Clean Beauty, Green Beauty, Natural Beauty, Organic Beauty, Vegan, Cruelty-Free...what do all these terms mean? We usually box them all into one definition and use the phrases interchangeably. But it's our ignorance that has led to the new marketing trickery: Green-Washing. Companies throw a couple of these terms onto their misleading products and take advantage of our unawareness.
Let's discuss further...
Did you know that the only label that is actually regulated by the government is "USDA Organic." Everything else is almost a free-for-all when it comes to beauty businesses marketing and labeling their products. Luckily, we have non-profit organizations like PETA that provide their own certifications for products fulfilling Vegan and Cruelty-Free requirements. But, brands can actually put their own Cruelty-Free label on their products and we have no proof except their word. Crazy, right?
What's even crazier is the fact that the FDA BARELY monitors the skincare, haircare, fragrance, or cosmetic industries. There are literally only 11 ingredients the FDA has banned from beauty products. The EU has banned 1,300 ingredients! See the complication?
So let's take a deeper dive, define what these terms actually mean, look at the facts, and conclude how we can make skin-safe and ethically-correct purchases.
Natural Beauty is supposed to mean that a product has been composed of ingredients that ONLY come directly from nature itself. This doesn't necessarily mean that the product is good for your skin just because it's "natural." Human skin actually needs a bit of a chemical push when it comes to exfoliation. Also, there are SO MANY "natural" ingredients that are actually BAD for your skin. Lemon, for example, is a huge no-no. Also, the natural beauty movement really demonizes chemicals, which is a bit absurd since in reality...EVERYTHING is literally a chemical. Humans are made up of chemicals. The air, oxygen, is a chemical.
But, the BIGGEST issue with labeling products "natural" is that there is absolutely NO REGULATION on this term. Brands will use 1% green tea extract and call their product line..."natural." See the problem here? This term is definitely one that should be disregarded when reading the packaging on beauty products. First, it's most likely a lie. Second, if it isn't a lie...it probably isn't that great, safe, or functional of a product. Science, labs, chemists, and test-proven results create a good-quality product. Not mushing together a DYI mask from your fruit bowl. This is a solid truth that some of us fail to accept. There are amazing "natural" ingredients like green tea extract and aloe vera out there, but their inclusion into a beauty product should be made by a cosmetic chemist, someone who knows exactly what they are doing.
This simply means that a percentage of ingredients in a product are plant-derived, emphasis on A PERCENTAGE. For example, plants could be used in generating extracts, oils, or highly-processed substances obtained from raw materials. This doesn't necessarily mean all ingredients in the product will be obtained from plants. Also, keep in mind that there are plants that are actually REALLY BAD for your skin. Witch Hazel for example can cause a lot of irritation and dryness in your skin. Aloe Vera on the other hand is amazing at providing anti-inflammatory properties. When it comes to buying plant-based skincare, the key is really knowing your ingredients so that you don't fall for a devious company's gimmicks. Even the big brands will try to pull one on their customers.
If a product is Vegan, it means that it doesn't contain any animal extracts or animal by-products in the ingredients or in the manufacturing process. Vegan products are technically one of the better beauty products out there because they are more ethical, environmentally-friendly, and for some, religion-safe. Humans have exploited enough animals for the food industry. Let's try to leave them out of the more superficial industries. Also, there are a decent amount of people whose religions prohibit them from consuming animal products, like practicing Hindus and Buddhists. Muslims and Jewish people may also lean toward Vegan Beauty since they can't consume pig-based ingredients. Overall, Vegan beauty is a pretty clear road to travel. AEF approves! You just have to look out for the PETA label on your beauty products.
Okay, now let's get into our favorite label! Cruelty-Free basically means that there was no animal testing involved with creating and mass-producing a product. That's simply it. A lot of consumers confuse Cruelty-Fee and Vegan. These two terms have their own separate meanings and it is usually best to look for products that contain BOTH labels. The Cruelty-Free movement has shifted the industry into finding alternative testing routes instead of abusing and torturing our animal friends.
The US government may not regulate or impose cruelty-free standards, but luckily we have non-profit organizations (PETA) that do. Check for the below labels on your beauty products, and HERE is an amazing article on how to spot fake cruelty-free labels!
PETA even provides labeling for products that are both Cruelty-Free and Vegan now!
The Clean Beauty movement actually has a fair share of both supporters and critics. As per Goop, a clean product is "made without ingredients shown or suspected to harm human health." So products that would be free of sulphates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, pesticides, petroleum derivatives, artificial coloring, and synthetic fragrances.
So, isn't this a good thing?
