‘Natural’, ‘clean’, ‘chemical free’, ‘non-synthetic’ and ‘non-toxic’ are five phrases you’ll have a hard time avoiding when shopping for beauty products these days. But what exactly do these phrases mean and what is our stance on it?
What is 'Clean Beauty' and what is ‘Clean Washing’?
The term 'clean' first popped up in the 70's when CoverGirl launched their 'clean make-up' range, which was used to market a no-make-up make-up look. Since then the phrase 'clean' didn't pop up again until the mid-2000's with brands starting to coin the term, along with others to describe more natural products. Fast forward to the 2020's where phrases such as 'clean', 'non-toxic', 'chemical free' or 'low-tox' are almost on every shelf when you are shopping beauty brands.
'Clean' and other related phrases often refer to products that are better for people and the planet however there is a wide variety of interpretation around what is clean and what is not. Brands, retailers and customers often don't agree about which ingredients are problematic.
However many people will be surprised to learn that the use of these terms is unregulated, and yet they are used by a myriad of beauty brands to market their products. This further complicates shopping for people who just want to know what’s in the products they are purchasing. These terms play on the fears of customers and shame ingredients that may not be as harmful as marketing claims suggest. This is called ‘clean washing’.
Why is ‘Clean Washing’ Bad?
There are a few issues with ‘clean washing’ by beauty brands:
The first being that not all natural ingredients are good and not all synthetic ingredients are bad. Most of the time synthetic ingredients are used because they are safer, kinder or more effective than natural alternatives.
For example, The Sensitive Type chooses not to use traditional squalene as it is sourced from shark's liver, which is not vegan, is not cruelty free and is also not good for the environment. Instead we use a synthetic sugar cane based squalane which is better for the environment and is vegan too.
The second issue is that everything is a chemical, there is no such thing as a 'chemical free' product. In addition to this, not all chemicals are ‘scary’ or ‘bad’.
If you search the internet you will likely come across a lot of articles titles ‘*Insert scary sounding chemical name* found to be an endocrine disrupter’ however funnily enough, typically you will find that many of these articles are not peer reviewed and are not from a credible source.
For example, would you eat or use a product containing ‘Gamma-Dodecalactone, Ethyl 3-Methylbutanoate or Methional Dimethoxymethane’? If you answered no, you may be upset to find you already have.. These are chemicals naturally present in strawberries. Always remember that everything is a chemical!
The third issue with ‘clean washing’ is that brands are using these phrases to negate their responsibility to be transparent with their customers. While most brands are required by law to share a full ingredients list, a lot of them will make it very hard for you to find out where these ingredients come from and why they are used in products. They hide behind these unregulated marketing terms in the hope that they have scared you enough into purchasing their products, because they are ‘safer’.
Here at The Sensitive Type we overshare when it comes to transparency and our ingredients. We explain why each ingredient is used and where it comes from (if it isn't in the ingredient name). We commit to always being transparent with our customers and wish more businesses will start to join being part of the solution, not part of the problem.
What do you do at The Sensitive Type?
Here at The Sensitive Type we don’t label ourselves as ‘clean’, ‘chemical free’, ‘non-toxic’ or ‘low-tox’ as we find these words extremely problematic and anti-science. Instead we use the term Good for Skin, as our products are made using only the best ingredients for all skin, including sensitive skin.
We create formulas that are effective, gentle and good for skin. We choose to put our energy into promoting transparency and educating our customers, rather than fear mongering and ‘clean washing’.
We are pro-science and do not demonize any ingredients, without good reason (*and no, just because the chemical name sounds scary doesn’t count).
While we do have a list of ingredients we don’t use, they must fall into one of the following categories:
- It isn’t great for sensitive skin
- It is not vegan
- It is bad for the environment and is not sustainable to source
- It is not great for all skin types
- It is a new ingredient or currently there is not enough research that has been conducted on the ingredient for us to be comfortable putting it in our products
Where can I find out more?
We highly recommend following Dr Michele Wong (@Lab Muffin), Julian (@scamander14) and Hannah English (@ms_hannah_e) on Instagram. All three of these amazing people are scientists who share a lot about ‘clean washing', ingredients and new innovations in skincare.