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The Messy Underside of Clean Beauty

Clean beauty has gained a lot of popularity recently, and the movement is sparking debate throughout the cosmetics industry. So many of the ingredients listed on the back of your day cream may be safe but unfamiliar, with scarysounding names.

Companies can play on our fears to sell us solutions to problems that don’t exist. With so much pseudoscience dominating conversations around what we put on our skin, it’s worth taking the time to read up on what we’re buying, and why. 

What makes a product ‘clean’?

There are so many different definitions of what makes a brand or product ‘clean’, and very little regulation of the use of this label in the beauty industry. It is a marketing term, rather than a scientific one. Products that champion natural ingredients, sustainable packaging and veganism could all potentially fall under the ‘clean’ umbrella, as well as those which are paraben and preservativefree. Preservatives are there for a reason – a lack of them could be a problem which leads to your product going bad quicker.  

Everything is chemicals!

A lot of the language of clean beauty revolves around a ‘chemical-free’ approach. This is fundamentally flawed, given that chemicals are themselves naturally occurring, and make up everything from water to fossil fuels. A product being chemical-free is not necessarily a plus side – you may have invested in an empty pot. Although not entirely empty – air is also made of chemicals.  

Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

‘Non-toxic’ is another common claim within the clean beauty industry. What this label ignores is that toxicity is defined not by the ingredient, but by the amount of it. Water – up to 60% of a human body – can be toxic. If you’ve ever eaten an apple seed by accident (or on purpose, no judgement) you will have ingested a trace amount of cyanide. Despite this, it is legal and crucially not dangerous to sell apples. EU regulations mean that no beauty product on the market contains dangerous quantities of toxins. 

'Preservatives are there for a reason - a lack of them could be a problem which leads to your product going bad quicker.'

Natural is not always better for you...

The idea that natural = safe is just wrong. A lot of naturally occurring substances can do serious harm – arsenic, pollen and botulinum toxin are just three examples. Lots of skincare products which reject man-made substances and choose to feature natural ingredients – such as essential oils – have been proven to trigger allergies. On the other hand, many synthetic substances have been carefully created specifically for sensitive skin in order to avoid such reactions. 

...or for the environment

The agricultural industry has its own numerous environmental issues, with huge CO2 emissions at the top of the list. While minimal, recyclable packaging is definitely a good idea, there are issues with dedicating land to growing ingredients for beauty products when so much space is needed to feed an everincreasing population. It’s not black and white, but the less natural option of creating ingredients in a lab may have a smaller carbon footprint than the so-called ‘clean’ alternative. 

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