There’s No Official Definition For The Term “Clean Beauty,” But Here’s What It Means To Beauty Brands

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 24 brand founders and executives: What does the term “clean beauty” mean to your brand?

Lisa Brill Founder, Qēt Botanicals

The term "clean" has evolved in the beauty industry to encompass so much more than just using healthy and wholesome ingredients. To us, being a clean brand means using zero synthetics and avoiding even the "clean" or "safe" synthetics. More than that, it's also about how and where we source each ingredient. It's about the vessels and packaging that we use. It's about the carbon footprint that we leave behind, and it's how we feel when we use truly clean treatments.

We should feel safe when we use clean products, and we should know that our surroundings are not affected negatively by each purchase or formula we share. We've always believed in using only safe, authentic and recognizable plant elements. Just like achieving better health by avoiding processed foods and artificial foods, our skin and overall well-being can also improve when we rely on the antioxidants and vitamins that the plant world shares with us. Our ingredients are sustainably grown and come from the dirt, and it really doesn't get any cleaner than that.

Miriam AlDainy Founder, Niema Beauty

"Clean beauty" means giving our customers products that are 100% safe and nontoxic. We work hard to make sure every one of our ingredients is concentrated for the highest possible efficacy. We also always promise to provide transparent labeling of all our ingredients. The philosophy at Niema Beauty is less is more: strictly organic, natural and clean.

Yi-Jen Co-Founder, Puriya

We view the term “clean” as part of our core philosophy rather than our made-without list on the back of the label. We believe that nature knows best and that the complex intelligence found within plants can never be synthesized in a lab.

Clean means no compromising, celebrating the beauty of nature, embracing simplicity, and being conscious of what we put in and on our bodies. It’s a lifestyle focused on truth and living in tune with nature. It’s one of our core values that goes into every phase of our product development. Clean is part of our mindset and infused in everything we do, from plant sourcing to providing honest information to our customers.  To us, it means being aligned with ourselves and the earth.

Allison Moss Founder, Type: A

Being “clean” means we set the highest bar for safety versus being “all-natural.” We don’t focus on just using all-natural ingredients. We embrace safe synthetics as well and use a mix of natural and safe synthetic ingredients, screening every ingredient in every one of our formulas. Our team works with third parties to certify our safety and level of clean like EWG (Environmental Working Group) and partnering with standard-setting clean beauty retailers like Credo. Additionally, we work with Mia Davis, director of mission at Credo and a member of our board here at Type:A, to vet every ingredient for safety.

Annabella Joy Founder, Blessed Beauty

At Blessed Beauty, our products are “clean” in that we do not use known toxic ingredients such as parabens, talc, phthalates, mineral oil, fragrances, BPAs, PEGs, formaldehyde or phenoxyethanol. We formulate our products without these ingredients because we believe that beauty products should be safe, not toxic.

Rachel James Founder, Pear Nova

"Clean" means working to update our formula as the beauty industry progresses as a whole so that our efforts are never-ending. Currently, for Pear Nova, "clean" means that our nail shades contain no toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, phthalates, parabens, animal byproducts or fragrance.

Evonna Kuehner Founder, Anové

At Anové, "clean" means a couple of different things to us. First and foremost, the ingredients we use are sustainably sourced, and we refrain from using any harsh chemicals. We try to avoid the term “nontoxic” simply because we don’t believe anyone formulates with the intention of creating a truly toxic product.

The second meaning behind the term “clean” for us is more aligned with the traditional meaning of the word and is highlighted in our approach to how we prep our primary packaging before it’s filled with any product. All of our bottles and jars go through a three-step cleaning process so that we ensure our customers and community are receiving products that are not only safe to use, but are completely free of contamination.

Kailey Bradt Founder and CEO, Susteau

At Susteau, we define “clean” as safe beauty. It’s that simple. Safety is something that is measurable and quantifiable and can be accounted for. A few years back, we thought sustainable beauty, natural beauty, and clean products all meant we had to compromise the efficacy and performance of those products. Now, with innovations in raw materials and formulations, these products are performing as well as, if not better than, the “dirty” conventional formulas. The category of “clean” hair seems to have been trailing behind skincare and color cosmetics, but hair is about to have its moment.

Our approach to beauty encourages consumers to rethink what personal care looks like while challenging the industry to be more transparent when it comes to ingredients and sustainability.

Brian Oh Founder and CEO, Venn

At Venn, we believe that the term “clean” is not just about using safe, nontoxic ingredients, but also making sure the ingredients are sustainably sourced and reducing non recyclable waste. Our ingredient and packaging suppliers are very aware of the rising importance of sustainability. Our brand DNA is the intersection of science, nature and lifestyle, meaning that our product formulations are rooted in science and activated by nature.

