What makes a “clean” beauty product different from other beauty products? From a technical standpoint, the answer seems to be: not much. In fact, for this month’s feature on formulating clean beauty, Irwin Palefsky and I had to brainstorm what clean beauty might mean in terms of formulating before he could write in tangible terms about it. We settled on three generally accepted tenets: 1) ensuring safety—for the user and environment; 2) removing unnecessary ingredients; and 3) omitting ingredients that, for whatever reason, have been blacklisted. Transparent labeling and eco-conscious packaging also play roles but these are separate from the actual formula properties.
This exercise with Palefsky made me wonder how different “clean product” tenets really are from “standard” ones. Regarding the first point, companies have long tested products for user safety. It’s a given and prerequisite to selling them. Safety for the environment is a more recent focus but with companies embracing green, eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives, it has become an expectation of any product. Regarding point two, as many manufacturers would hopefully agree, it makes good business sense to remove unnecessary ingredients to reduce costs. Although sustainability practices, in addition to the clean beauty movement, have helped to emphasize minimalistic formulating.
It’s this third tenet for removing blacklisted ingredients where clean beauty seems to stand out. Of course, from a scientific perspective, it’s illogical to remove an ingredient based on inconclusive data—especially when the available evidence seems to support the contrary. However, the beauty business is driven by the consumer, who is emotional. Add to this the fact that cosmetics are viewed more as wants than needs, and you’re selling an image or belief.
Consumers embrace the benevolent clean beauty concept, raising it up on a pedestal as “mindfully created” and produced “without proven or suspected toxic ingredients.”1 It also is viewed as a “non-toxic product made without a long, ever-evolving list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects.”2 Logically, you may think what manufacturer is going to mindlessly create a product with ingredients that are proven toxic? But remember, consumers are emotional, so it’s more about establishing their trust.
So in the end, regardless of the tangibles you deliver, what makes a clean beauty product different from any other is: the consumer. It’s worth bearing in mind as you peruse this, our “clean beauty” issue. Enjoy!