Is Clean Beauty Dead?

Is Clean Beauty Dead?

Not a chance! 

But the narrative needs to adapt. We believe a great deal of good has occurred from awareness between brands and consumers about ingredient type, sourcing, manufacturing, and safety. bareLUXE is a clean beauty brand. Still, we acknowledge this is primarily just a marketing term.

A war has been created that has cosmetic scientists up in arms. Within the world of clean beauty, there has been an unfortunate focus on fear-based skincare marketing. There has also been amplification of anti-science messaging and the perpetuation of myths.

This article will break down the concepts within the clean beauty movement and help shed some light on where it might be going over the next few years.

Skincare Marketing Basics

Like all phrases used to label products, "clean beauty" is a skincare marketing term. It tells the consumer (roughly) what to expect from a brand or product. However, there is no national or global standard that defines or regulates these types of marketing terms. Organizations that certify brands and products are not guided by any regulatory body.

Skincare marketing requires brand messaging. Brands need to get the word out to shoppers - what do they sell, how will it help, why is it worth buying. In this day and age, the internet and social media largely control the distribution of messages. 

Brands execute their marketing strategy using influencers, paid ads, well-written product pages and product descriptions. The whole theme needs to unify around a few specific keywords aimed at the target audience.

Marketing is necessary, not a bad thing. Deceptive marketing is the problem. 

Deceptive marketing and misinformation are what started the science vs. clean beauty battle.

Keywords and Search Engines: Computer vs Human Understanding

The only way to filter trillions of web pages and millions of products so billions of shoppers can find what they need is to use keywords and specific messaging: cruelty-free, green beauty, clean beauty, cosmeceutical, clinical strength, hypoallergenic... the list goes on. 

To market products, brands need to market content using keywords. 

When it comes to matching shoppers with the products they're looking for, these types of keywords are critical so that search engines can figure out who matches with who. If you search "green beauty" versus "green eyeshadow" versus "beautiful green forest," search engines need to figure out what to show you. 

From an artificial intelligence and machine learning standpoint, these words match buyers and sellers really well. However, from a semantic standpoint, a term like green beauty is open to wide interpretation by the humans who are defining it or searching for it.

Google doesn't filter out brands that are greenwashing. 

Computers only sort algorithmically and mathematically. 

Interpretation requires human thought and analysis.


What Is Clean Beauty?

In general, when a person googles 'clean beauty', they expect to find products or information about skincare that focuses on being safe(r) and more natural. In addition, they usually want to avoid controversial ingredients and many synthetic additives. 

Clean beauty shoppers expect the brand to have factored human health into their ingredient choices. Ideally, they also expect the brand to consider humanitarian issues, environmental and agricultural sustainability, and animal rights.

Clean beauty products are designed for a target market. The whole beauty industry is segmented into different markets. Like it or not, consumerism drives market forces. Since there is a growing desire to eliminate complexity and simplify our lives and products, niches like clean beauty have developed.

The elimination of toxins has a very different meaning to a consumer than it does to a scientific toxicology panel. The art is in finding a way for the two worlds to co-exist. 

Suppose you are a shopper who believes unpronounceable chemicals are automatically unhealthy. In that case, you want to find products that fit your worldview.

The question that pits scientists and clean beauty brands against one another is: Is it ethical to support the idea by creating skincare products for those consumers?

The answer is mostly yes. Shoppers look for products that match their worldview and personal needs. Brands make options available. However, demonifying an ingredient to make all products that do contain it sound unsafe or dangerous is the wrong approach.

Clean Beauty Marketing

Throughout history, an endless barrage of messages have been sent to consumers about toxicities, poisons and carcinogens. Balls of mercury used to be a fun toy to play with. Getting your feet x-rayed at the shoe store used to be a great way to find the right size.

Whatever the issue, sometimes it turns out to be fear-mongering, sometimes it turns out to be accurate or partially true. Unfortunately, there's likely more misinformation out there than there is accurate information.

Misinformation plants a seed of doubt and mistrust that is hard to overcome. Just look at the horrible controversy surrounding childhood vaccination and autism. It will take the vaccine industry more than a generation to overcome the damage done by a deceptive and utterly false accusation.

Clean beauty and skincare marketing are the same. Plant a seed of doubt using fake news, and nobody will know what is true and what isn't. Remember, people are predisposed to preferentially believe negative information over positive.

