It’s hard to miss the clean beauty movement that has been rippling through the beauty industry.

Brands, retailers and platforms alike have been so-called cleaning up their act and adopting the label.

But clean beauty is not a defined term. Unlike organic or cruelty free it has no surrounding regulations or certifications. 

The definition actually changes depending on who is describing it – a brand, a retailer, a beauty influencer. It’s essentially a marketing term.

It can mean things like natural, sustainable, safe and pure. But, no governing body is measuring this, nor awarding the title to qualifying brands. 

So while it may have squeaky clean intentions, it’s not always as spotless as we may think.

Here, we clear up the confusion and bust some of the biggest myths surrounding clean beauty.

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Big fat false. Just because make-up, skincare or body care is labelled natural, does not automatically mean safe and sustainable.

Skin Trust Club’s Scientific Skincare Advisor Tracey Ryan says: “While there are amazing plant derived ingredients like herbal extracts, floral waters, nut and seed oils, they can bring issues too. 

“Essential oils are wonderful and fragrant, but contain a lot of constituents that can be sensitising and irritating. Great care needs to be taken when formulating with them. 

“There is also the question of sustainability when using plant materials. Huge demand puts increased pressure on land and resources.” 

Clean Beauty

False, false, false. We know that the word chemical alone often raises concern. In beauty especially, it can seem like the list of ingredients to steer clear of, is growing by the minute.

Tracey says: “There’s the obvious statement that “everything is a chemical”, but also, there is nothing wrong with using synthetic ingredients in cosmetics. 

“Vitamin C in vitamins is no longer derived from lemons, and salicylic acid in your aspirin is no longer derived from plants. 

“Synthetically produced products are safer, cheaper and more sustainable. It’s the same in cosmetics and it doesn’t mean your cosmetics are bad for you.

“In fact, some of the clean beauty brands are quite deceptive when it comes to declaring their synthetic ingredients.

“Preservatives are a really important ingredient in any cosmetic product containing water to prevent microbial spoilage. 

“There are very few effective natural preservatives available and so it is understood in the industry that natural products will use preservatives that contain materials derived from nature but processed with synthetic chemicals. 

“Therefore, brands who claim their products are natural use synthetics.”

Clean Beauty

While this statement has some truth to it, it is often taken and sprinted off with – in the wrong direction. When it comes to harmful ingredients, there is something to always bear in mind.

Tracey says: “It’s important to remember its “the dose makes the poison”.

“Yes, there are ingredients that, if used in very high amounts, can damage your skin. But, the use of a lot of these is strictly regulated. 

“Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, a strong surfactant used in shampoos, body washes, face washes and anything else that lathers – has long been dubbed the bad kid of clean beauty, without much opportunity to redeem itself.

“In contrast, if the concentration of SLS is low and paired with milder surfactants, it can produce a shampoo with great cleansing and foaming properties.

“The Ordinary have just released their new hair products containing low concentrations of SLS and are attempting to educate their customers about SLS.”

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Big no-no. There is definitely room for improvement in some countries’ regulations, but it is absolutely not true to say it’s an unregulated industry.

Tracey says: “Ingredients are rigorously tested for safety and very cautious limits are set. 

“Products are created by cosmetic chemists and undergo safety assessments, stability tests, preservative efficacy tests and patch tests before they are put on the market. 

“The industry is constantly adapting as more is learned about the materials used. For example, just this year a new EU Directive has limited the amount of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) in fake tan to a maximum of 10 per cent.

“This has seen brands reformulate and remove old non-compliant products from the market. 

“However, that does not mean that older products containing above 10 percent were harmful – all of those products would have still been tested.

“The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) just wanted to look specifically at the ingredient DHA and set more cautious limits. 

“This is something that happens on a regular basis in the industry.”

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Just like many of the other matters we’ve touched on, sustainability is also a huge and complex world. One big mistake that often happens is the assumption that clean beauty automatically means sustainable.

Tracey says: “Clean brands have often twinkled under the spotlight for their eco-friendly leaps, for example low-waste production methods.

“But, the production of the natural and clean ingredients required is not always as sustainably-friendly.

“As touched on before, agriculture is environmentally-disruptive, contributing to CO2 emissions and impacting biodiversity.

“The demand of the clean beauty sector requires large amounts of land and resources to produce these ingredients, further unsettling the ecosystem. If these can be produced in one lab, that’s already less strain on the environment.”

Clean Beauty

Even with all the myth-busting, securing a skincare regime can still seem complicated.

Giving up clean beauty products is not the answer, but rather taking the time to truly understand labels.

Having a strong relationship with your skin microbiome is important too. This ecosystem of microorganisms is your skin’s biggest protector.

No matter how clean, preservative-free, cruelty-free or organic the product is, if it doesn’t bond with your microbiome – it won’t work for you.

The microbiome is the skin’s manual guide and way of informing you of the specific types of bacteria living there. Unbalanced bacteria could indicate sensitive skin or skin conditions.

Learn about yours by taking our 60-second skin microbiome test. Once it’s posted back, and lands in our Lab, our team of scientists will analyse and curate a personalised skincare routine for you. 

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