Dear Internet. Clean beauty is kind of a scam.
This topic came up as a discussion recently between other makeup/ skincare lovers, and I thought it was an interesting topic to tackle. Are products that claim to be “clean” or “natural” or even “have European Standards” really that great? Clean beauty isn’t always that clean. Let’s dive in.
First off, I’d like you to understand why this topic matters to me. And why I love researching this topic. I am a medical laboratory scientist, which means I have a lot of background in how the body works, how it synthesizes certain things, and how we can test the body and what’s being put in it. Being a scientist, I am very analytical and critical, and I research everything. Ever since I entered the beauty world 6 years ago as an influencer, I started to dive into what it really meant to be clean, natural, and how companies and governments determined these terms. Also, I wanted to look at each ingredient that the “media” was telling me was bad, and see how it actually was synthesized in the body. I have combed through hundreds of scientific studies over the years as I researched this topic.
In 2016, I finally found a line of cosmetics and skincare that actually did what they advertised (what a shocking concept right?!), and I was thrilled. But I also saw a lot of competitors trying to tear down the products because of the ingredients list. There were many claims certain ingredients weren’t safe, and that the products weren’t good because they didn’t follow European Standards. Was what I was using really not clean beauty? Was it bad for my body? This got me to research what all of this meant and how competing companies use this to try and spread misinformation.
Here is what I’ve discovered while researching this topic.
1.Words like “clean” and “natural” aren’t regulated
Words like clean and natural when it comes to cosmetics and skincare are just marketing terms. Anyone…literally anyone…can claim they are a clean product. Clean Beauty or Natural Beauty aren’t actually official, regulated terms. Also, in the United States (and the rest of the world) there isn’t anyone really defining or regulating what makes a product clean or natural. These are terms that have been picked up by advertisers, influencers, etc to make a product sound better than its counterparts. Sure…ingredients can be better than others, but this doesn’t take into account the amount of ingredient in the product, or even if the “better” ingredient even does what it says it’s going to do. Best practice when researching is to look at the ingredients and do research on what the ingredient is, what it does, and if possible, the amount inside the product.
2. The European Standard Does Not Deem What is Good and Bad in Cosmetics
Second, let’s tackle the illusive claim of the European Standard. What is the European Standard? In simple terms, it is a group of people that got together and made a huge list of ingredients that should/shouldn’t ever be used in cosmetics and skincare. A popular claim I see in advertising is that the European Standard banned over 1400 ingredients, while the USA only banned 30 (I’ve seen this number all over the place…it ranges from 10 to 100 ingredients…depending on the marketer). Here is the reality: the European Standard does not automatically equal clean beauty.
Why is this just another marketing ploy? Because these ingredients banned with the European Standard don’t prove or disprove that they are even bad for the body. Also, the ES bans ingredients that would never even be considered ok for cosmetics (like jet fuel…). So yes, the ES might have banned 1400 ingredients, but it’s not really relevant. And the comparison saying that European Standard products are better because they’ve banned more ingredients than the US, is also very, very false. Beware of any company that claims their products are better because they follow the European Standard…because chances are they are trying to mask other ingredients in their products that are actually bad for you.
3. Ingredient Amounts are Important
Third, and maybe most important, is the fact that the ingredient amounts MATTER. There are products and ingredients that are claimed to be “bad” and “not clean” because of certain ingredients or even derivatives of ingredients inside. But what most people fail to realize is that ingredients sometimes are only harmful to your body in LARGE amounts over LONG periods of time. And that your skin is a pretty dang good filtration organ that can help keep harmful stuff out. Let’s take parabens for example. It’s been all over the beauty community that parabens=bad. You’ve probably heard a ton of influencers talk about this in their videos and posts. Here is the reality of the parabens issue. Some paraben derivatives are proven to cause hormone disruptions yes…but this is in large amounts and when tested on mice. This does NOT prove that parabens in a human in SMALL amounts can cause any harm. It’s unknown at this point in time according to actual scientific studies if parabens actually have an effect on human bodies. Some paraben derivatives haven’t even been proven to cause harm in large amounts with mice. So, even though it’s perfectly ok to avoid products with parabens in them…it doesn’t mean that having a paraben derivative in a cosmetic will cause you long term health issues, especially because the amount of that paraben is extremely small.
4. There Is A Lot of Misinformation about Ingredients Out There
Fourth, people don’t realize that sometimes, these ingredients deemed bad by clean beauty marketers are actually highly prevalent in the food and liquids we drink. A common ingredient discussed is formaldehyde. This is a preservative that is used in embalming, and can be found in very tiny, micro amounts in skincare or other products. It is also banned by those people banning products over in Europe. But guess what else has formaldehyde in it? And in pretty large amounts? None other than a juicy pear. That’s right, this yummy fruit has a good amount of naturally occurring formaldehyde, a lot more than what you’d find in any cosmetic or skincare item. And you can eat plenty of pears and never have any bodily harm.
5. Just Because It Doesn’t Cause Harm, Doesn’t Mean That It Works
Fifth, just because an ingredient is deemed clean, doesn’t mean it actually works. There are SO MANY companies that claim they are the best because their ingredients are clean and natural…but they do absolutely nothing for your skin. I’m sure you have tried tons of skincare and cosmetics that make bold claims, and then when you use them, you don’t notice a difference. There are plenty of products out there that have good ingredients and actually work (like my favorites here!).
So what’s my point here. Well, my point being is that just because a company claims to be clean or natural…it doesn’t mean that they actually are. I’d venture out to say that most of the time they aren’t. I’ve seen plenty of companies that follow the European Standard, but use harmful synthetics in their cosmetics and in large amounts. There isn’t a formal agency that regulates ingredients, potency, etc so there really isn’t a way to tell without actually doing the research yourself. Pay attention and be a little skeptical when you see claims like this. Look into the ingredients. Ask questions. Figure out why they are making the claims that they are.
What you should look for:
- If a company claims to be clean, follow the ES, are vegan, etc…don’t believe them right off the bat. DO.YOUR.RESEARCH. Don’t spend your hard earned money until you’ve verified their claims.
- Look at reviews of the products. Are people actually seeing results with the products from the line?
- Seeing someone from a competing company making claims about another (I see this all the time in direct sales)…DO.YOUR.RESEARCH. 99.9% of the time they are making these claims to make them look better for sales/marketing purposes. But their products aren’t actually better.
- Do your research on individual ingredients. And understand that just because someone says an ingredient is bad for you, doesn’t mean that that is actually proven. Remember what we talked about…amount of the ingredient, what derivative it is, etc matter! Classic of examples of this: parabens, formaldehyde, fragrances, synthetics, etc.
I hope this article helps you as you research products to use. There are plenty of great products out there that work and have great ingredients. There are also even more bad products, with bad ingredients, and even worse…products that say they are good, when they aren’t. I am here to empower you to make your own decisions, do your own research, and see past the marketing bulls*** that’s all around us!
*Note: I want you all to understand that I am not making claims with this blog post. I am not claiming that formaldehyde, parabens, fragrances are good and ok to be in cosmetics. This is being studied to this day, and new data about this comes out all the time. I am merely using these as examples to illustrate the points above. It’s also important to note that I have not discussed the topic of allergies people may have to certain ingredients. Even ingredients that aren’t harmful to the majority of the population can be harmful to someone that has an allergy to it.