Diana Schneider Co-Founder, Bella Skin Beauty

At Bella Skin Beauty, “clean” means formulating our products with ingredients that come directly from nature. Skin is our largest organ, and it’s important that we prioritize taking care of it through clean, conscious choices. It’s no different than eating a healthy diet, and that is how we approach every formulation. For us, it’s more than just avoiding the top 10 or 15 ingredients that can be found on “dirty" ingredient lists. The intention behind our brand is to offer intricate formulations with ingredients that have been used by people all over the world for centuries.

Rosie Jane Johnston Founder, By Rosie Jane

As one of the original clean fragrance brands, we’ve been pushing for transparency from day one because we believe that brands and customers have a right to know what they're using on their skin and breathing in every day. We were actually one of the first fragrance brands to ever disclose our full list of ingredients on our website and packaging. Being clean to us means that our products are free of parabens, phthalates, BHT [and] PCMs, and do not contain any hormone disruptors. We believe our customers deserve to know what types of fragrances are in our products in case they are sensitive to certain chemicals in fragrance, which happens often. And we’re not just committed to crafting clean fragrance—for us, clean extends beyond just ingredients. We work hard to reduce the impact our products have on the planet and take extra precautions when sourcing ingredients. We carry this philosophy into our packing and shipping as well.

Kiku Chaudhuri Co-Founder, Shaz & Kiks

We consider ourselves a “clean” beauty brand and, for us, that means formulating accordingly to EU guidelines. We do not use the 1,300 ingredients on their ban list. There is still no standard definition of "clean" in the U.S., and that's definitely something we are passionate about changing. We also prioritize education, data and transparency over marketing terminology. We believe that our sourcing, ingredient and product development process define our company. Our formulas are primarily plant-based, but we also use safe synthetics that are very much needed to keep our products and our customers safe. Even when using natural ingredients, we make sure they synergistically work together to be efficacious. It’s not just mixing plant ingredients together! For us, being a "clean" brand means holistically looking at the standards, efficacy, and benefits of our ingredients and formulas.

Julie Chon Founder, Knours

At Knours, we believe that transparency is key and knowledge is power when it comes to purchasing dependable, effective skincare. We define “clean” as products that are nontoxic, safe during even the most sensitive of cycles [and] hormone-conscious. [We] go the extra mile to get our products EWG-verified. We formulate using only the safest green-grade ingredients verified by EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and proudly bear the EWG-verified mark on all of our products to display our commitment to 100% clean skincare. Our no-no list is strict and particular to avoid any ingredients with risk of toxicity or ones that trigger hormonal shifts during the three M’s of life: menstruation, maternity and menopause. Knours is committed to 100% transparency when it comes to our formulas and provides full ingredient lists for all of our products.

Alex McIntosh CEO and Co-Founder, Thrive Natural Care

"Clean beauty" is a great philosophy, but it's in danger of getting watered down by some brands—large and small—that are looking for the clean halo without having to do the hard work behind it. I believe the key is to think holistically about clean. Clean is about more than what ingredients we use/don’t use in our products and how we communicate those choices.

Clean is also, importantly, about how the ingredients are sourced. Thrive’s regenerative model is proof that, if a brand thinks and operates around this holistic concept of clean, a company can not only create products that are healthier and more effective, but the company’s ingredient sourcing itself can help make lands and communities healthier over time. My team of American and Costa Rican skincare experts, ethnobotanists, rural farmers and entrepreneurs is really obsessed with this approach. Additionally, as a mission-driven brand, I’m excited to see some of Thrive’s peers also pushing the envelope to include not only clean ingredients, but also clean, positive-impact sourcing.

Mary Schulman CEO and Co-Founder, PYT Beauty

At PYT Beauty, "clean beauty" means we are formulating without over 1,300 harsh chemicals, including gluten, parabens, synthetic fragrances and silicones, and we also add skin-nourishing ingredients, are vegan, and each product is hypoallergenic. We also believe in a clean planet, which means we have reduced secondary packaging, eliminated mirrors as they always end up in landfills, and all of our packaging is made with PCR-plus where possible. Because we pride ourselves on being transparent, we have detailed breakouts of each ingredient and sustainable packaging anatomy for each product clearly listed on our website.

Taliah Waajid Founder, Taliah Waajid Brand

"Clean" for us means free of ingredients that are harmful to your hair, skin and the environment but also have benefits that enhance the beauty of hair and skin. We want our customers to receive the most benefit from using our products that have clean ingredients.

Kristine Keheley Co-Founder, Taos AER

Clean is not a trend for us. It’s an all-encompassing way of life. We have 20 years at the forefront of natural and organic product formulation. Our commitment to minimally processed organic and sustainable ingredients requires radical experimentation and innovation. We design each product with lifecycle awareness and responsible practices in mind from the very beginning.

Thus far, we've formulated our deodorant entirely without water, a precious resource. Our ingredients are organically farmed wherever possible to ensure healthier water to communities and animals downstream as well as mitigate climate change. Clean beauty is not just about ingredients, though. The grassroots history of clean has always included a desire to make the world a better place in terms of social justice. That includes choices about sourcing, suppliers and partners as well as product development and philanthropy. Taos AER is committed to being a unisex and inclusive brand. We have a profound connection to and respect for the landscape. Our belief in the power of plants and the use of scent as a mystical, emotional connector are truly our guides. We love doing our best to provide bold and extraordinary products.

