Wellness·4 min read

theSkimm on if 'Clean Beauty' is Good for the Environment

theSkimm on if 'Clean Beauty' is Good for the Environment
Lara Antal
Apr 1, 2021

The Story 
Beauty is a multi-billion dollar industry. But between all the buzzwords, it can be tricky to navigate the impact your routine has on the environment. We're here to help. 

What is clean beauty?
Depends who you ask. “Clean,” in the broadest sense, means free of harmful chemicals. This usually favors natural ingredients but can incorporate synthetics that aren’t necessarily controversial. There are a lot of different opinions over which ingredients are good versus evil. It doesn’t help that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t technically need to approve cosmetic products before they’re available for purchase. The FDA has banned just 11 additives in cosmetic products, compared to the more than 1,300 ingredients nixed in the EU. 

So who’s making the rules here? 
Beauty brands. Because clean beauty is apparently in the eye of the beholder. Some brands use third party certifications to give them a stamp of approval. EWG Verified — a mark used by brands like Saie, Beautycounter, Juice Beauty, and W3LL PEOPLE — means that products meet transparency standards and avoid chemicals on the organization’s ‘unacceptable’ list. Last year, Revlon unveiled its first product, a skin primer, to meet EWG’s standards. Other brands like Tata Harper have an “ECOCERT” certification, or approval from a French organic and environmental inspection agency. C’est clean (Emily would be so proud). 

What about “green” or “organic” beauty? 
A lot of buzzwords get thrown around. Here’s a look at WTF some of these terms actually mean. 

  • Clean…Products that favor natural ingredients but may include non-harmful chemicals, too. 

  • Natural...While ‘natural’ isn’t an official designation, if it says ‘all natural,’ it probably means synthetic chemicals aren’t invited to the party. 

  • Green...An umbrella term that’s used generally to describe products that cause less harm to the environment than comparable items. Like “clean” and “natural,” there’s no hard-and-fast rule on which products can be labeled or marketed this way. “Green” is sometimes used interchangeably with “sustainable.” 

  • Organic...The one with the seal of approval. Products made with at least 95 percent organic matter will have an official USDA organic seal. GMOs need not apply. 

So clean beauty isn’t necessarily good for Mother Nature? 
Nope. Just because a product doesn’t contain chemicals that will harm you, doesn’t mean the product won’t harm the environment. Plus, buying more products means more packaging. And more packaging is usually the opposite of environmentally friendly. But there are ways to check yourself before you wreck the planet.  

How do I make my routine more sustainable? 
Here are some steps towards a greener medicine cabinet: 

  • Refillable products...One and done is in the rearview. Check to see if your favorite products come in refillable versions. So many of your faves — including deodorant, lipsticks, and shampoos — can be refilled instead of buying a whole new product. Products will have their specific instructions, but this is often done by sending the packaging back to a company and getting your fill of seconds. Bonus: some companies offer discounts for refills — but that's more popular across the pond.

  • Waterless beauty…It probably won’t come as a surprise that water shortages are a threat to human and environmental health. According to the United Nations, over two billion people now live in countries experiencing water stress. And by 2030, 700 million people could be displaced by water shortages. Enter: waterless beauty, a movement towards using zero water in products (many of which use water as a filler). And less filler = less product that needs to be packaged. Look for things like dry shampoo, shampoo bars, and powder masks and scrubs. Oh, and turn off the faucet while you’re applying products to your face already.  

  • Reusable wipes…Single-use makeup wipes reportedly take years to break down in a landfill, and most of their materials aren’t biodegradable. Reusable versions are way better for the planet, and get the job done just as well. Or level up with black hand towels. No stain, all the (environmental) gain. 

  • Recyclable packaging…You’re not exactly doing the earth a favor by buying more stuff, just in recyclable packaging. But if you’re going to replace a product that’s not refillable, it’s better than nothing. If the packaging is plastic and there’s a recycling symbol, check which number it is and make sure it’s blue bin friendly (this can depend on recycling guidelines where you live). We Skimm'd your life in plastic here.

Clean and sustainable beauty are “trends” that aren’t going away anytime soon. Getting informed about how your choices affect the planet is time well spent. 

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