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What exactly does clean beauty mean?

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  • 3 min read
What exactly does clean beauty mean?

It is common knowledge that exposure to pollution, poor nutrition, stress and digital aggressors are damaging our skin. But, consumers are becoming more aware of their beauty hygiene and how it’s affected by those external factors and the products they use. Beauty and skincare brands have responded to these concerns with a plethora of products claiming to be ‘natural,’ ‘organic’ and ‘green,’ all under the umbrella of clean beauty.

The confusion surrounding what those words actually mean, the absence of clear regulations around natural and organic personal care products (NPOC) and the limitation in reliable sources of information have made it tedious for consumers to make educated decisions when they’re buying their beauty products. To help you on your quest for sustainable cosmetics, we broke down those beauty claims and rounded up our top guidelines.


Natural: A product made from natural ingredients with natural resources. These products should not contain any synthetic derivatives.

Organic: A product made from ingredients that have been grown, harvested and manufactured without any herbicides, pesticides etc. These products will have little to no contaminants 

Clean: A clean product goes beyond the definition of natural products. It highlights a consideration for ingredients collected from the best sources, grown or manufactured in a sustainable environment. Those ingredients should also be used for their distinctive properties, unlike common filler ingredients. 


Although this may seem obvious, no cosmetic product can be chemical free. It is important to note that all chemicals are not synthetic. All solvents, including water, are molecular combinations, which means they are chemicals. That said, it is important to look for products free of certain synthetic ingredients, like parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate and phthalates, instead of completely synthetic-free. Whether it’s for health or environmental reasons, synthetic ingredients can be necessary in the composition of our beauty products and avoiding them isn’t always best. 

Natural does not always mean sustainable. Palm oil, for instance, is natural, and it is found in many cosmetics because it’s an effective moisturiser. But, its production is extremely damaging to rainforests and the animals who live in those rainforests.


As with most things in life, what really matters in cosmetic composition is dosage. It is important to create a beauty regimen for yourself that suits your skin type. But, there are general recommendations when it comes to the ingredients you should avoid. For example, avoid products that indicate something is ‘derived from’ something else. That implies a fractioned sourcing, which can be hard to fact check. Below are some ingredients that should be avoided where possible.

Skin irritants:
– Hydroquinone
– Methyl Cellosolve (banned in the EU)

Poorly absorbed:
– Aluminium powder
– Petrolatum
– Paraffin

Can cause hormonal disruption:
– Phthalates
– Parabens like methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparapen and ethylparaben

Not sustainable:
– Silicones
– Palm oil 

It is also important to look out for cruelty-free brands and consider key elements like product quality, manufacturing process and labour conditions. Also, as with most industries, these guidelines will evolve as new research surfaces. You should always talk to your dermatologist and other experts to get specific recommendations for your skin.

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Written by - Violaine Stévenin

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