Dr. Shuting Hu Founder, Acaderma

To us, clean is not a marketing strategy to scare customers, it’s a higher standard that we hold ourselves to while improving the product market overall. From ingredient sourcing to purification, we use a cutting-edge extraction and purification process that not only reduces pollution and waste but also minimizes the risk of skin irritation. In addition to clean ingredients and clean formulas based on the 9-free standard, we also use refillable and sustainable packaging for a clean supply chain. We’ve invested our time and resources into discovering and developing green ingredients and materials. We remain committed to minimizing our carbon footprint and investing in a future for everyone by staying on the cutting edge of technology. By staying clean from start to finish, we’re working towards better skin and a better world. We’re making “clean” actually mean something that we believe in.

Sarah Vilenskiy Founder, Blossom Essentials

For starters, "clean" means being able to read product labels. There are so many products out there claiming to be natural, but, then you turn over the labels, and there are maybe 30 different ingredients in there you can barely pronounce. How are we supposed to know it's actually clean if we can't even understand what's in it?

But, if I were to simplify it, "clean" to me doesn't just mean having clean, nontoxic ingredients, which is pretty much mandatory for all skincare brands now in my opinion. It means transparency and making people feel confident that they actually understand what it is they are putting in and on their bodies. In fact, when we released our newest product, our amazing chemist wanted to add some natural ingredients in, but they sounded quite technical and science-y. So, I told him that unless we can put where it comes from (if it's vegetables or if it's food-grade, etc.), then it can't be in the formula. Thankfully, I won that battle, and we got to keep the amazing ingredients. I am very conscious of what I consumer, so why should my beauty products be any different even if it's topical and especially when ingestible?

Jamila Powell Founder, Naturally Drenched

I always try to steer clear of any marketing buzzwords about "clean" beauty because the criteria and standards are always changing. My focus is always on the actual ingredients I am putting into my product. There is a lot of thought, consideration and data behind each ingredient I have chosen. It is important to me that I know the products my customers are using are good for their bodies and for our environment. I have worked closely with Noviconnect and Chemforward to vet my ingredient selection process through research and scientific studies. I choose to focus on finding "clean" ingredients that I know can benefit the consumer while also not leaving a negative impact on our environment. I believe that’s the best way to create the best products.

Rochelle Jacobs Co-Founder, Naturally Serious 

“Clean” for us is quite intense. At Naturally Serious, we consider skincare to be a wellness ritual and are committed to maintaining the highest standard of “clean” for our products.  We refuse to formulate with any B.A.D. (banned, ambiguous or debatable) ingredients, so you will never find formaldehyde, phthalates, PEG, silicones, parabens, artificial colors and fragrances—you name it—in our products.

Instead, we choose powerful, good-for-you ingredients like our patented anti-pollution blend, a combination of six antioxidants clinically tested to help combat visible signs of aging from pollution and environmental damage. We also go through rigorous rounds of clinical testing to ensure our final formulas are not only clean, safe and stable, but also seriously effective and performance-driven.

Mehir Sethi Founder, True + Luscious

Until we get national consensus for an EU-like standard for cosmetics, the term “clean” is open to self-determination by brands. At a minimum, it means we comply with influential retailer Sephora’s clean standards and, then, build out the philosophy to reflect in ethical sourcing, minimal packaging and striving towards sustainability.

Vicki Weaver Payne CEO and founder, Ida Body Care

First, you must remember that not all “natural” ingredients are safe and not all “synthetic” ingredients are harmful. But what we do want to focus on is the safety of our products for our customers. Keep in mind that our skin is our largest organ, and what is applied topically is absorbed directly into our bodies. Truly clean products avoid using harmful ingredients like synthetic fragrances, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and silicones.

Clean skincare manufacturers, like ours at Ida Body Care, choose ingredients for their purity, effectiveness and safety. It is hard to be judge and jury with all the products on the market today, but the clearest way to know you are putting “natural” on your body is to turn the bottle around and examine the ingredient list.

Chris Payne CEO, Jane Iredale

As a founding, pioneering brand in the clean beauty space, clean is really at our core and applies to every part of our company.  “Clean” means more than just the "dirty" ingredients we omit from our formulas. Clean is also about what skin-loving ingredients we add, the sustainability of our packaging choices, the impact we have on the environment and the animals we share the planet with.

Our origins began as “the skincare makeup” before clean was even a catchphrase, when Jane set out to prove that makeup can wear perfectly while also doing good for your skin. As the brand has evolved over 25 years, and as the ingredients and packaging space have evolved, we’ve tried our best to stay at the front doing the best we can for your skin and the world around us—all without sacrificing the performance you want from your makeup.

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