You want the best for your skin, so you’ve undoubtedly seen a variety of beauty products all claiming to be “clean,” “green,” and “natural.”
They’re all enticing to purchase because they seem like a better alternative than the conventional beauty products that may contain toxins.
But what do these terms really mean? What’s the difference between clean beauty products and green beauty products?
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What is Clean Beauty?
The term “clean beauty” can be a bit misleading, as this label is not regulated by the FDA. That means companies have complete control of their own products and ingredients that they deem to be “clean.”
True clean beauty products, however, avoid toxic substances (like phthalates and parabens) and are completely open about the ingredients used within them.
Clean beauty products are not necessarily organic, but many of them use organic ingredients, and they’re free of synthetic ingredients and fragrances that are known irritants or toxins.
The lack of regulation behind the term “clean beauty” means that companies can slap this label on their products for whatever reason they want. It’s hard to know the truth without looking at the ingredients label and deciphering things for yourself.
The Clean Beauty Philosophy
The basis for clean beauty is rooted in eliminating toxins from your daily routine. Toxic chemicals are found everywhere, from the cleaning products we clean our homes with to the clothes we wear and the food we eat.
By focusing on using clean beauty products, you’re eliminating one place that these toxins can enter your body and replacing them with good-for-you ingredients that will actually nourish your body.
The idea is that the fewer chemicals you expose yourself to, the better you’ll feel over time. This slowly improves the health of your body systems and helps rejuvenate your skin and hair for optimal beauty benefits.
While clean beauty products don’t have a universal standard yet, many brands are making them easier to find by being transparent about their ingredients.
True clean beauty brands are committed to:
Using natural ingredients that nourish your skin and hair, like plant-based oils and butters instead of synthetic silicones
Using colors and scents that come from natural sources, rather than harmful chemicals
Not testing on animals (cruelty-free)
Clean Beauty Benefits
#1: It’s Natural
Clean beauty products are made with all-natural ingredients, which means they smell great, work well, and can be more effective than their synthetic counterparts.
If you find yourself switching to clean beauty products, there will be some trial and error as you figure out what works best for your skin and hair types. There’s no guarantee that it will have the same results as your old products, but in due time you might be surprised how much cleaner beauty can work for you.
#2: It’s Safe and Effective
The main benefit of clean beauty is that it has fewer potentially harmful chemicals than conventional products. Many cleansers, moisturizers, and other skin products use plant-based ingredients to soothe your skin and nourish it.
These natural ingredients are often gentler on sensitive skin or those with allergies, and these products can be more effective for getting great results. For example, treating acne with true clean beauty products often requires a lot less time than when using harsh chemicals.
Is Clean Beauty Environmentally Friendly?
Clean beauty products aren’t always environmentally friendly, but most of them are. True clean beauty will use plant-based ingredients that are grown without the use of pesticides, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which makes them more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Many clean beauty brands also use sustainable and/or recyclable packaging.
That being said, some brands add palm oil to their products despite the large amounts of deforestation caused by its production and harmful carbon emissions from shipping it around the world.
Palm oil is often a hidden ingredient in products that focus on being clean and environmentally friendly. It’s one of the cheapest ingredients out there, and many times people don’t even realize they’re buying it. With so many options to choose from, do your research to make sure you’re only choosing brands that are focused on clean ingredients that are also green!
What is Green Beauty?
Some people are confused by the term “green beauty” because it seems to overlap with clean beauty. To make things simpler, you can think of green beauty as a trendy term that encompasses brands and products focused on doing good for the environment.
Green beauty focuses on using natural ingredients grown sustainably without the use of pesticides, chemicals, or GMOs.
True green beauty products are committed to:
Setting a standard for all-natural, plant-based ingredients. This means the products don’t contain any synthetic ingredients or harmful toxins.
Crafting finished products with zero waste in mind. This means the product is packaged in minimal amounts and the packaging is reusable or easily recyclable.
Working directly with farmers to source non-GMO ingredients. This protects our air, water, and soil
Being cruelty-free. This means never testing their products on animals, which includes both finished products and active ingredients
Why is Green Beauty Important?
