Clean Beauty: What Does It All Mean?


The beauty industry has never been one for making purchasing decisions clear or easy; it’s the job of big beauty names to bamboozle customers into believing their jargon, ambiguous terms, marketing claims and erroneous promises. Admittedly over the years I’ve been part of the problem (for nearly a decade it was my job to sell more products,) but through my site I hope to bring a little clarity and information that enables more informed and considered purchases – even if those purchase are for pure indulgence and bypass any rational reasoning. (Nobody needs a sixth naked eyeshadow palette, but sometimes a gal has just got to give in to temptation.)

One of the terms that’s been causing me a metaphorical brain itch for the past few months, and only seems to be gaining pace, is that of ‘clean’ beauty; a term used to theoretically describe a superior, more natural and less chemical enriched product, but a term than has no real value in modern branding. It seems more and more brands are jumping on the ‘clean’ bandwagon and claim to offer their consumers better choices, but thanks to the launch of Victoria Beckham Beauty this ambiguous term is once again top of the beauty agenda and bringing with it more confusion than ever. (FYI ‘Clean’ is a buzzword used throughout her branding and comms, but there’s little explanation of what that actually means and why her products are ‘cleaner’ than others.)

As we all become more conscious consumers, trying to make better choices for our bodies and the world around us, it’s no surprise that the UK beauty and wellbeing market is at an all time high; we’re questioning brands practices, asking for change and speaking with our wallets in order to make a difference before it’s too late. But what does that mean for clean beauty? Is this a concept you should be aware of and supporting, or is it just another marketing fad designed to get you to buy more of what you don’t need?

Clean Beauty: What Does It All Mean?

In a similar vein to ‘natural’ and ‘green’ beauty, clean beauty has no standardized classification and can mean any number of different things to different people. It’s been used to describe products free from ‘toxic chemicals’, to pinpoint brands making an effort to be more sustainable, to highlight more natural or organic formulas (which also is a vague term – you can read more here on what organic beauty really means!) or simply to clean-wash a brand that may not have another unique selling point.

In a nutshell, it means very little.

Brands that claim to be ‘free from toxic chemicals’ are mostly saying that they’ve not put anything classified as toxic (and therefore banned) in their products; it’s like saying your pizza is free from baked beans, because you never would’ve put baked beans on it anyway. Those that claim ‘free from’ often do so to prove their more superior, but the ingredients they’re free from are nothing to be concerned or worried about (unless you’re pregnant, allergic, undergoing treatment etc) and there’s little evidence to say otherwise. Drunk Elephant and your ‘suspicious six’, I’m looking at you…

Even the word ‘chemical’ is used as a scare tactic, but ALL ingredients are chemical and there’s absolutely no reason why anyone should be scared of using anything other than tree bark and a freshly picked herbs from your garden. If you’re prone to irritation, have sensitive skin or just want to take a more stripped back approach to your regime then you do you – but don’t feel forced into adopting ‘clean beauty’ just because it’s on-trend.

Clean Beauty: What Does It All Mean?

It may have started with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and her woowoo brand Goop, but this term has now filtered down to the masses with everyone from Sephora to Holland & Barratt offering clean edits and recommendations. You may expect names including Farmacy, Weleda and Pai to start embracing the term, but even Look Fantastic and Space NK have a ‘shop the trend’ page for clean beauty, while Feel Unique has a clean beauty box of products that are ‘better for you and the environment’.

Like with the natural and mineral trends of years passed, clean beauty is sure to be adopted by everyone in the coming months as a way of showing their superior and more in-touch with the changing global needs than their competitors. But in my opinion, it’s mostly a load of hot air with very little substance.

Clean Beauty: What Does It All Mean?

Honestly, do your own research and decide what’s most important for you. Do you want to support brands reducing their plastic consumption, doing more to becoming sustainable and offering farmers a fair price? Great. Do you want to buy from brands who don’t use certain ingredients, who stick to more organic formulas or keep things stripped back and simple? Good for you. It’s vital that you make up your own mind and buy from the brands you want to support, rather than just buying into another fad that translates into very little – both to you and the environment.

Clean beauty is ambiguous and confusing, but it does encompass some brands that are actually amazing and offer some really fabulous products…

REN are making efforts to go plastic free in the not too distant future, while they’re already using ocean plastic in some of their products to reduce their negative environmental impact.

The Burt’s Bees Foundation has issued over $3.5 million in grants to support the health and biodiversity of the honeybee, vital to the planet’s crop pollination, while their employees donate over 2500 volunteer hours annually to support community partners.

Aveda use packaging derived from plants, as well as post-consumer recycled material, support local communities and charities through their annual Light The Way candle and even commit to using solar energy throughout the business.

Antipodes is certified organic, created using sustainable farming methods and only the best crop to ensure potent skincare that really delivers.

Beauty Kitchen are a brand proving you can do things differently, no matter your size. They use minimised packaging, rock paper labels and compostable solutions to make their packaging the most sustainable it can be, donate 2% of sales to charity partners (including The Plastic Soup Foundation and The Seahorse Trust,) and even have refillable stations in their stores.

Balance Me products contain beautiful naturally derived ingredients designed to be non-irritating and suited to sensitive skin, their card cartons are harvested only from sustainable and well-managed forests, while biodegradable chips are used to ship online orders.

UpCircle is an amazing new body scrub brand that’s made using recycled ground coffee from artisan coffee shops, reducing waste while putting it to great use.

A brand set to make waves, Ethique is a plastic-free solid cosmetics company that’s also cruelty-free, vegan, pal-oil free and sustainable – while using less water and space in the production, shipping and storage of their fab bars.

And that’s just scraping the surface. Suffice to say there are SO many incredible things happening in the world of beauty, and the majority are authentically trying to make a difference without jumping on the bandwagon of new terminology. Whether you want to go ‘clean’ is personal choice, but the term is open to so much interpretation it’s worth putting your cynical hat on and doing your due diligence.

What are your feelings towards ‘clean beauty’?




  1. Adele Halsall
    October 10, 2019 / 10:15 am

    Thanks for writing this really important post Hayley. It’s great to see more beauty bloggers like yourself talking about this really important issue!

    I totally agree that ‘clean beauty’ is just another marketing term with very little substance, which many huge beauty corporates are using to mislead their audiences. It’s up tp us to put our detective hat on and do a little research before deciding to purchase from a company.

    For me, ‘clean’ beauty means using as many ingredients as close to nature as possible (so names of items I clearly recognise, with few synthetics); preferably organic (which means at least 95% organic ingredients to be labelled as such) and with recyclable or biodegradable packaging that causes as little waste as possible (this last one is very hard to find).

    Above all, when researching I am most concerned with the actual ingredients used and what will be going into my skin. I first look for products that are vegan & cruelty free, with my second priority being natural/organic ingredients. Packaging is important to me but comes third in my list of priorities.

    • hayleyhalluk
      October 10, 2019 / 10:37 am

      I find it so frustrating when brands use these terms with no explanation – and consumers just eat them up without question. We should all be asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ more often so we can make decisions that are right for us.

      And thank you for sharing your interpretation of clean beauty! It’s really interesting to see.

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