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Clean Beauty versus Organic Beauty, what’s the difference?

Some beauty brands have opted for organic certification. Others are labelled with the percentage of natural ingredients to follow the principles of Clean Beauty. And there are those that are cleaning up their formulations to shun undesirable ingredients, but without being labelled with any kind of certification. So it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Can a beauty product be clean without being organic, and vice versa?

Organic – primarily about standards and certification

Originally, the Cosmébio Charter created in 2002 was aimed at making good use of organically-grown plant-based ingredients and shunning petrochemical ingredients. This standard was added to over time. The Cosmos EU standard, which is the most widespread and recent, shuns all petrochemical products (mineral oils, paraffin, silicon, PEG), artificial preservatives like parabens and phenoxyethanol, artificial fragrances, artificial colorants and GMO. And stipulates that 95% of the ingredients in a finished product must be natural, and 95% of the plant matter and ultimately at least 20 % of the finished product (including water) must be organic. This latter standard also includes a whole raft of sustainable development measures that favour green chemistry and packaging made from recycled materials. This set of exact specifications is checked by a body (Ecocert being the best known) that issues certification for each product. There are other organic labels in Europe, like Natrue and Nature et Progrès, and USDA Organic in the USA.

Clean beauty – a more vague concept

Clean beauty does not have as precise a charter or definition as organic beauty. So it’s left open to interpretation. But overall, clean beauty encompasses more responsible beauty, with products whose formulations are cleaner and greener, sustainable, fairtrade, environmentally responsible and ethically sound. It embraces more wide-ranging concepts.

Clean: greater safety and transparency

Let’s not forget that the movement was born in the USA, where beauty regulation is less restrictive than in Europe, and consumer safety less robustly policed. In response, clean beauty is firmly geared around healthy formulations and transparency regarding their composition and production methods. This pertains to traceability of ingredients, consideration of the skin and the environment and the product life cycle. In this respect, all controversial ingredients are ruled out, whether they are suspected of being toxic, polluting or allergenic.

Is organic but not clean allowed?

Absolutely!  Even if it’s disputed by some, a product can be certified organic and not meet all the clean beauty criteria. Although the Charter does shun petrochemical ingredients and the most controversial active ingredients, organic does not automatically mean risk free. The Charter allows the inclusion of active ingredients that can be irritant, drying, allergenic or banned from use by pregnant women. Preservatives are often replaced with alcohol, and essential oils and sulphates are allowed in cleansing products.

Clean beauty also favours short supply chains and social responsibility. A great many organic companies commit to this. That said, some ingredients are still bought from suppliers in Brazil, Madagascar or other faraway countries, where carrying out checks on worker welfare or environmental protection is not easy.

Is it possible to go clean but not organic? 

Although clean beauty massively favours natural ingredients, there’s nothing to make it compulsory for these plant-based ingredients to be certified organic. A great many clean brands happily draw on biotechnologies which, despite their name, don’t fit within the organic framework. This unison of life sciences and technology (biochemistry and molecular biology) makes it possible to obtain highly effective active ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, for example.

So as you see, although organic and clean have much in common and a fairly fuzzy boundary between them, there are ways in which they differ. Some products are clean without necessarily being certified organic, and without taking on all the associated restrictions as regards the extreme obligation to be natural. Others are organic without meeting all of the innocuity and skin safety requirements. Lastly, the most all-or-nothing options combine both for the ultimate benefit.

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