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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
According to EU and FDA regulations, parabens in their current form are officially considered safe to use, especially given the fact that they're included in such small percentages in beauty products. However, a small 2004 study found traces of parabens in breast tumor tissue which built on existing concerns around endocrine disruption and a possible causal relationship with cancer (though much more research needs to be done). Because of the uncertainty around the ingredient, we're keeping it on here as a "maybe," and will be transparent with updates moving forward.
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).
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