Clean – The latest beauty buzzword

The word you can not escape in the beauty world at the moment is ‘Clean’. As I type there are nearly two million Instagram posts with the hashtag #CleanBeauty, and Google searches of the term have increased by more than 600% over the past 10 years, and Mintel Research found 49% of British women say it is important for their beauty routine. Does ‘clean’ beauty really scrub up?

close up photo of pink lip gloss
Photo by Shiny Diamond on

We are a society obsessed with the idea of cleanliness. You will always find a packet of tissues and anti-bac gel in my handbag. One of the biggest diet trends is ‘clean eating’ and there is even a thing called ‘clean sleeping’ where you have pre-bed head massages and copper-infused pillowcases.  If that isn’t enough, there is now ‘clean beauty’.

What does ‘Clean Beauty’ mean?

Does ‘clean beauty’ mean free from chemicals? Or organic? Or vegan? Or environmentally friendly? Or all of these? According to Dr Emma Meredith, Director General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association it is a problem; “Legislation that covers cosmetics in the UK has no legal definition for ‘clean beauty. Any claims made by a product have to be substantiated, so you could challenge a manufacturer to explain what they mean by it. You can’t assume anything about a product just because it has the word on its label.” This does mean that it can be overwhelming for consumers to understand the different types of products.

There is no such thing as ‘Chemical Free’

If some products are dubbed ‘clean’, does it make the others on the shelf ‘dirty’? Everything is made up of chemicals, from air to food, to the human body. Chemical is not the opposite of natural. A chemical that is derived from nature, doesn’t necessarily make it safer than one made in a lab. As for ‘toxin’s and other ‘nasties’, different companies list different ingredients which show how subjective it all is.

The good news is, every beauty product on sale in the UK has to pass a strict safety test. There are more than one thousand ingredients banned from cosmetics and another list of those that can only be used with specific restrictions. If it is on sale in the UK, both the ingredients and formulation have been screened to ensure that they are not going to do you harm, regardless of whether they have the word ‘clean’ on them.

How to buy according to your principles

It is not straightforward, sorry.  Not only is ‘clean’ not legally defined, but neither are the words ‘vegan’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’, when it comes to beauty products. Certification can be costly, so your brand may well have this stamp. Brands should not be misleading and should have evidence to back up any claim, and this would fall under the Advertising Standards Authority. So, if you really want to know what’s in a product, ask the manufacturer.


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