Clean or Green? Decoding the Language of Skincare
Elevated Simplicity Blog

Clean or Green? Decoding the Language of Skincare

by Heather Smith on Jan 18, 2022

The premium skincare world is a hard one to break into and beauty brands need to differentiate themselves to stand out in the crowd, especially when it comes to green beauty products. We approached several marketing professionals and initially kept getting met with questions: 

What are you trying to be? What is your voice? People who compost don't buy luxury; they shop local/homemade. Premium buyers won't change products over a jar. The anti-plastic approach will kill your margins...

Respectfully disagree. Businesses can have different priorities and consumer sentiment is shifting. Of course we want to eventually profit, but sustainable skincare containers and packaging don't become more affordable until there is consumer pressure to use them. We have to start somewhere. Consumers are looking for new options and they're tired of having to decode language and marketing gimmicks when looking for a new skincare product to try. There are no all-or-nothing rules and when it comes to brand philosophy, everything is on a spectrum. 

When I started on this green beauty journey, all I had were great ideas, amazing botanical extract oil blends, and a desire to push the plastic-waste elimination agenda into mainstream, premium skincare. As a consumer, I love luxurious and high-end products. I'm prone to impulse shopping and trying all the things. My skin is reasonably hardy, but totally intolerant of retinol, and progressively more and more stressed as this pandemic wears on.

So, I dove into the web for some answers. My trip down the information highway was confusing at best, but I learned a lot:

Green Beauty:

prioritizes the origin and composition of ingredients (and usually packaging) as the main factor for development. Green beauty brands—those trying to create green skincare products—still create effective products, but they (and the customers who buy them) are willing to sacrifice some degree of effectiveness in order to avoid using any synthetic or manufactured additives. Concepts like zero waste, sustainable skincare containers, and sustainable beauty routines are usually incorporated into green beauty brands. 

    • Natural Ingredients: true to nature, extracted, minimally modified.
    • Sustainable practices, renewable resources.
    • Organic: containing some number of organic ingredients.
    • Plant-Based: some brands are flexible with ingredients like beeswax, honey, and lanolin. Others are strictly vegan. Cruelty free is always a priority.
    • There is no standardization or regulation for any of these words, but some organizations do exist with specific certification criteria (ie. USDA organic, EcoCERT, PETA, Leaping Bunny).
    • Some green beauty brands have parent companies who still test on animals. This is very important to know. 

Clean Beauty:

often has less focus paid to things like ethics, animal rights, and sustainability. The main focus is more on their belief about what’s safe. Language about safety and toxins often predominates. 

The clean beauty movement is under heavy fire for spreading misinformation, distrust in science, and using fear-based marketing. Providing consumers a choice isn’t wrong, but making it appear that your product is somehow a safety saviour in a sea of poison is misguided. 

    Indie Brands:

    small-businesses with no parent company or significant corporate backing.

    Clinical Strength:

    this one is tricky. Cosmeceutical is a made up word with no regulated definition. Topical medications require a physician prescription and those are definitely clinical. In the non-medical cosmetics world, whether something gets labelled as "Clinical Strength" or "Clinically Proven" often has more to do with the financial means of the company and their marketing plan. Even if an ingredient is proven to have a specific effect, a brand cannot claim it to be true for their own product without doing their own testing.

    Claims testing is an extremely expensive process. There's nothing wrong with doing it (we hope to) because it validates your product effectiveness. It is a necessary step. However, if a consumer is looking for a 0.5% retinol cream, they will likely get similar results regardless if clinical testing was done on the specific product they are purchasing.


    like clinical strength and cosmeceutical, this word is also overused. Some product testing needs to be done to make this claim, but there is no standardization of the testing needed. Avoiding skin sensitizers (ie. tea tree oil) and allergens (ie. peanut oil) is important, but no product can be truly anti-allergy or free of the risk of irritation. It's unfortunate when it happens, but any substance applied topically to the skin could trigger a reaction in an individual.  


    this is an emerging term. Many consumers have a desire to simplify their routines and get back to the basics. A person might define skinimalism as using only one product for multiple purposes. Another person might use many products, but each with minimal ingredients. We certainly understand and appreciate this new approach and strongly suggest you consider it if dealing with the skin issues that come with intense mask wearing.


    Once I started to better understand the semantics used in the skincare industry, I really started to notice the marketing techniques used by brands. I had a free sample of a lip balm that I loved! The packaging was too small to list the ingredients. The name was something along the lines of "Natural Beauty" (name changed) and the fine print said "with plant-based and organic ingredients". I did a search for the ingredient list and found the first 3 ingredients to be lanolin, petrolatum, and beeswax! Moving down the ingredient list, I finally found some asterisks(*) indicating organic content (like 2 out of the 10 ingredients). Very disappointing. 

    That's when I learned about Greenwashing. Where companies exaggerate (or lie) about how environmentally friendly their products are. Using vague terms with no standard definitions like "green" "eco-friendly" "biodegradable" or focusing on small aspects of their product (ie. a tiny percentage of organic or plant-based ingredients), their marketing strategy is deceptive. Sometimes claims are made that cannot be substantiated. Sometimes emphasis is placed where none should exist. This link to FDA warnings provides some interesting reading if you like examples.

    There's nothing wrong with using a term like biodegradable if the brand goes the extra step to clearly define it for their consumers. It's the extra steps that make all the difference. If a brand packages an entire skincare line using PLA bioplastic and markets it as fully biodegradable without providing further details about the processes needed to ensure proper end-of-life disposal or the conditions/timeline needed, they haven't gone the added steps and they are greenwashing. 

    Regardless of whether you prefer a completely natural/green approach or like the idea of using more complex or exotic ingredients, the key is to find a brand you trust. A brand that goes the extra steps to ensure and prove that what they promise you is true and one that prioritizes the sale of sustainable skincare products over cheaper, plastic alternatives.


    Our Approach to Clean and Green

    At bareLUXE Skincare, our Elevated Face Oils, serums, and creams contain Performance Botanicals take a Skin Safe Science approach to amplify results without sacrificing our values or ethics. 

    We absolutely love the ingredient Bakuchiol as a prime example of what we mean when we discuss elevating Green Beauty. The reason we love bakuchiol so much is because it is an ingredient that is both natural and also a performance botanical with supporting evidence that it's effective.

    Bakuchiol is an effective, natural ingredient - but the science needed to obtain it is not considered natural.


    Elevated Simplicity. 




    About the Author

    Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.


    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.