Clean Beauty Explained: What It Means, Why It Matters & Brands You Can Trust

When it comes to skin care, there’s very (and we mean very) little regulation. That may not seem like a big deal — it’s just moisturizers and serums, right? — but some potentially harmful stuff could be sneaking into your beauty and grooming products.

There are legal definitions and rules around food, but there’s really nothing as cut and dry for beauty products. Manufacturers slap plenty of soothing terms on their packaging to get us to think what’s inside is genuinely good for us. But words like “natural” and “green” have no clear definition. More often than not, brands can use these terms — no matter what’s inside.

Companies typically use the term “green” to indicate they believe in environmentally-friendly packaging, products and low-impact production methods, but there’s no legal definition that binds them to this. “Natural” tends to imply that the manufacturer shies away from artificial colors and ingredients. But sometimes it suggests that a brand makes organic skin care or makeup — or, it’s just a declaration that their formulas are free of chemicals on the EU’s banned ingredients list. There’s no oversight: anyone can claim a product is natural… even if it’s not. 

So: where does the clean beauty movement come into play? Definitions are still murky, but we’ve set our own standards for prioritizing health and safety — and building trust.

Why Does Clean Beauty Matter?

The clean beauty movement gained mainstream popularity a few years ago. Transparency was the endgame — a necessity to ensure cosmetic safety, understand ethical and environmental impact and pinpoint any relationships between the beauty products we use and any health concerns (ranging from skin irritations and allergic reactions to fear of ingredients potentially linked to causing cancer) that may arise as a result.

What you consider “clean” is entirely personal, and even now, the guidelines shift from brand to brand, shop to shop. For us, we’re all about taking a healthy, eyebrow-raised approach to the products we come in contact with. Take the time to comb through the individual ingredients in each product and research what you can: What studies have been done on these? Are there any red flags? Should we wait for more clinical trials to come in before slapping these on our skin?

What is Clean Makeup?

Clean makeup is created without the use of ingredients that may be problematic for our bodies. We’re not of the chemical-free camp, to be clear — everything, even water, is technically a chemical. However, clean makeup products typically earn their claim because they don’t contain anything on the EU’s banned list: a list of toxic chemicals to avoid because they’re potential carcinogens (read: cancer-causers) or hormone disruptors (which may also cause certain cancers and can be a problem for anyone who may want to get pregnant).

Shop Clean Makeup Brands

What is Clean Skin Care?

The same rules from above apply to clean or non-toxic skin care. Parabens, phthalates and artificial fragrances are common skincare ingredients to avoid — but be sure to factor in your what plays well with your skin type, too. 

Keep in mind that natural skincare products, no matter how “clean,” can cause irritation or breakouts if you have sensitive skin or react negatively to specific ingredients. Always patch-test new products on your inner wrist before applying them all over, and introduce new products one at a time so you can keep track of what’s working (and what’s not).

Shop Clean Skincare Brands

Discover the Clean Beauty Shop
The Vertical Blog Ultimate Hero Banner
The Vertical Blog Ultimate Hero Banner
The Vertical
Your digital destination for inspo and unique finds, curated by the V—Editors.