Well, critics like to argue that Clean Beauty brands end up villainizing ingredients that actually have no scientific proof of being harmful to humans, like certain preservatives which lengthen the lifespan of a beauty product and are included in such small percentages that they would have no impact on us. Cosmetic and skincare brands have also started to adapt this label without actually putting clean ingredients in their products to fool customers, so you really have to do your own research since the Clean Beauty label is not regulated at all.
Personally, we prefer the Clean labels on products so we have some type of guarantee that there are no harsh chemicals included in the product. But, how to be sure when the label can be so misleading? The key is to double check the ingredient list. You need to really know your ingredients (at least the major ones) and it's also safer to buy from reputable brands known for sticking to their word. Below is a quick video by Dr. Anthony Youn educating us on the top 5 ingredients to avoid.
Green Beauty and Green-Washing
Green Beauty is a term that keeps getting used interchangeably with Clean Beauty. These two terms are also NOT the same. Clean Beauty is geared towards non-harmful ingredients in your beauty products. Green Beauty is producing products in a manner that is sustainable and environmentally responsible towards the planet. To qualify as truly "Green," these products have to be sourced, produced, and packaged in a an ethical and sustainable manner that is kind to Earth. So when a product claims to be "green," and actually is, it will be packaged in an eco-friendly fashion, like utilizing biodegradable/recycled materials or in glass containers. The packaging is a great clue when it comes to determining if a brand is actually Green.
Now, Green-Washing is a new issue that has emerged because a lot of companies (especially the big ones) like to trick customers into thinking they are "Green" without actually being Green. This is easy to do, because as we have previously mentioned, the FDA doesn't really regulate the cosmetic, skincare, haircare, or fragrance worlds. The biggest advantage that these companies have is unaware consumers that don't know any better, so we must educate ourselves and be aware!
Watch Cassandra Bankson call out some big brands and explain the Green-Washing issue further.
Organic Beauty means that the beauty products in question are made up of organic ingredients. Organic Beauty is also the only claim that is regulated by the US government. The USDA allows three types of organic labeling:
100% Organic - 100% of the product is produced from organic ingredients.
Organic - At least 95% of the product is produced from organic ingredients.
Made With Organic Ingredients - At least 70% of the product is produced from organic ingredients.
Fair Trade beauty products utilize ingredients that have been vetted by a Fair-Trade organization and have proven to follow the below standards:
Treating employees fairly and ethically
Absolutely no child labor
Using sustainable production practices
Minimizing impact on the planet and local communities
Essentially, the biggest goal for Fair-Trade is treating workers ethically and protecting them from exploitation. Sadly, a lot of cosmetic ingredients are still manufactured under horrible working conditions and even utilize child labor. Thankfully, we do have the Fair Trade America organization to help label and regulate Fair-Trade claims. Look for the green and blue Fairtrade Mark when scanning beauty products.
Unfortunately, the beauty industry isn't too big on providing Fair-Trade items so there isn't a lot of misrepresentation or confusion with this label. But Fair-Trade should be another label we also look for on our products. If we all collectively look and press for Fair-Trade items, we will eventually get them. Is your makeup really worth child labor?
As consumers, we really need to be aware and knowledgable in what gets put into the beauty products we purchase. Especially, when there are big-name brands out here that are trying to convince us that a product is Clean, Green, or both when it's really neither (Goodbye, Green-Washing!). The more educated and vigilant we are, the more effort these companies will put into producing their products correctly and ethically. We have to work together, consumer and business, to improve an industry that's not even regulated by the US government.
Do your research and know your ingredients (that impact both your skin and the environment/community)
Read your labels and identify the packaging
Look for the proper labels that are regulated by the government (USDA) or a reputable non-profit organization (PETA)
Purchase only the beauty products that align with your morals and ethics (putting pressure on the industry to DO BETTER)
Below is a quick and fast cheat sheet:
Natural Beauty - Not regulated by government. Need to read ingredient list.
Plant-Based Beauty - Not regulated enough. Need to read ingredient list.
Vegan Beauty - Not regulated by government, but can look for PETA label.
Cruelty-Free Beauty - Not regulated by government, but look for PETA label.
Clean Beauty - Not regulated by government. Need to read ingredient list.
Green Beauty - Not regulated by government. Should buy from open and reputable Green brands. Look for clues like eco-friendly packaging.
Some AMAZING brands we carry that meet high ethical standards:
Harvey Prince Organics, an ingredient-conscious, community-conscious, Organic-certified, Vegan, Cruelty-Free based small business:
Sigma Beauty, a beauty giant built on the foundation of Cruelty-Free + Vegan makeup brushes, and now creates ethically-conscious makeup as well!
We hope that this blog post helped clear some misconceptions and helped you navigate your beauty products with a little more awareness and intention. As one of our favorite skincare influencers, Cassandra Bankson likes to say, "Put your money where your morals are!"