by Nina Foster

It's widely considered that the products you put on your body can be absorbed by your skin and might even build up or stay in your body. I'm guessing you don't spend a lot of time squinting at the back of labels, and if you do, you're probably not sure what to do with a lot of that information or even know what it means. You'll have seen products labeled 'natural,' 'non-toxic' 'cruelty-free,' and 'clean' in appearing in health and beauty stores – but what do these terms mean? The truth is that these descriptors can be both complicated and convoluted. It's becoming increasingly hard to determine what skincare products are worth investing in. Clean beauty products are those that are formulated without the use of harmful or potentially toxic ingredients. This article will take you through what's up with clean label beauty, including defining the buzzwords, navigating industry regulation, exploring ingredients to avoid, and how you can best switch your products!




The beauty and cosmetics industry in the U.S. is still largely unregulated, including companies' use of buzzwords. Subjective terms like 'clean,' 'green,' and 'organic' are almost impossible to decipher from greenwashing. Let's face it; labels can be confusing! We'll help you break down these trending beauty terms: 



A product is labeled cruelty free if it avoids testing on animals anywhere along its manufacturing chain before its sale. This term can also mean no ingredients were extracted from animals at the expense of its welfare (like hair for makeup brushes).




Products that are at least 95% organic will carry a USDA approved organic seal. This means the use of genetically modified ingredients is prohibited, and standards are set to manufacture and handle the product. 'Organic' means the producers have avoided using pesticides and use plant-based products wherever possible. However, official 'organic' seals are expensive, and products can independently label themselves organic on their packaging. So look out for that official seal! 




Legally, this label means nothing at all. Generally, this means at least some natural ingredients were used when formulating a product.  




Too much of anything can be considered toxic. 'Non-toxic' means a product has not been shown to cause adverse health effects for its ingredients or their intended dose and use.




Products and brands labeled 'clean' mean that their development has considered both environment and human health. Like eating clean, this product focuses on nourishment and delivering all the goodness your body needs. This term rejects the idea of being processed, so the product should be made with non-toxic and plant-based ingredients.  

'Sustainable' and 'Green'


Products that promote sustainability or sport 'green' labeling mean that the commodity should not be harmful to the environment. 'Sustainable' products suggest that ingredients are ethically sourced, and their packaging should be unharmful, biodegradable, recyclable, or zero waste. For example, some products such as face wash contain chemicals and microbeads that travel down the drains and affect marine health! Similarly, petroleum jelly is made from the oil industry and is packaged in plastic. Products that claim to be sustainable would not harm the environment in any of these ways. 'Green' labeling is far broader and can be used as an umbrella term for any brand or product claims to protecting the planet.  


The beauty and cosmetic industry in the USA is largely unregulated.





The key civic group, known as The Environmental Working group, is leading research on harmful chemicals and practices affecting both people and the environment. In a 2019 report, the group compared the U.S. cosmetic industry's safety with 40 countries worldwide. The report found that many chemicals banned or restricted in places like Canada, Korea, Australia, and the E.U. are still legal in the U.S. 

So far, two California state legislators have introduced legislation to ban 20 of the worst cosmetic chemicals and contaminants. Legislation has also been introduced to bring up cosmetic standards in the U.S. close to those of the E.U. The FDA acknowledges reports and studies which draw links between certain ingredients and health issues. However, the FDA has determined that the low concentrations of these chemicals are not known to affect human health significantly, so they remain legal for sale in the U.S.

Chemicals are not all bad, but these are worth watching out for. Despite these suspected ingredients' current legal status, many brands and products containing them are slowly being phased out of stores by retailers. 
Now that we have explored the regulations and deciphered your beauty product labels, let's talk about a few ingredients you should avoid and why! 




Parabens are a preservative used to prevent the decomposition and growth of bacteria in beauty products. Most popularly, your shampoo and conditioner labels support their lack of these. However, other products you may not know about which contain this chemical are facial cleansers, makeup, deodorant, and body washes. This ingredient can be identified through the suffix “-paraben.”  

Parabens are dangerous as they are classified as endocrine disruptors by mimicking estrogen in the human body. Studies have acknowledged links between parabens and breast cancer, early onset of puberty, and even reproductive and developmental disorders. It is essential to consider that these links have been made with parabens in high doses. Most of our beauty care contains low concentrations of this chemical. 



The most common forms of sulfates are personal care products like shampoos, face wash, and other foaming products, including household cleaners. Sulfates are foaming cleansing agents, most listed as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). Their molecules cling to oil and dirt on one end and water on the other, lifting grime and grease while also attracting water molecules and increasing their spread. Sulfates are harsh on the skin and strip the scalp of natural oils. This surfactant is widely known to cause irritation and cell damage. 


‎Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives


Formaldehyde is a common preservative, a skin irritant, and a sensitizer. This ingredient is known globally as a carcinogen when inhaled; it has been eliminated in most beauty products such as nail polish remover. However, formaldehyde producing preservatives still exist in many cosmetic and personal care products under different ingredient names. Methylene glycol, formalin, methanal, and methanethiol, are some ingredients still used in beauty care. These compounds slowly release the carcinogenic compound over time when mixed with water. Formaldehyde releasing ingredients are found in Keratin smoothing treatments, body washes, shampoos, cleansers, and even eyeshadows.  



Phthalates are traditionally used to increase the softness and flexibility of plastics. In cosmetics, Phthalates are used in nail polishes, hairsprays, and fragrances as a fixative and solvent. Research suggests this chemical can work to disrupt hormones. Phthalates are recognized by agencies such as the European Chemicals Agency and National Toxicology Program as a human carcinogen and reproductive toxicant. Like the other chemicals on this list, the U.S. and the FDA have concluded that no definitive research suggests that levels of Phthalates found in beauty care are concerning. Despite this, Phthalates are not directly disclosed on product packaging and are usually added to its fragrance. To avoid Phthalates, opt for fragrance-free beauty care products!


Chemical sunscreens 

Everyone knows that sun protection is essential, but how does it work? Oxybenzone, homosalate, and octinoxate are chemicals found in sunscreen that act as agents to absorb ultraviolet light. Even at low concentrations, these chemicals have been found to absorb into your bloodstream. They are linked to endocrine disruption, skin allergies, and cell damage. Studies have found octinoxate in mothers' breast milk and shown its links to reproductive, thyroid, and behavioral issues. The concentration of these sun-blocking chemicals is regulated. Still, their long-term effect, even in low concentrations, is not yet known. We all need suncare – to a certain extent. When protecting ourselves or our children, it's encouraged to opt for mineral sun care like zinc or titanium oxide! These have been deemed safer for use by adults and children. 

***Link to sustainability page “reef safe” *** 



Studies show that teenage girls use up to 15 cosmetic products a day.




You don't have to throw everything away; start small! 

Start by checking labels. Not all items contain harmful chemicals, but it is worth looking into, especially with products you leave on or apply daily. An additional benefit to switching to clean label beauty products is their ties to sustainability. Many products and brands that pledge to be 'clean' use organic ingredients or biodegradable packaging. They are overall more conscious of their impact on human health and safety and the world.  

Traditionally, these products would run up quite a bill at your local beauty vendor. Recently, however, the rising demand for clean beauty products has increased the availability of more affordable options. You can now find clean beauty care options from grocery to beauty supply stores. 

Check out Dr. Organic products, which are clean label products made with organic ingredients. Dr. Organic products are free from parabens, SLS, artificial colors, phthalates, petroleum, glycols, DEA, BHT, isothiazolinones, mineral oil, and silicones.
—> link to Amanda testimony