Ask An Expert·3 min read

The Truth Behind “Clean” Beauty

Woman putting on makeup
February 27, 2024

Almost one out of every three beauty products has a “clean” label on it, according to one report. And while that buzzword can drive sales for beauty brands, it’s not a guarantee that these products are better for your health. “There [is] no criteria to be labeled clean,” says Sophia Reid, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. The same goes for other popular marketing terms like “natural” or “holistic,” she adds. But before you clear out your makeup drawer, Reid says clean beauty still has some redeeming qualities. 


Sophia Reid, MD, FAAD

Sophia Reid, MD, FAAD - A board-certified dermatologist

Is “clean” makeup better for you than regular makeup?

“This clean beauty trend… we love and hate it at the same time,” she says. 

Many clean beauty products are free of parabens and phthalates, Reid says. These chemicals are endocrine disruptors —  which means they may impact hormones in your body by mimicking them, she says. Over time, these hormone issues could lead to changes in fertility, hormone-related cancers, and more. “If we remove these chemicals … then it's going to be more beneficial for our health overall,” Reid says. 

But, “some [clean beauty products] still have the same preservatives found in the non-clean beauty formulations,” says Reid. “We would like to think products that use the term clean are being honest about the production and ingredients in their products, but that’s not always the case,” she adds. 

Plus, even if a product is truly free of parabens and phthalates, the replacement ingredients aren’t always harmless. One example is essential oils. “I see so many people that have reactions to essential oils … they [can] irritate the skin,” says Reid. “And then you go from having one problem to just creating another problem,” she adds. 

Bottom line: “Clean is a start,” says Reid, but don’t place all your trust in marketing terms. She suggests being more diligent about checking labels for ingredients like parabens, especially if you have a family history of certain cancers (like breast, skin, uterine, or hormone-dependent ones) or other related health problems. You can look up specific ingredients to learn more on sites like INCIDecoder or CosIng, a database backed by the European Union.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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