WAIT BUT REALLY: What Is Clean Beauty?

February 26, 2020

Resolving to clean up your act doesn’t have to be exclusive to the two weeks following the new year. Unrelated to Marie Kondo and her method, the beauty industry has been on a clean kick as of late, with brands touting clean formulas, toxin-free ingredients, and safety all around.

Trying to break down what clean actually means tends to trigger memories of attempting to define the relationship when titles were never established, despite dating for months. Is clean the same as organic? Are natural ingredients clean? What does clean actually mean? Are you seeing other people? Are we exclusive or are we not because I just need CLARITY, OKAY? 

We get it — trying to decipher its many meanings can be maddening, to say the least. Here, we break down what clean actually means, the difference between clean and natural, as well as any red flags you should watch out for.

What does it actually mean to have a clean formula?

Here’s the thing — the definition of what it means to be clean has yet to be officially established across the beauty industry, and right now, the onus is on each brand to establish what clean means to them. If we’re speaking generally, there are a few common themes across the board, one being that a clean formula implies ingredients of non-toxic origins that won’t negatively impact your health. If an ingredient triggers irritation, has been shown to disrupt your endocrine system (which regulates hormones), or has been linked to cancer, it’s dirtier than the late-night DM you just dodged and doesn’t fall under the clean category. Because clean formulations do incorporate certain synthetic ingredients, they have gone through rigorous testing to show that they are safe to use on skin, and won’t trigger an imbalance in your skin’s natural microbiome.

Why does it matter if a formula is clean?

For one, the chemicals from your cosmetics and skincare can be absorbed into your bloodstream in roughly 26 seconds, and the skin on our face absorbs chemicals at a higher rate than when applied to the rest of our bodies. Considering that 60% of the chemicals from your beauty products end up in your bloodstream, wouldn’t you be a bit concerned over what was going into each formula? We thought so. 

Another scary thought (that doesn’t involve confronting one of your phobias head-on): While the EU has banned over 1,300 chemicals from being used in cosmetics, the U.S. has only banned 11 of those ingredients. Eleven out of a potential 1,300. If our math holds up, that leaves roughly 1,288 other problematic ingredients that U.S. companies are free to use in their formulas without any word from the government. In fact, aside from color additives, cosmetic products and ingredients don’t need to be cleared with the FDA before hitting the market. Because of the FDA’s shocking lack of regulation (we hate to see it), it was even more important that we take action and eliminate all questionable ingredients from our formulas. The safety of your skin is our priority, and if we have to ghost certain ingredients that play dirty, then so be it. We’re overachievers, but we are also done with that kind of negativity in the new decade. Later days, parabens, sulfates, and synthetic fragrances. 

Does that mean all clean ingredients are totally natural?

Not necessarily. While some natural formulas can be considered clean, the terms aren’t mutually exclusive. The terms “organic” or “natural” refer to where the ingredient is sourced, suggesting the element in question is found in nature. While clean formulas do feature ingredients of natural origins, certain synthetic ingredients are also considered clean and are completely safe to use on your skin. “Synthetic” isn’t always a dirty word. It simply implies the ingredient was created in a lab, and has usually gone through more thorough testing than a natural ingredient. Not all synthetic ingredients are bad, and in that same vein, not all natural ingredients are good — ask anyone who has ever had a negative reaction to an essential oil that Karen from senior year math sold them on Facebook. 

At Goodhabit, we take clean beauty seriously - and have placed over 1,500 ingredients on our ‘Never-will-we-ever’ list.  We put all of our ingredients through the ringer (not unlike our attitude on a first date tbh) and thoroughly vet our formulas to ensure every ingredient we choose to include is entirely safe. We always aim to stay clean and make sure all the elements that go into our products are as well, because to us, it’s not just a trend or buzzword. It’s a requirement.

But wait, aren’t chemicals bad? 

If that were true, just about everything would be bad for you, including that matcha latte you just bought for $7. Generally speaking, chemicals aren’t bad for us — in fact, our bodies are made of chemicals, as are things like water and the ozone. It’s the chemicals that are derived from toxic or questionable origins that you need to watch out for and eliminate from your routine. Because 60% of chemicals from the products you apply onto your skin can be absorbed into your bloodstream (at a rate 5 to 10 times faster on your face versus other parts of your body, at that), it’s a priority for us to make sure the ingredients we use won’t harm your cells and organs. 

How can I tell if I’m using a clean formula?

Products that eliminate things like sulfates and parabens are usually a good indicator, not to mention, 86-ing the rest of the ingredients in the FDA’s banned list. If you’re unfamiliar with an ingredient used in a formula, make sure to research it thoroughly before you purchase, and see if the brand or product in question has any certifications listed. 

While the clean category isn’t heavily regulated as of yet and industry-wide definitions are still being established, it’s up to us to do our research and educate ourselves on the ingredients and formulas we use. If you’re unfamiliar with an ingredient, especially ones that sound suspect, make sure to look into it online to ensure it aligns with the clean guidelines you trust. Stay informed, and trust your intuition — after all, it’s always right every time you send a suspicious scam caller straight to voicemail.