What is clean beauty and what does it mean for us?

What is clean beauty and what does it mean for us?
There isn’t a secure definition of clean beauty.

Words like ‘natural’, ‘green’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ can be connected to the concept.

However, without a standard, it can be ambiguous and open to misuse. In addition, chemical free doesn’t apply because all beauty product ingredients are derived from chemicals, either from nature or man-made (Burney. E). The natural cosmetics industry is thriving, but it is an unregulated sector. Consumers have no way to know whether a natural product contains ingredients which align with the natural ethos. This is predominantly true when it comes to companies marketing and ‘greenwashing’ their products (Goop). Greenwashing describes brands making deliberately misleading and unsubstantiated claims in order to trick the consumer into thinking that the brand is more environmentally friendly than it actually is (Winter. L). The words ‘natural’, ‘green’, ‘eco’, etc have no enforceable definition. So, what’s displayed on the front of some products doesn’t always match the label on the back (Goop).

A report released recently by the British Soil Association described how mindful consumerism has pushed the UK organic beauty and wellbeing market to an unprecedented high. The British Soil Association is a UK charity working across the spectrum of human health, the environment and animal welfare. Soil is needed to sustain life, but are degrading at an alarming rate. Part of the British Soil Association’s role is to implement certifications to reduce the degradation and contamination (Soil Association). The number of beauty products in Europe certified with Soil Association COSMOS doubled last year. COSMOS is a result of the growing demand for certified organic beauty worldwide (Burney. E). The British Soil Association teamed up with four other organisations (BDIH in Germany, Cosmebio and Ecocert in France and ICEA in Italy) to develop the standard for organic and natural cosmetics. COSMOS ensures that products are formed in the most sustainable and environmental way. In addition, marketing messages are reviewed for consumer clarity. Other certifications to look out for are USDA, NaTrue, EWG and Demeter (Soil Association).

Groundsure offer a wide range of reports which contain information on land contamination. Please browse our product selection for more information.

Why the clean beauty boom?

Two things have driven this change. Firstly, a public obsession with wellness and detoxification, building interest and demand in diet and clean eating as well as in beauty products with clean ingredients as advocated by Gwyneth Paltrow’s company Goop. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about potential irritations caused by man made fragrances and preservatives. Therefore, customers are reading labels much more carefully. The second thing is the growth in sensitive skin. Exposure to pollution, stress and digital aggressors are leading to a growth in sensitive skin, as reported by dermatologists (Burney. E). According to the Environmental Working Group, women are exposed to a daily average of 168 chemicals from cosmetics, food, cleaning products and pollution (twice as many as men). Some of these chemicals are harmless. However, other chemicals are hormone disruptors, carcinogens and neurotoxins and there is concern that these chemicals may be related to increased rates in reproductive issues and cancer among women. This is leading towards a shift for caring for skin with natural ingredients. (Westervelt. A).

How do we know what ingredients are toxic? The official toxicity of an ingredient depends on where you are in the world. The EU has banned more than 1300 ingredients from cosmetics. However, if you live in the United States only 30 ingredients are banned. Therefore, the clean beauty industry has made its own rules. Clean beauty advocates are concerned with aggressive ingredients and synthetic chemicals. Anything over 1 per cent must appear on the label, starting with the highest percentage ingredient. However, ingredients under 1 per cent can be in any order on the label and brands change the order to protect formulations from competitors (Burney. E).

Looking for natural beauty products

When shopping (if the products you buy don’t have the aforementioned accreditations) look for those free from key synthetic ingredients such as parabens, petrochemicals, petroleum-based compounds (PEGs), silicones, sodium laureth or lauryl sulphate, phthalates, propylene and man-made fragrance (Burke. I). Fragrance as an ingredient should ring an alarm bell, as it shows the company of the product doesn’t want to show what the fragrance comprises (Goop). When it comes to sunscreen, the active ingredients should only include titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Chemical sunscreens are irritating to the skin and some chemicals have been linked to hormone disruption (Bricknell. S.). Hormone disruptors are of concern because they can alter the production levels of our hormones and the way they behave. As mentioned above, they have been linked to severe, long-term health damage including reproductive issues, metabolic problems, birth defects and cancer (Goop).

What’s the difference between natural and organic? Natural products are minimally processed and comprise ingredients from plants and nature. Organic products take natural a step further. They are made with non-GMO ingredients that have been raised, harvested, manufactured and preserved without chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or antibiotics and therefore these products have fewer contaminants. It’s been pointed out the phrase ‘derived from’ on labels should be avoided by the consumer, as it indicates that something was done to the natural ingredient leading it to no longer be natural. Not processing the natural ingredients allows the plants’ natural healing properties, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to remain active (Burney. E).

Products can also be vegan (or not). A true vegan product doesn’t contain any ingredients derived from animals. That includes honey, collagen and gelatin etc. Vegan beauty products launches rose by nearly 200% between 2013 and 2018. This is because vegan consumers want to align their beauty routine with the rest of their lifestyle. Vegan accreditations to look out for are PETA, The Vegan Society and the Leaping Bunny (Burney. E).
None the wiser? To keep in the know, you can download barcode scanning apps (such as Skin Deep, Skin Ninja, Clean Beauty and Think Dirty) to see how clean your products ingredients are (Burney. E).

Beauty for the planet

Your product choices have an environmental impact. In 2018, the annual campaign Zero Waste Week reported that 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, most of which cannot be recycled and therefore can end up in landfill. Even certified organic skincare brands admit eco packaging is a challenge. Packaging options that are sustainable that also look luxurious are difficult to source. Glass is a great option for packaging as it can be reused and recycled many times. However, plastics can be eco-friendly. Plastic resin can be derived from corn instead of petroleum, which means it is made from a renewable source and soy-based ink can be used for printing (Burney. E).

Groundsure offer a wide range of reports which contain active and historical landfill data from authoritative sources, including the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, British Geological Survey (BGS), Local Authorities and historical Ordnance Survey mapping. Please browse our product selection for more information.


Bricknell. S. 2019. 7 Zinc Oxide Sunscreens, Recommended by Dermatologists. Health.com. 18th September 2019. <https://www.health.com/beauty/best-zinc-oxide-sunscreen>

Burke. I. 2016. How skincare got clean: the best paraben-free brands to buy into now. The Telegraph. 18th September 2019. <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/skin/how-skincare-got-clean-the-best-paraben-free-brands-to-buy-into/>

Burney. E. 2019. Clean Beauty: Everything you need to know. Vogue. 3rd September 2019. < https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/clean-beauty-guide>

Goop. 2019. Clean Beauty-and why it’s important. Goop. 6th September 2019. < https://goop.com/beauty/personal-care/clean-beauty-and-why-its-important/>

Soil Association. 2019. What is Certification? Soil Association. 3rd September 2019.< https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/beauty-wellbeing/what-is-certification/>

Winter. L. 2019. What does clean even mean when it comes to organic beauty? Glamour. 6th September 2019. < https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/what-is-clean-beauty>

Westervelt. A. 2015. Not so pretty: women apply an average of 168 chemicals every day. The Guardian. 18th September 2019. <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/30/fda-cosmetics-health-nih-epa-environmental-working-group>

Back to Groundblog


Oct 21, 2019

Jennifer Thomas