Notes From Us on Eco Beauty The Byrdie Clean Beauty Pledge 2022 Eco Beauty Awards
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The Byrdie Clean Beauty Pledge

Clean beauty. In the beauty world, that phrase seems to get more popular by the day—some might even call it the industry's biggest trend du jour. At Byrdie, we think sustainable practices and clean ingredients should be more than just a fleeting trend or catchy phrase to market towards ingredient-conscious shoppers. That's why we're clearing up some of the murky messaging around how we talk about clean beauty, so you can trust that when we say a product is clean, you'll know exactly what we mean. The goal? For all of us to be more knowledgeable, savvy and eco-conscious beauty consumers (and we'll be the first to admit that we're right there learning with you).

First things first: The most important thing to note is that a brand can say their product is clean, natural, and organic when it's actually not (the truth is, "clean" is a word that doesn't have one set definition in the beauty space; we're trying to change that). Until more stringent rules are applied towards what brands can and can't say their products are, the next best thing is to be your own best educator.

Our Clean Beauty Requirements

In that vein, we're pledging to only describe a product as "clean" in our editorial coverage if it doesn't contain the below ingredients.

Quaternium-15 and Other Formaldehydes and Formaldehyde-Releasing Agents

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and is linked to respiratory problems, among other health issues.


Believed to be endocrine disrupters, phthalates can lead to a slew of hormonal health problems.

Petroleum Distillates

Paraffin wax and liquid paraffin are petroleum distillation byproducts. There's concern around how they're sourced and possible contamination with PAHs, which are a known carcinogen.


Aside from being a possible endocrine disruptor, this common SPF ingredient was just banned in Hawaii because it has been shown to cause harm to coral reefs.

Coal Tar

A byproduct of coal processing that is a known carcinogen.


This common ingredient in heavy-duty skin-brightening products has a murky history, with some countries banning it for potential carcinogenicity.

Triclosan and Triclocarban

There is some evidence that triclosan, triclocarban, and other chemicals can disrupt hormone cycles and cause muscle weakness. Plus, the FDA banned them from antibacterial soaps in 2016.


A toxic ingredient found commonly in nail products and hair dyes.


Metals such as lead have been linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity. Lead has been proven to be a neurotoxin.

Selenium Sulfide

This ingredient has been banned in the EU and Japan because of concerns regarding toxicity and harmfulness for consumers and the environment. The FDA has not found selenium sulfide to be dangerous in small amounts, and it’s legal over the counter in concentrations of 1% or less.

BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene)

Common preservatives linked to skin irritation and hormone disruption.

Ethanolamines (Triethanolamine, Diethanolamine, DEA, TEA)

The European Commission prohibits DEA in cosmetics. There are concerns about the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone

Both of these ingredients have been associated with dermatitis and allergic reactions.

PEGs and PEG compounds

An acronym for polyethylene glycol, this slightly controversial ingredient is typically considered safe for use in cosmetics overall. However, we're adding this as a "maybe" to our list because the process of making PEGs involves ethoxylation, which produces 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct. According to the National Toxicology Program, “1,4-dioxane is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” We consider this a safe ingredient to include if the company can confirm the contaminants have been stripped (if it's EWG Verified, then you can trust it's good to go).

Consider this our clean beauty pledge; a promise from all of us at Team Byrdie that when we say a beauty product is "clean," you can take our word for it. And since there's new research coming out on the daily, this list might change. It's the nature of the industry, and we're keeping close tabs on new studies to make sure we're keeping this list up-to-date. As writers and editors, we know the power a single word can hold, and we want to highlight the brands and companies that are truly making an effort to create products that won't harm our bodies (or the environment).

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Hlisníková H, Petrovičová I, Kolena B, Šidlovská M, Sirotkin A. Effects and Mechanisms of Phthalates' Action on reproductive Processes and Reproductive Health: A Literature Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(18):6811. doi:10.3390/ijerph17186811

  3. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Chemical Agents and Related Occupations. Lyon (FR): International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2012.

  4. Suh S, Pham C, Smith J, Mesinkovska NA. The Banned Sunscreen Ingredients and Their Impact on Human Health: A Systematic Review. Int J Dermatol. 2020;59(9):1033-1042. doi:10.1111/ijd.14824

  5. National Cancer Institute. Coal Tar and Coal Tar Pitch. Updated December 28, 2018.

  6. Owolabi JO, Fabiyi OS, Adelakin LA, Ekwerike MC. Effects of skin lightening cream agents - hydroquinone and kojic acid, on the skin of adult female experimental rats. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020;13:283-289. doi:10.2147/CCID.S233185

  7. Weatherly LM, Gosse JA. Triclosan Exposure, Transformation, and Human Health Effects. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2017;20(8):447-469. doi:10.1080/10937404.2017.1399306

  8. Kopelovich L, Perez AL, Jacobs N, Mendelsohn E, Keenan JJ. Screening-level Human Health Risk Assessment of Toluene and Dibutyl Phthalate in Nail Lacquers. Food Chem Toxicol. 2015;81:46-53. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2015.04.011

  9. Mason LH, Harp JP, Han DY. Pb neurotoxicity: neuropsychological effects of lead toxicity. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:840547. doi:10.1155/2014/840547

  10. National Toxicology Program. Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition.

  11. Pop A, Kiss B, Loghin F. Endocrine Disrupting Effects of Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA - E320). Clujul Med. 2013;86(1):16-20.

  12. Scherrer MA, Rocha VB, Andrade AR. Contact Dermatitis to Methylisothiazolinone. An Bras Dermatol. 2015;90(6):912-914. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153992

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