For most people, the main reason to switch to green beauty is that they want to be more environmentally conscious. If you’ve ever felt guilty about using products that come in wasteful packaging or contain harmful ingredients, sustainable beauty is for you.
The idea of “green” or “sustainable” products is nothing new – it’s been around since the beginning of natural beauty. But in recent years, companies have realized consumers are ready to spend money on these products, and many new brands have popped up since then.
Many people still use conventional cosmetics that contain chemicals and other harmful ingredients. Switching to green beauty won’t fix all the planet’s problems, but it will reduce pollution from packaging and help the environment in other small ways.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a sneaky way of making sure products look environmentally friendly, even though they aren’t really made with sustainable or green ingredients.
How brands greenwash their products:
They name themselves after something that sounds natural and good for the environment, like using the word green or natural (or a derivative of one of these words)
They use deceptive packaging. For example, the packaging may look “natural” in color (green) or with drawings that give off a friendly, natural vibe.
They use misleading marketing. For example, they might put pictures of plants on their products to make them seem more environmentally friendly than they really are.
They say the product is “all-natural”, but only some of the ingredients in it are natural.
They use words like “natural” and “organic”, but don’t specify what they mean.
They add a few ingredients that sound like they’re from a plant when they’re really not – this is why it’s important to do research on ingredients!
How Do You Know if a Beauty Brand is Sustainable?
Not all green or clean beauty brands are sustainable, so it’s important to make sure you’re only supporting the companies that are truly committed to making natural products. There are a few ways you can tell:
Look on their website – if they have a page dedicated to sustainability, even if it’s small, they’re more likely to be an eco-friendly company that cares about the environment.
They’re open about ALL of their ingredients. If they make it easy for you to see which ingredients come from plants, this is an indication that they value transparency and trustworthiness in their products. (The word “fragrance” is not an ingredient; it’s a group of ingredients that you should further investigate.)
They use minimal, recyclable packaging – for example, products that come in glass or cardboard containers that you can recycle.
They find ways to reduce waste in their processes. For example, using solar energy or other renewable energy sources in their factories and warehouses.
They show their commitment to going green by taking a stance on hot-button issues that affect the environment (like climate change and the use of GMOs).
*Note: Just because one of these things isn’t true doesn’t mean the company is definitely not green – just make sure you do your research before buying!
Understanding Beauty Product Labels
Let’s say you’re at the store to buy a face wash. Here’s how to tell if it meets your standards for “green” or “clean”:
The ingredients are listed in order of prevalence, so make sure you can easily see what the primary ingredient is and that there aren’t any long lists of chemicals after it.
The ingredient list doesn’t include any ingredients you’ve never heard of or can’t easily be explained and understood with a quick Google search.
It isn’t full of chemicals that are known to be harmful (like parabens, phthalates, sulfates, petrochemicals, synthetic fragrances).
It’s not tested on animals! (Look for “cruelty free” labels when buying skincare and beauty products.)
What Does the Term “Natural” Mean?
Unfortunately, there’s no legal definition for the word “natural” when it comes to cosmetics and personal care products.
So when a company uses the word, they can mean whatever they want!
For clean beauty companies, being “natural” means that 100% of the ingredients in their products are from plants (instead of synthetic chemicals). They use minimal packaging and strive to create products made only from things found in nature that are non-toxic and beneficial to our health.
What About Organic Beauty Products?
Not all organic beauty products are clean, and not all clean beauty products are certified organic.
Although organic beauty products contain ingredients that are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, the products may still contain chemicals and other harmful ingredients.
So when buying organic beauty products:
Make sure it’s certified by a legit organic certifying organization (like USDA Organic).
Read the ingredient list.
Make sure you aren’t paying extra for something that isn’t necessarily any better than its conventional counterparts. For example, companies sometimes charge extra for an organic product when really the ingredients are just the exact same as a conventional product.
How to Find Clean Beauty Products
The popularity of clean beauty means that more products are hitting the market to meet this demand. These companies will try to differentiate themselves from competitors by using entirely natural or organic ingredients and being transparent about their processes.
