What Does Clean Beauty Really Mean?

Plus, four products to add to your skincare routine.

Clean beauty, which refers generally to non-toxic skincare and makeup products, doesn’t have a strict definition—but it’s already becoming a movement.

“People have invested so much in their fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness that now they’re thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I just take the next step with my skin?’” says Tara Foley, founder and CEO of Follain, a Boston-based company that offers a curated selection of beauty products that fit their clean criteria, which promises that every ingredient plays a positive role in their customer's health.

While over 1,000 ingredients are illegal for use in consumer products in the European Union, there are only about 20 that are outlawed in the United States, says Foley. Plus, she points out that there is a lack of regulations to control the misuse of words like “natural,” “green,” and “eco” on labels. 

“Unfortunately, we are seeing some of the effects of long-term exposure to toxic ingredients,” says Dendy E. Engelman, MD, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery and director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital. “Some of those ingredients have been linked to health problems like skin cancer, nervous system and reproductive issues, and more.”

Commonly-used ingredients to avoid include parabens, synthetic fragrance, phthalates, triclosan, and sodium lauryl sulfate, says Engelman. Follain lists these and more on its ever-growing list of restricted ingredients.

The most important takeaway of the clean beauty movement is to always read the label like you would for food and make sure the majority of ingredients are recognizable (think plants, fruits, or natural oils). For every toxic one, there is likely a more natural substitute that can serve a similar purpose. Kerrilynn Pamer, co-founder and CEO of CAP Beauty, a New York City-based company that focuses on natural, non-synthetic beauty and wellness products, is a big believer in coconut oil, sea buckthorn oil, and jojoba oil.

“There’s such an abundance of ingredients that are so nutrient-rich that when you start utilizing them in your skincare, you’ll see and feel a difference in your skin,” she says. “There’s no incorporation of cheap fillers that are only making the product last longer on the shelf.” 

Here, four clean picks to try now.