Those Clean Beauty Myths *Debunked*

The clever marketing leaves a lot of beauty consumers fearful of their old reliables.

The wellness industry is something that permeates almost every aspect of our lives. From the food we choose to eat, the type of workouts we do. our morning routines, the clothes we wear, and also the beauty products we buy. Much like how fitness culture became huge in the 80s, with counting calories, fat-free food and aerobics classes, wellness, for millennials, is a trend that isn’t going anyway.

As it turns out looking after your wellbeing is expensive. Suddenly you’re paying €20 per yoga class, you have a monthly Headspace subscription and then it escalates to buying moon dust on the internet to sprinkle on your porridge as well as soy candles that smell like celebrity vaginas.

Is any of this bad? Well no, not if you can afford it and obviously yoga and meditation are good for your mental wellbeing – but the vagina candle speaks for itself, I think. However. it’s when this concept of wellness starts to take over every aspect of your life that it can make you unnecessarily afraid of products you have always used.

Like anything, much of this can be distorted when money is involved and the wellness industry was estimated by the Global Wellness Institute to be worth a whopping $4.5 trillion globally. So it is important to be mindful that a lot of this is an industry that is profiting off selling you a healthier, shinier version of yourself, including what you put on your face and body.

So, How Does It Affect Beauty?

The beauty industry, like any other, is always quick to jump on a trend. Sheet masks, soap brows, glass skin, plumped up lips, rose gold packaging – all examples of trends that exploded on the beauty scene with every brand offering some variation of these in a product.

Wellness within the beauty industry is far more than just a trend, instead of becoming a whole category in itself, and this is largely due to marketing. In particular, when we are talking about clean beauty we mean brands that utilise the words ‘natural’ and ‘non-toxic’. At this point these are buzz words we’re all familiar with, but what do they actually mean?

It’s by looking at the opposite meaning of both these words, ‘unnatural’ and ‘toxic’ that we can see how powerful they are when marketing a product. Obviously, none of us wants to use anything potentially harmful in our skincare, but what exactly is harmful? What is toxic? What is clean?

We spoke to skincare expert, Jennifer Rock (AKA The Skin Nerd) about this to dive a little deeper into these marketing terms.

“I think that reinforcing the idea of ‘clean’ and ‘non-toxic’ skincare sometimes plays on consumer’s fears. To the point where I think they might start to become wary of skincare products that haven’t been labelled so,” she says.

‘Chemical’ Is Not A Bad Word

People have become obsessed with detoxes and cleanses, which also includes what they put on their skin. However, as brands are obviously aware of this movement towards cleansing and detoxifying our systems it can be utilised to sell more within the beauty industry.

By using certain buzzwords like ‘clean’, it implies that the face cream we’ve been using all along that doesn’t say ‘clean’ or ‘non-toxic’ is bad for us. It can create concern and confusion that certain products are not ‘safe’.

When we asked Jennifer about this she shared that even water in certain doses can be considered chemical, so this fear is unnecessary, especially here in the EU it is an industry so highly regulated. “I’m an avid believer that chemicals are not a bad thing where skincare is concerned – the majority of my hero ingredients have been finessed in labs, such as high-efficacy peptides. In fact, even water can be toxic to the skin in high concentrations as it’s classed as a chemical. It’s thanks to EU regulations that we needn’t worry about anything at a toxic level being manufactured and ending up on our shelves.”

The word ‘natural’ has become a word that means literally nothing on a product as it is not regulated, but brands know it creates a positive response in the consumer. Lots of these buzz words are not regulated fully, meaning they can be slapped onto any product without meaning what the consumer would think, it can be misleading and the terms are open to interpretation.

Technically, all ingredients that are used, even from nature, are in fact chemicals.

Jennifer explained this to us a little better. “Of course, many ‘natural’ ingredients are beneficial to the skin but using those exclusively neglects the need for base ingredients. Many base ingredients included in formulations of skincare products are essential for stability, texture enhancing and preservation. If these synthetic ingredients weren’t included, the integrity of the formulation would be compromised which means efficacy will be lost.

“So searching for ‘clean’ formulas would not be top of my priority list, it’s all about the skin results for me. I would also say to remember that no ingredients can ever penetrate through the skin (if so, imagine if it rained!), which means the claims made from the ‘natural’ movement is baseless.”

So What To Do? 

It is in the US in particular, that this obsession with clean beauty really took off, and like anything that’s popular in America it always filters through into marketing throughout the rest of the world.

However, it’s important to note that in the US, the FDA has only banned 11 ingredients from beauty products compared to within the EU, where 1,3o0 ingredients are banned.

Living in Ireland means that the products available to us have already been highly regulated, and are all considered safe to use. This fear-mongering of ingredients is really unnecessary here so stick to what you know and love, and don’t get your knickers in a twist.

So if you like ‘natural’ or even actually natural products and they work for your skin, by all means, use them. There are lots of brands that fall between natural and cosmeceutical – they might have powerful ingredients and be vegan and cruelty-free.

So do your research, but don’t suddenly be frightened of your good ol’ reliable body lotion or fake tan just because it has a few words ending in -droxy or -tide.

The billion-dollar market presents itself as trying to make you healthier, happier, glossier, and live longer. But often it does this through fear, fear of what you’re eating, doing, how you live and as much as sex sells, fear sells faster.