As a loyal consumer, there is nothing worse than being lied to and tricked. More often than not, consumers put their trust in large cosmetics brands and corporations, claiming their products are “natural.” However, their falsely-branded products are filled with toxins and unhealthy ingredients.
A University of Notre Dame study tested over 230 standard cosmetics products and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products, and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine. These results indicate that ‘forever chemicals’ used in nonstick fry pans and other products are found in the makeup consumers put on their skin.
Inspired by the stealthiness of beauty brands, consumers have pushed the rise of the ‘clean’ beauty trend, advocating for brand transparency and healthy, better-quality ingredients.
What is ‘Clean’ Beauty?
Clean beauty is the idea of beauty products associated with natural, green ingredients and all other types of products that deviate from the norm.
Since there is no legal or confirmed definition, clean beauty means different things to different people. Ultimately, it is up to brands and consumers to determine what it means to them. However, upon research, we have come up with a good definition of what ‘clean’ beauty is.
What are the qualifications for ‘clean’ beauty?
First of all, ‘clean’ beauty products have clean ingredients. Consumers who purchase a product labeled as ‘clean’ are under the impression that they can use it without risking their health on a product with unsafe ingredients. They trust the ‘clean’-labeled product has safe ingredients. Though, as the saying goes, “a product is only as clean as its worst ingredient.”
Second of all, ‘clean’ beauty products have transparent labels. A beauty product that lists all ingredients and accurately labels products can be considered ‘clean’ beauty. An instance in which this is not the case would be when a non-transparent label is misleading by claiming to be ‘natural’ and ‘eco’ to appeal to a specific consumer but not listing the ingredients. This act is called ‘greenwashing.
Clean beauty is not required to be wholly all-natural or organic to be considered ‘clean.’ However, often it has some or all of these qualities. Regardless of how green the product is, what matters most to the consumer and what qualifies ‘clean’ beauty, is that the product labeling is transparent and consistent.
What is ‘toxic’ beauty?
According to a study, more than half the cosmetics sold in the United States likely contain high levels of a toxic industrial compound linked to severe health conditions, such as cancer. What’s worse is consumers are not always aware of the harmful ingredients in the products they purchase. How? Because of greenwashing.
Greenwashing occurs when a company conveys false messages that their products are suitable for your body and the environment and are sustainable. Companies aim to appeal to consumers who value their health and the environment because they recognize that they will generate more sales. So, rather than implementing healthier and environmentally friendly products, companies continue to produce the same toxic products and label them falsely with words such as ‘green’ and ‘natural.’
How is ‘greenwashing’ allowed? And why is ‘clean’ beauty trending?
Greenwashing frequently occurs in the US because terms such as ‘natural’ are not regulated in cosmetics. Unlike labels such as ‘organic,’ which is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and requires that a product labeled organic consists of 95% organic ingredients (besides salt and water), ‘natural’ and other terms are not regulated. In addition, the phrase ‘made with organic _____” may be used for products containing 70% organically produced ingredients (besides salt and water).
The principal law that governs the US cosmetics industry is the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FD&C Act defines cosmetics products by their intended use, which is “for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance” of the body, other than soap.” So, under the FD&C Act, the FDA regulates cosmetics and ingredients, but there is no pre-market approval except for color additives.
The FDA does not evaluate cosmetic products before they are sold to consumers. Therefore, some products can be branded as “natural” without proof. Solid evidence of products labeled as “natural” in their messaging is essential to consumers and is what started the trend of, and demand for, ‘clean’ beauty.
International businesses looking to integrate into the US cosmetics market, or even emerging domestic start-up cosmetics companies, should keep in mind that the trend of ‘clean’ beauty is only becoming more prominent. For instance, Gen Z (73%) and millennials (70%) value vegan and organic ingredients the most when evaluating brands. To appeal to US consumers, especially the upcoming generations who will be buying the majority of cosmetics products, companies must be fully transparent in their ingredients and aim to use more natural ingredients when possible.