On one hand, the industry’s boom in “clean beauty products” can feel like a wish fulfillment, particularly for those in search of increased ingredient transparency and good-for-you formulas. On the other hand, it can feel incredibly daunting. What makes a product clean (or not), and how necessary is it that everything we put on our faces be clean? With no formal definition of clean (retailers and brands self-define the term), we’ve tapped six beauty industry experts to detail what clean beauty looks like in 2023.
Meet The Experts
“Since there’s no single definition of clean, how far a company wants to take that commitment is really up to its founders,” says Gucci Westman. With a similar sentiment, Autumne West explains that brands might define clean by the ingredients used or what is being excluded; plus, production elements like where and how ingredients are sourced also come into play. (Think: the European Union has banned or limited more than 1,600 ingredients in cosmetics, whereas the United States restricts only 11.) This sort of flexibility gives founders the authority to craft clean standards to their liking, and market it to their consumers accordingly.
“We believe that ‘clean beauty’ means setting a rigorous standard when it comes to the safety of our ingredients and formulations,” says Westman of her label’s take. “For us, clean is about a mindset. What we focus on is creating skin care that happens to do your makeup. It’s about the highest level of performance, craftsmanship, and the luxury of knowing that you can feel good about what you’re putting on your body.” When we asked Sasha Plavsic how Ilia defines clean beauty, she emphasized that a better word for the category would be “thoughtful” to encompass tactful choices around formulas, packaging, marketing, and the planet. “For Ilia, clean beauty as a definition is where the best of natural and safe synthetics collides to create an efficacious product that performs beyond conventional expectations,” she says. Then, there are brands like evovletogether who are offering fresh takes on sustainability. “We pay extra attention to the total sustainability of our packaging, opting for biodegradable, dissolvable, compostable, reusable, or forever-recyclable mono materials wherever we safely can to minimize single-use plastic waste,” explains Cynthia Sakai. Transparency and proper disposal education are just two ways the brand brings this ethos to life.
How to Shop Clean Beauty Products
“Consumers still need to do their homework to make sure the brands’ definitions of “clean” align with their own when selecting products,” says Dr. Iris Rubin, illuminating that a ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ label on a product does not mean it’s inherently better for you. To help shoppers cut through the vast beauty marketplace, retailers have also evolved to demystify clean beauty standards. Inside Nordstrom’s natural beauty category, one can find cosmetics “free of sulfates, phthalates, parabens, petrochemicals, mineral oil, silicone, and talc; also free of formaldehyde, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, triclocarban, gluten, artificial preservatives, fragrances, nanoparticles, EDTA and DEA” as listed by West.
Then there are dedicated marketplaces like Credo, which only carry products that have earned its sought-after clean stamp of approval. “Clean is the intersection of safety, sustainability, ethics, and transparency—and it applies to the ingredients, manufacturing processes, the beauty product itself, and to packaging,” shares Annie Jackson of the retailer’s approach in an effort to uncloak the veil of secrecy that has long shrouded the beauty industry. “We created the Credo Clean Standard in 2018—it’s a document that defines Clean Beauty at Credo—and every one of the 120+ brands we partner with needs to sign and comply with our Standard.”