Woman studying skincare product labels

Defining Clean Beauty Products with a Health First Mentality

We’ve all heard the buzzwords: “natural,” “organic,” and “green.” But did you know those don’t actually mean anything? When it comes to makeup and other beauty products, the FDA doesn’t actually regulate these terms. This means anyone can slap them on a label and market it as a clean beauty product. It’s become such a problem that it even has its own term, “greenwashing.”

Further, some ingredients that are technically organic are still toxic. After all, petrolatum is technically organic, as are coal tar dyes–as is poison ivy (because we couldn’t leave that example out, now could we?). Meanwhile, some synthetic materials can actually benefit your skin, or increase product safety and stability. Some ingredients (natural and synthetic) are safe to use in certain circumstances or formulations, in the correct dose, when they’re not contaminated by harmful materials.

So how can you define what clean beauty really is?

Clean beauty means putting your health first, and choosing quality products that don’t compromise beauty, or the planet. It means loving and respecting your body more than your favorite lipstick that may have known toxicants in it.

Assortment of lipsticks and color swatches

There are so many incredible brands out there committed to using healthy and safe ingredients that you can switch to and support (such as those that have earned Made Safe®’s certification). But ultimately, it’s a gift and a commitment to your body to only put the best quality ingredients (my preference is plant-based) on your skin.

Toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare products

Let’s take a look at a few common toxic ingredients. While this is by no means an exhaustive list (I have a more extensive one here, as well as in my book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself), it’s a great starting point to encourage you to do your own research and be wary as you choose your clean beauty products going forward. 

  • Formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasers are used in many beauty products as preservatives. However, this material is a known carcinogen and can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and respirator system. 
  • Fragrances is a broad label that beauty manufacturers use to hide ingredients behind. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, these scents are composed of various synthetic materials, many of which are toxic and could cause allergic reactions.
  • Triclosan is used as an antibacterial and antifungal ingredient in cosmetics to help preserve them. However, studies have found it to be a threat to your endocrine, reproductive system, skin, eyes, and liver. It has been banned in antiseptic washes in the United States, however, it is still used in other personal care products.
Many clean beauty products still contain toxic ingredients, like toxic blue substance in the flask held by the person in a hazmat suit in this image.
  • Octinoxate and oxybenzone are chemicals that are found in many sunscreens because of the way they block UV rays. However, they’ve been linked to endocrine disruption and skin sensitivities. Since there are mineral alternatives that are just as effective at UV protection, it’s best to skip on these ingredients. 
  • Talcum powder is used in a lot of blushes, eyeshadows, and foundations, as well as other makeup products. Talc has had many questions and concerns regarding safety in cosmetics over the years. Further, some talc may contain asbestos. Despite the fact that it’s naturally occurring, as in it’s technically “organic,” the powder can cause respiratory problems if it’s inhaled. Makeup tainted with asbestos can cause mesothelioma to develop in the lining of the lungs. Because of these concerns, “the FDA continues to analyze cosmetics for asbestos contamination and will provide updates with additional information that becomes available.”   

Healthy ingredients to look for in clean beauty products

When you study clean beauty product labels, it can be exhausting and honestly rather bleak to consider the toxic ingredients. You don’t have to focus on the negatives the whole time. You should also look for healthy ingredients, ones that help support and protect your skin instead of solely functional or visible benefits. Here are a few great ones to look for in your clean beauty products.

  • Carrier oils like rosehip or argan oils are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. These naturally occurring oils are nutrient-rich and improve the appearance of dark spots, wrinkles, and UV or acne skin damage. 
Woman on beach slathering on sunscreen.
  • Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are both naturally occurring minerals that soothe and protect your skin against sun damage. You can often find these in products that boast “mineral sunscreen.” 
  • Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B3 also known as niacinamide are powerful and essential for your skin’s health. They help brighten, repair, and protect skin from all kinds of damage. These do naturally occur in certain botanicals, and synthetic/nature-identical forms are also available.

Armed with a list of harmful ingredients to watch for and some essential ingredients to include, you can confidently start choosing clean beauty products that are right for you.

Remember, choose your health and the planet first everytime. This is what truly makes clean beauty products “clean.”

Do you want to take a deep dive into herbal skincare ingredients and learn how to make truly clean beauty products?

I can teach you that! Check out my online course, Create Your Skincare Pro.

*Image credit: “Polihale beach + Zero base tan = overapplication of sunscreen,’ Jordan Fisher, 2010. Some rights reserved. https://flic.kr/p/8ejsju


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