What does “clean” even mean? We break it down!
Clean beauty offers up a growing list of definitions these days. Furthermore, a rising number of brands are often quick to use the term as a marketing hook or catch-all phrase, offering little clarity and further buyer confusion in an already saturated market.
According to The List, the American beauty industry is self-regulated, which means brands can claim their products are clean without inspection. However, the two most important laws pertaining to cosmetics marketed in the United States are the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA)External Link Disclaimer. FDA regulates cosmetics under the authority of these laws. FDA-regulated does not mean FDA-approved. FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market, although we do approve color additives used in them (except coal tar hair dyes). However, under the law, cosmetics must not be "adulterated" or "misbranded." For example, they must be safe for consumers when used according to directions on the label, or in the customary or expected way, and they must be properly labeled. Companies and individuals who market cosmetics have a legal responsibility for the safety and labeling of their products.
The FDA can take action against a cosmetic on the market if we have reliable information showing that it is adulterated or misbranded. FDA takes action within our legal authority, based on public health priorities and available resources.” (Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration.)
A quick Google search defines clean beauty as safe for you without hiding a host of mysterious ingredients that could be bad for your health. Sure, cosmetics should be safe for use, but this is why companies should work with professionally trained cosmetic chemists and toxicologists who understand ingredient safety assessments and dosage (toxicity is the dose!). Companies should also test their products with a Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT) prior to releasing them to the market. Finally, companies should provide a truthful, complete, and well organized ingredient list that complies with INCI (International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient) guidelines on their packaging! It’s about understanding what’s truly in the ingredient profile of a product—and sometimes recognizing if a brand is making a dubious claim using an industry tactic known as greenwashing.
For Codex Beauty Labs, we’re vehemently opposed to greenwashing* and data washing. Our INCI lists are reviewed by our formulator, quality team, and international regulatory compliance bodies when we sell our products outside of the United States. We report our product performance not through ingredient claims but through clinically measured performance metrics in our efficacy panel. To learn more about data washing and understanding the difference between consumer use studies versus clinical data, we invite you to catch our in-depth, personal article on the subject here.
(*this video is wonderful at summarizing feel good actions vs the myths often promoted by beauty marketers.)
Our Founder, Barbara Paldus Ph.D., defines clean beauty as:
- Free from dirt, uncontaminated: the product is manufactured in a cleanroom facility with good manufacturing practices and automation that minimizes human contact; the raw materials are inspected and suppliers are audited for international safety standards; microbial testing of the batch and filled product; an effective preservation system; airless, touchless packaging so that the use of the product doesn’t contaminate it.
- Morally uncontaminated or pure:transparency to the consumer by the company on its performance claims and ingredients; sustainability to preserve clean air and water; efficiency to not use more resources than required; fair product prices to the consumer and fair market prices to suppliers.
With trends like data washing and greenwashing and the unregulated definition of clean beauty, Codex Beauty Labs CEO, Barb Paldus, helped to form the Science Of Beauty Collective, a committee of beauty scientists and entrepreneurs dedicated to establishing unified scientific standards for reporting on product performance and defining confusing terms like “clean.”
Recognized in Beauty Inc’s Issue #45 on March 12, 2021, the Science Of Beauty Collective plans to use science-backed data to refine industry standards for reporting product performance and defining terms like “clean” and “anti-aging” to create transparency, educate consumers, and lead to better industry regulations as a whole. The goal is to bring better products for the consumer that are truly safe for everyone—and the planet—with results that are data-backed and scientifically proven.