If marketers appeal to people's belief that "it's better to be safe than sorry" and their emotions surrounding things like pregnancy, breastfeeding, or cancer, once you instill doubt into their minds it's hard for them to let go of the fear.

Parabens are an example. The FDA says:

"At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health. Here are some of the questions we are considering:
  • What do published studies show about the possible hazards of parabens, and on the effects of parabens on human health? For example, do experimental findings with various parabens also happen in real life?
  • What are the hazards and risks of not using parabens? If we stop using parabens to protect cosmetics and consumers from harmful bacteria, are there safer alternatives for preservatives?
  • If there are paraben-related health effects that are scientifically supported and documented, how do these effects relate to the use of parabens in cosmetics?
  • Do the different kinds of parabens act the same or differently in our bodies? 
FDA will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If we determine that a health hazard exists, we will advise the industry and the public... "


So what does that mean to you? It's your perspective and your worldview that determine how you read that statement. It does tell you that, as far as we know today, parabens used in cosmetics are not harmful. It also says that the ingredient is constantly being evaluated. 

The harm does not originate from a brand making a paraben free product. The harm comes from a brand marketing it as "free of carcinogens," which implies there is a confirmed link with attributable harm. 

Further harm is done when brands overgeneralize in an attempt to one-up one another and appear to be "cleaner." Suddenly all preservatives get thrown under the microscope. A snowball effect. 

How to Avoid Marketing Traps When Shopping for Clean Beauty Products

Too much emphasis on what is not in a product might be designed to distract you and might be designed to cast doubt/fear on safe ingredients.

"Preservative Free" doesn't need to be mentioned if it's an oil-based product because oils don't need preservatives. If it's noted for a water-based product, then you're going to end up with bacterial/mould contamination. Not clean!

Natural is not automatically safer than synthetic, and neither is it more or less effective. It depends on the ingredient. Clean beauty products can contain a balanced mix of ingredients from various origins.

Transparency doesn't mean just writing the product formula on the label. It is helpful to consumers to disclose specific ingredient percentages when they are associated with a clinically determined effectiveness concentration. The bakuchiol controversy is a good example.

Clean beauty products should consider more than just the health of humans. Environmentally persistent chemicals build up in our waterways. Animals don't need to be killed for our beauty needs.

Broadening our view on what is clean vs not is essential. Petroleum jelly is a great example. Safe on your skin? Yes. Petroleum refining and the plastic industry in general? No! The single greatest threat to our earth via climate change.

There is no such thing as chemical-free. Be suspicious of advertising for 'toxic chemical free' products, they're just playing on your fears. 

Most substances all have a toxicity level at which they become harmful; nothing is truly non-toxic.

All skincare products will contain chemicals. Find a brand that you trust. When you trust a brand, you can also trust that the scientists who are making the products are doing so in a way that will ensure you and the product are as safe as can be - for you and the earth!

Editorial Comments from bareLUXE Founder Dr. Heather Smith:

What's My Personal Bottom Line

As a consumer, if I see a brand screaming about toxins, poisons, and having the most extensive "banned ingredient list" known to man, I don't buy their products. I recognize that they are entrenched in fear-based marketing that perpetuates myths, misinformation, and hysteria.

As a physician and mother, what bothers me most is when I see products marketed as "pregnancy safe" or "breastfeeding safe." There isn't much harm in avoiding things you're uncertain about as a peace of mind decision during pregnancy. However, when it comes to breastfeeding, the amount of damage done from just a single piece of bad advice can permanently destroy a breastfeeding relationship. If you’re using prescription creams or transdermal/topical medications or patches, please consult a physician trained as a breastfeeding medicine specialist before deciding to stop or pump and dump.

bareLUXE Brand Approach To Clean Beauty

We avoid controversial ingredients when effective alternatives exist. When new controversies arise, we don't fall for marketing hype ourselves. We work with chemists to choose wisely. Our definition of clean is broad and includes the earth, animals, and the people who work to harvest and manufacture our ingredients. We stopped focusing on what our products are "free-from" and, instead, tell you what's in them and why it's there.

Finally, we like to think we've coined the marketing term "Green Beauty Elevated." Natural, sustainable, ethical, and plant-based products elevated into effective formulations using active botanicals or carefully selected/highly effective synthetic additives.

Starting from a place of purity and nature and improving on it in a non-controversial way