This can seem like a great idea, but you should remember that there is no universal standard for how people use the term “clean.” Some products might be “cleaner” than others, but also have a long list of ingredients. This can make it hard to really know what you’re getting as a consumer.
Look for All-Natural Ingredients
The first step in choosing the best clean beauty products is determining which ingredients are natural and which aren’t. You can find this information on the product’s ingredients list, which you can usually find on the packaging or by looking up an item online. If you’re unfamiliar with a certain ingredient, do a quick search online to find out what it is, what side effects it may have, and decide whether or not you’re comfortable using it.
Make Sure the Brand is Ethical
It can be tough to know exactly what you’re getting when it comes to these products. Some companies will try to use buzzwords like “clean,” “natural,” or even “organic” in order to trick shoppers into paying more for their items.
In order to avoid products that are only “clean” on the surface, look for brands that are transparent and honest about where their ingredients come from.
Read Product Reviews
Reading reviews can help you spot companies that are taking advantage of buzzwords and mislabelling products. It also helps to learn from other people’s experiences with a product. If you like the sound of it, but aren’t sure about an ingredient, reading reviews will let you know if other people have had good results or bad reactions to that specific ingredient.
Big brands like L’Oreal and Olay have been working hard to offer more natural products in recent years. But when any company says their products are natural, it’s always a good idea to do your research and ask questions if the answers aren’t immediately available.
When in doubt, you can always reach out to the company and ask for more information. They should be happy to answer your questions, and if they’re not, then you know to steer clear of their products.
Look for Sustainability
The packaging of clean beauty products will often make a big fuss about being sustainable, recyclable, and/or biodegradable. These are all good things! Some brands include these attributes in their branding while others choose to use paper that is more eco-friendly or even plant-based containers
Clean + Green Beauty Products
Finding a beauty brand that creates products that are both clean and green is the sweet spot.
These brands make up a smaller percentage of the market because creating these products takes more time and money. However, they’re worth seeking out if you want to reduce your impact on the environment while also receiving skin products that are better for your health.
Here are some of our favorite brands that are both clean and green:
Leahlani Skincare products are also ones that you’ll want to run right out and buy (or at least check out online!). The brand uses ingredients like organic rosehip oil, coconut oil, shea butter, and more while minimizing the number of preservatives and other chemicals which are typically found in cosmetics.
Pai is a clean beauty brand that focuses just as much on the health of your skin as it does on the health of the environment. Their products are all created with natural, organic ingredients and they’re always free from parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, and other chemicals. You can also purchase their products on Amazon.
Clove + Hallow is a brand that creates organic skincare and makeup products using various essential oils and plant extracts. They claim to use only fresh ingredients, which means you won’t see any preservatives or other chemicals in any of their products.
OSEA has found the perfect balance between green beauty and clean beauty. Rather than using hundreds of chemicals in their products, OSEA uses a small group to create high-quality and affordable skincare, and they’re officially Climate Neutral Certified after offsetting and reducing 100% of their carbon footprint in 2020. You can take their free skincare quiz to find out which products will work best for you too! Check out their products on Amazon.
Beauty by Earth puts an emphasis on keeping their products simple and clean. Their products are made with all-natural ingredients that you’ll recognize on the ingredient label, and they’re entirely transparent about the ingredients that they use. Their products are also 100% vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, and Leaping Bunny certified.
100% Pure is one of those brands that I always turn to when I’m in need of a new skincare product because they make products with such great ingredients. Their products are all safe and natural, which means you won’t find any parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, GMOs, or triclosan in any of their products. They have an easy and fast quiz to help you find the best products for your skin too!
Green Beaver is a Canadian company that has been creating and selling natural skincare products since 2002. They carefully choose all of their ingredients to ensure that they’re safe, organic, and free from harsh chemicals.
Earth Mama is a brand that focuses on creating healthy and safe products for pregnant women as well as their babies. They make sure to keep all of their ingredients chemical-free so there’s no risk they’ll irritate your sensitive skin, but it’s also gentle enough on the skin that you can use it when you’re not pregnant too.
(That being said, if you are pregnant, you may want to check out our list of pregnancy-safe makeup!)
Do you have any other favorite clean or green beauty products? Feel free to share them in the comments below!