Switching to a clean beauty regime may seem overwhelming in the beginning: after all, what do all the terms mean? “Clean,” “organic,” “cruelty-free” and “vegan” are all terms associated with the clean beauty revolution but how do you figure out what you should be looking for in your products? We’re breaking down what “clean beauty” actually means, looking at each term and hopefully, giving you more clarity on how to adopt a clean beauty routine:
Clean beauty essentially refers to makeup or skincare products that do not contain harmful ingredients. This usually means that a beauty product should consider human and environmental health, use a nontoxic element as a baseline and plant-based ingredients.
Ingredients to avoid in your cosmetics include parabens, fragrances and phthalates, aluminium compounds, ethoxylated agents (which include sulfates, the compound that causes products to lather but can irritate your skin), formaldehyde, petroleum, talc, triclosan, silica and oxybenzone (a compound in sunscreen that harms coral and can cause skin irritation).
To adopt a clean beauty routine, start with products that are intended to stay on your skin all day, like a moisturiser, sunscreen, deodorant or body lotion. Then move to clean shampoo, conditioner, skin care and makeup products.
The term “organic” refers to how an ingredient is farmed, for example it must be prepared and grown without pesticides, fertilisers, sulfates/ parabens or antibiotics.
Did you know that water and oxygen can be toxic in the incorrect dose? When a beauty product is labelled nontoxic, it means that the ingredients have not been shown to cause adverse health effects for the intended use and that the ingredients have not been deemed toxic at any dose by a third-party resource. However, this is true of most beauty products, so this may be a shrewd marketing practice.
Cruelty-Free vs. Vegan
These terms are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things.
Cosmetics are vegan if a product does not contain any animal products or animal-derived ingredients. It’s important to note that the term describes the ingredients of a product, not the production process. Therefore, products that are tested on animals can actually claim to be vegan, meaning that “vegan” doesn’t always equal “clean.”
On the other hand, cosmetics are cruelty-free if the final product has not been tested on animals. The term generally refers to the production process and not the ingredients, which means that it is possible for a cruelty-free product to contain non-vegan ingredients, like honey, beeswax, lanolin, carmine or gelatine.
It’s easy to neglect one or the other term when making purchasing choices about cosmetics, especially when brands market both as the end-all of ethical cosmetics, but the best option is to seek out both vegan and cruelty-free descriptions on a product. While this is more difficult to find, it’s not impossible, especially as demand grows and companies respond to this demand.
Labels to look for
Look for accreditation on a product label to back up a company’s claims. Organisations that are generally respected in this area include Choose Cruelty-Free, The Vegan Society, PETA and Leaping Bunny.
Vegan and cruelty-free labels do not necessarily guarantee that a product’s ingredient list is clean, ethical, safe and all-natural. You’re better off reading the ingredient list to be sure that you’re not putting potentially dangerous chemicals on your skin or ingredients that have been tested on animals. Also, be aware of the packaging of the product; is it plastic or made from recyclable materials, like paper?
Another thing to consider is the human cost of creating cosmetics. Cruelty-free labels do not extend to the human labour that goes into sourcing ingredients and creating products. For example, while mica is a commonly used ingredient in eyeshadows, it is notorious for its use of child labour. Try and look for companies that are committed to fair and transparent labour standards.
We hope that this guide has demystified some of the terms around clean beauty and that you are inspired to adopt your own clean beauty routine.
See also: 8 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Shampoo