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Getting the Dirt on Clean Beauty

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

What is 'clean' in the beauty world?

There is no doubt that you have heard the word 'clean' in the beauty world. But what does it really mean? In simple terms, it means that 'clean' personal-care products are free of ingredients that a brand considers to be free of controversial and/or potentially harmful to one's health. Each brand will determine what is 'clean' to them. It should be noted that the term 'clean' is unregulated and is therefore subjective.


Parabens are synthetic preservatives that prevent the development and growth of bacteria, mould or fungus in personal-care products. They keep the product formula stable and effective throughout its shelf life. Methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben are some of the most common parabens in cosmetics. Other chemicals in this class generally have “paraben” in their names (e.g., isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.). The ingredient has been considered one of David Suzuki's Dirty Dozen as it can be considered to interfere with normone function. However, the Canadian Cancer Society states the the ingredient "has not been classified as a cancer-causing substance by any major scientific organization" and that "more research is needed to understand the association better"


For skin, there are good alcohols and bad alcohols, corresponding to high-molecular-weight alcohols and low-molecular-weight alcohols, respectively, which can have emollient properties (cetyl alcohol) or act as detergent cleansing agents like isopropanol.

There also are benign forms, including glycols, which are used as humectants to help hydrate and deliver ingredients into skin’s uppermost layers, thus protecting the skin's barrier. Alcohols with low molecular weights - the bad-for-skin kind - can be drying and sensitizing. The alcohols to be concerned about in skin care products are ethanol or ethyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol. The concern is when one or more of these are listed among the main ingredients; tiny amounts in an otherwise good formula aren’t a problem


You may be surprised to know that silicones have a natural compound base. It can appear in several diffiernt versions and it's functions include; skin-smoothing, emollient effect; others form a water-resistant film or improve a product’s ability to spread. Extensive safety and toxicology evaluations have proven that no type of silicone used in cosmetics is toxic when applied to skin. Several types of silicones, including those made from dimethicone and all of the common siloxanes have consistently shown to be non-toxic and non-irritating on most skin types. According to a senior esthetician, silicone may exacerbate rosacea, acne, sensitive skin, or milia. It is recommended that anyone who experiences any of these skin issues should consider removing silicone from their product lineup.

cruelty free and/or vegan

A cruelty-free cosmetics company is one that has eliminated animal testing at all levels of production as of a “fixed cut-off date.” This must apply not only to the finished products that consumers purchase, but also to each and every raw ingredient. In order to meet its commitment to cruelty-free, a company must not sell its products in countries that require animal testing; it must not use new ingredients that would lead to new animal testing; and it must ensure that all of its ingredient suppliers commit to a policy of “no new cosmetics animal testing.”

Vegan identifies that a product has been made without animal-derived ingredients and/or by-products, such as beeswax.


'Natural' is another unregulated term that appears frequently on product labels, it is open to interpretation and can mean many different things to many different people. When searching for products with 'natural' ingredients, think about what this means to you. Are you looking for products without synthetic ingredients? Do you want the product or brand to only use sustainable farming for its ingredients? Remember, even water has a chemical formula... H20.

sustainable packaging

This is something that many cosmetic and skincare brands are working hard to achieve. Another ungoverned term that can include packaging that is fully recyclable, contains recyclable elements, is made of post-consumer recycled materials, is refillable or has goals to achieve zero-waste with biodegradable or compostable design.

for more information on 'clean' in the market, check out;

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