one brand to impose change, so let that brand be you! Get started today!

We can set you up with formulators and manufacturers to help you maintain a clean beauty standard.

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