We’ve all heard the buzzy term ‘clean beauty’ cropping up more and more lately. Sephora has adopted it into their site like blue check marks, skincare brands boast it to give their product an edge and entice consumers — but have you ever thought about what actually makes a beauty product ‘clean’?
The reality is, what we consider ‘clean’ and what we consider ‘toxic’ is relatively arbitrary. There is no consensus within the industry about what products are good and which are bad, and this is because the term ‘clean’ is more of a marketing angle than it is an actual quality.
Let me ask you a question: does the word paraben sound familiar to you? If it does, it probably carries a negative connotation. Parabens are tried and true preservatives that keep our skincare from growing mold that have been demonized due to one poorly conducted study from 20 years ago that concluded that they were endocrine disruptors. Yet, bad science continues to win out over a possible infection from rotten makeup — why? Enter: clean-washing.
Similar to greenwashing, cleanwashing is a marketing tactic that uses fear-mongering to allure consumers into buying their product. People often see ‘chemicals’ as a bad word when it comes to beauty, but chemical means nothing more than something that has been purified or prepared. The world around us is full of chemicals — from table salt to baking soda to water. Brands plastering words like ‘non-toxic’, ‘clean’, and ‘natural’ trick our brains into assuming the existence of toxic or dirty products, and let’s face it — when faced with those two options, the choice is easy. No one wants something harmful to their health! But natural doesn’t always mean better.
Natural ingredients aren’t subjected to the same rigorous lab testing as synthetic ingredients are. For example, essential oils are assumed to be good because they are natural, but smearing a hyper-concentrated essence on your skin can often lead to irritation or even burns. With the growing popularity of certain ‘natural’ ingredients like argan and shea comes the over-harvesting of them which has a harmful impact on the environment.
The label ‘clean’ also gives brands an excuse to mark up the prices. Brands intentionally create a mindset of fear and mistrust in the common drugstore products in order to give themselves the upper hand and the price tag to match. This creates an illusion of informed purchasing by making you feel like you care what you put on your skin and thus, justifying the hefty price!
While clean beauty may be a step in the right direction in calling brands to pay more attention to what they put in their products, don’t get swept up in the hysteria and ultimate overconsumption of the industry.
Find beauty products that are less shiddy in ways that work for you, whether that be your self-care routine or your wallet, and don’t fall victim to the ploys of the marketing masterminds!