Greenwashing: The Truth Behind "Clean" and "Natural" Beauty

Conscious consumers are popping up everywhere nowadays. People want to be more well read on the products they are consuming — what exactly they are putting into and on their bodies, and where it came from. Seems like a generally good thing right? Well, not always.

The demand for “clean” beauty products has grown exponentially in the past couple of years. According to NPD Group, a market research firm, within the beauty market, skin-care labels claiming to be “natural” grew 14 percent year-over-year in 2019, and brands labeled “clean” grew 39 percent.

While it’s great that people are striving for a healthier, more eco-conscious lifestyle, lots of clothing, skin care, makeup, and hair care brands are taking advantage of this phenomenon to market their products. Most companies are looking to meet a sales goal, and they’ll often betray their customers’ trust in order to do so.

Brands put labels on their products that make a lot of different claims in an attempt to try to make their products seem like the best choice amongst other care products. In reality these labels: clean, natural, non-toxic, so on and so forth, don’t really mean anything. There is no regulation over how these terms are used or the ingredients they can and can’t contain. This phenomenon is known as green-washing, and it’s all the rage nowadays.

Good marketing is easy to fall for, that’s what makes it good marketing. So if you really want to be a smart shopper, keep reading to find out how brands are tricking their customers, and what to really look out for in your beauty products.

Green-Washing Labels you May See

Clean - Clean is probably the label you’ll see the most often. It’s a smart marketing tactic; why buy the average run of the mill “dirty” skin care products packed with harmful ingredients when you could opt for something claiming to be “clean.” But what does clean mean? It’s a vague enough label to trick consumers, but in reality it means nothing at all. There’s no regulation or limitations of what ingredients products labeled “clean” can use, so really anyone can throw their creams and cleansers in a pretty green bottle and call it clean.

(And, yes, we know, clean is a part of our name, but we adopted that over 20 years ago before clean marketing was just a tricky trend)

Natural - Another one that means…. nothing. When we hear “natural” we think nature, and there’s no way nature can harm our skin right? Wrong.

First of all, all ingredients have to undergo some type of synthetic processing to be cosmetic grade so nothing is 100% natural. And second, not everything that comes from nature is good for hair and skin. If some Pinterest post suggests making your own face mask from organic honey, sugar, and lemon because it’s “natural,” maybe close out that page and start shopping for dermatologist tested skin care products that may include some synthetic ingredients (don’t be afraid) instead.

At Cleure, when we say natural, we mean that our ingredients are derived from naturally occurring sources that are vegan, locally sourced, and any derivatives from plants come from non-GMO plants.

Chemical-Free - A chemical is any substance consisting of matter. So basically everything. Air is a chemical, water is a chemical, and everything on your skincare shelf is composed of chemicals. Unless someone is trying to sell you electricity, light, or heat in a bottle, then there’s no way it’s chemical free.

The word chemical has a negative connotation that evokes thought of dangerous or poisonous substances, but we are all made of chemicals and so is every “chemical-free” product you’re being tricked into buying.

Preservative Free - If you truly had a product that was preservative free, it would go rancid after a day or two of sitting on your shelf. Preservatives are necessary and while not all preservatives are created equal, you shouldn’t seek out preservative free products unless you're looking to rub bacteria and mold on your face.

Non-Toxic - In the same way it’s impossible to be chemical-free, products can’t be non-toxic. In large enough quantities, everything can be toxic.

Organic - This one does have some validity to it. In order to be USDA certified organic a product must contain at least 95% organically produced (grown without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or other artificial agents) ingredients.

However just because something is organic does not mean it’s a good ingredient for your skin. Some ingredients, no matter how pure and untainted, are not well suited for our delicate skin, and they can cause irritation as well as allergic reactions.

Organic cinnamon and citrus fruits may be a great addition to your breakfast but you never want to put those ingredients on your face.

Are there any skin care ingredients that should be avoided?

There are some ingredients that have been shown to be common irritants. Things like artificial dyes and fragrances, essential oils, sodium lauryl sulfate, and simple alcohols, are all linked to irritation and dryness, specifically for those with sensitive skin and allergies.

Since labeling is so tricky, it’s in the hand of conscious consumers to do research and actually read ingredient labels, and find out what each ingredient does. Just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient doesn’t necessarily mean it will harm you, and even the most natural plant based ingredients can cause breakouts, allergic reactions, and irritation. For more in depth information on beauty ingredients you can check out EWG for ingredient information and a safety rating, all backed up by scientific research.

If just reading about product ingredients isn’t enough, and you really want to be smart about what you’re buying, your best bet is talking to a dermatologist to find out your specific skin care needs and seeing what products they’d recommend and ingredients you should avoid for your skin type. Don’t, however, fall for false marketing, and just pick up any bottle that claims to be clean.

Our Cleure Promise

While clean does make up part of our name, it’s not a false marketing ploy but more of a testament to what it will do to your skin and hair. At Cleure we will always strive for ingredients with intention. That means we do our absolute best to formulate our products using ingredients that are dermatologist approved and designed to provide results for as many people as possible (though it’s unfortunately impossible for us to meet everyone’s needs). We leave out anything that has a track record of being irritating to sensitive skin, and use only locally sourced ingredients.

We’re working on ridding our brand of any vague marketing terms and being completely transparent so our customers know what exactly they’ll be getting when they invest in our products.

Check out our ingredient glossary for descriptions of what exactly is in Cleure’s bottles, tubes, and jars so you can be confident about what you’re buying.