What Does “Clean Beauty” Mean in 2021?

What is clean beauty? Where is the clean beauty movement headed? Here’s what you can expect for 2021.


Clean beauty is associated with natural beauty, green beauty, and all other types of beauty that deviate from the norm.

But at its core, what does the clean beauty movement stand for?

Since there’s no legal or official definition, many brands have taken it upon themselves to define clean beauty according to their agendas.

It’s time to settle this debate once and for all. So, what is clean beauty?

What is the Clean Beauty Movement?

To us, a clean beauty product must satisfy these two main criteria:

1. Clean ingredients

At its core, clean beauty means that you can use a product without risking your own health. The ingredients list must contain only safe, clean ingredients.

What constitutes “clean” ingredients? At the Good Face Project, we analyze each and every cosmetic ingredient and give grades based purely on safety and toxicity. 

To us, a clean beauty product is free of hormone disruptors and carcinogens. We developed the Good Face Index, which takes hundreds of thousands of scientific studies and research papers on cosmetic ingredients and turns them into easy-to-understand safety ratings. This makes it easy to see if a product is safe based on its ingredients. Essentially, a product is only as clean as its worst ingredient.

2. Transparent labels

When a beauty brand makes an effort to list all of its ingredients and label accordingly, it is on the right path to clean beauty. However, not all brands are transparent. 

A good example of lack of transparency in the beauty industry is including fragrance in beauty products. Fragrance is not an ingredient, but since the industry is highly unregulated, companies can hide ingredients under the umbrella term “fragrance.”

Another example of non-transparent labels is misleading the consumer based on packaging. Brands can falsely label their products with buzzwords like “natural” and “eco” in order to capture the conscious consumer’s attention. This is called “greenwashing” and we’ll elaborate in a moment.

Clean beauty simply doesn’t contain mystery ingredients, and clean beauty certainly doesn’t claim to be something that it’s not.

Clean Beauty is Simple

Were you expecting a longer list of criteria? Perhaps you were expecting words like “natural” and “organic.”

Clean beauty isn’t about being 100% perfect. This means that yes, man-made ingredients are clean as long as they’re safe and non-toxic. This also means that clean beauty doesn’t have to be all-natural, preservative-free, etc. Clean beauty is synonymous with non-toxic beauty.

Rather than focus on buzzwords like “natural” and “organic,” switching to clean beauty products focuses on eliminating as many toxins as possible from our daily products.

Clean beauty is also about making ourselves more aware. Since the beauty industry lacks regulation, it’s up to us to become familiar with the most common toxins in our skincare, beauty, body, and hygiene products.

Unfortunately, that means the consumer (talking about you!) has a lot of responsibility to pay attention to what’s in her cosmetics.

How to do this without going crazy? More on that in a minute.

There are a few misconceptions about clean beauty that we need to clear up:

Does Clean Beauty Have to Be All-Natural?

Clean beauty has been around for a while, but the movement is rapidly growing. For a long time, products containing only natural ingredients were considered the all-stars of clean beauty. “Preservative-free” is another buzz word surrounding natural beauty.

But, the answer to your question is no, clean beauty doesn’t have to be all-natural.

It’s the twenty-first century, and the science of beauty has evolved to include a plethora of safe synthetics, safe man-made ingredients, and even safe preservatives.

In fact, ALL cosmetics should contain some form of safe preservation to maintain the stability of the formulation.

As long as certain synthetic ingredients are non-toxic and proven to have no harmful effects, they can be incorporated into clean beauty products.

Does Clean Beauty Have to be Organic?

Similar to natural beauty, organic beauty is often confused with clean beauty. Like organic food, there are many benefits of organic ingredients in cosmetics, but non-organic ingredients can be just as safe.

The bottom line: No, clean beauty doesn’t HAVE to be organic.

Yes, clean beauty CAN be organic, but it’s not a requirement. What is a requirement, however, is that those ingredients are SAFE, regardless of whether or not they’re organic.

Does Clean Beauty Have to be Green?

If you thought “clean beauty” had a murky definition, enter “green beauty.”

Green beauty has several associations:

  • Plant-derived
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free
  • Eco-friendly
  • Sustainably sourced

Phew, that’s a lot!

While these criteria all sound great, a beauty product can exhibit all of these characteristics and not be clean if it contains toxic ingredients.

Vice versa, a beauty product can have purely safe ingredients, but they may be conventionally sourced or contain animal products (i.e. honey, beeswax, silk, etc.). In this case, the product is still clean since it’s non-toxic, but it’s not considered green.

So no, clean beauty doesn’t have to be green.


Article from The Good Face Project 

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