The clean beauty movement has gained an insane amount of momentum in recent years. Modern day consumers are becoming more and more obsessed with wellness while also becoming more knowledgeable about products and reading labels more carefully. These consumers are demanding healthier, more sustainable products – which is absolutely fantastic. This new generation of consumers just wants honesty from the brands they use every day. The movement has completely shaken up the beauty industry, causing brands to implement new plans, create new products, and redesign old products. However, the lack of a clear definition for the term “clean” has created a lot of confusion.
Who wouldn’t want to put products on their face that promise to be “non-toxic” and “chemical-free”? The way clean beauty brands tend to market their products is by saying that they’re clean if they’re missing certain ingredients (usually parabens and other “scary” sounding chemicals). Don’t get me wrong, this is super smart marketing. These companies are essentially scaring you away from using other products while preaching the safety of their own. The more they scare you, the more money they make. What you’re seeing in these cases is really effective greenwashing (claims made to deceive consumers that the products are more safe and environmentally friendly than other options). HOWEVER, if you take a moment to pause and understand the science that goes into beauty products, you’d be better equipped to make these tough decisions about what products you want to put on your face.
The reality is, it’s always been illegal to sell unsafe products. Companies have been regulating their products based on this principle for ages. Some of the ingredients that are marked as potentially harmful/toxic, according to the clean beauty movement, are actually quite the opposite. If these ingredients were harmful for your body, they never would have been allowed in cosmetic products in the first place. But, let’s get into it. There are three words that are often misused by the movement: synthetic, chemical, and natural. LET’S CLEAR THE AIR!
Synthetic does NOT mean unsafe. Synthetic just means that the ingredient is derived scientifically in a laboratory. For example, hyaluronic acid (a super well renowned cosmetic ingredient) is synthetic and works flawlessly and is completely safe! In a lot of cases, synthetic ingredients are more stable and even more sustainable than other ingredients. Scientists also take natural ingredients and alter them to make them more effective. Many ingredients have particles that are too large to penetrate the skin and instead will just accumulate on the surface of the skin. When recreated scientifically, they are broken down further to allow the ingredients to actually enter the skin, allowing them to do their job better. So next time you hear that synthetic equals bad, be sure to ignore that.
Let’s move on to the next word: chemical. The definition of chemical is simply a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared. Chemical is not synonymous with dangerous. Aspirin is a chemical, baking powder is a chemical, vitamin C is a chemical – but we’re not scared of these chemicals, are we? Most cosmetic ingredients are chemicals. So don’t let the word chemical scare you! You hear the word “chemical” and automatically assume it’s terrible when in actuality you probably know nothing about the actual risk the chemical contains. You have to pause for a moment and realize that in many cases, the chemical is not harmful OR there are such small proportions of the chemical ingredients that it is almost entirely unlikely that they will cause you any harm.
Our third and final word: natural. Consumers have been taught to believe that the words “natural” and “organic” mean the same thing as “sustainable” and “safe”. That’s not entirely correct, they can totally be mutually exclusive. In terms of sustainability, it can take a lot more resources and water to harvest a good crop of organic produce. In terms of safety, the word “natural” tells us nothing. For example, it’s highly praised in the beauty industry these days for a product to be paraben-free. Parabens are preservatives that keep your products from growing mold (yes some parabens are bad, but others are good AND necessary). Do you want to put mold on your face? I know I don’t. So here’s a case where an all natural product doesn’t necessarily mean safer. On top of that, most paraben studies are done in which small animals (usually rats) ingest a large quantity of parabens. We are not rodents and we don’t eat our cosmetic products, so some of these studies are SUPER misleading. Due to paraben-phobia, cosmetic companies are moving away from some of the safest preservatives available and switching to less effective solutions or have just completely ditched preservatives altogether. If scientists agree that a lot of parabens are safe and keep your moisturizers from rotting, then why are brands turning them away? The answer is simple: marketing.
Brands are avoiding ingredients that they believe the consumer doesn’t want and tricking them into believing that their so-called “clean” ingredients are better. Falsities, scare tactics, and greenwashing have created an insane amount of confusion in the beauty industry. A lot of these clean beauty companies are making money off of the consumers' ignorance. Instead of doing our own scientific research, we choose to accept fallacies. I’m totally guilty of this too, don’t get me wrong. I don’t research every single ingredient in my beauty products, I choose to trust what the brand is selling me. This is why it is so easy for these huge companies to profit off of us. They preach their product is better, we believe it.
I am not here to defend big skin care brands that don’t incorporate clean beauty. I’m not here to tell you to not care about sustainability or safety (in fact, I’m telling you to care about these a lot by doing your research). I love the original message of the movement. We, here at Intoxicated Cosmetics, don’t consider ourselves to be a clean beauty brand. Do we harm any living beings? No. Do we make every effort to be sustainable? Yes. Do we use any harmful ingredients? No. But because we use synthetic ingredients, backed by science, people love to assume that we aren’t clean and therefore we receive a lot of backlash. Don’t get me wrong, the movement has created a lot of positive change. It has caused big brands to make an effort to improve the quality and safety of their products and has caused us, the consumer, to take a closer look at what we’re putting on our skin. I am asking you to research your brands and products. Don’t jump on the clean beauty bandwagon without stopping to think about what clean beauty means to you.