To what extent is clean beauty eco-friendly?

Clean Beauty is a movement born out of a wish to produce formulations that don’t put human health at risk, without controversial ingredients, and which are also more virtuous in terms of production. So at what point do these clean beauty products cross over into being eco-friendly?

Clean beauty = formulations “cleansed” of controversial ingredients

To start with, the idea of clean beauty was to offer more natural beauty products, without any ingredients thought of as harmful, whether to human health or the environment. This trend appeared following various (more or less justified) scandals over ingredients which have since been decried. They include parabens, which, by the by, are still excellent preservatives that effectively prevent formulations from going mouldy, which is not always the case of more natural preservatives. The same goes for silicones, which merely smooth the skin or make the hair shiny like a plastic film placed on the surface (as they don’t have any remedial action). And more importantly, they are not biodegradable and end up in waterways and then the sea. So those behind clean formulations hold themselves to leaving any harmful substances out of them. They do so either by gravitating towards natural substances or by only retaining “safe” ingredients and publicising what is not in the formulation! That “less is more” idea that we hear so much about.

Clean beauty – a wide-angle view

Beyond carefully-chosen ingredients, most importantly clean beauty is a philosophy: that of doing no harm, either to people or the planet. So this new-generation beauty product industry holds itself to 360° vigilance. This includes the origin and sourcing of ingredients grown under fairtrade terms, for example, or local ones. It also encompasses eco-design of packaging, the materials used and even the distribution method. While there is no official definition for clean beauty, it is very much about making conscious choices at every stage in production. These days it can be difficult to make such choices, since production is bound to mean using up resources… The aim that those behind clean beauty products set themselves is that of making better choices for the planet, and for the skin, with an ethically-sound dimension. To be completely consistent, for clean to mean fully clean, a company mindset must be fostered based on showing respect to people, whether employees or suppliers. This exercise often comes down to choosing between lower costs and the least harmful production choices, which are often the most costly. All of that must be reconciled with an end product that must still remain profitable.

 Clean beauty and environmentally-responsible products

When it comes to the sourcing of raw materials, it’s possible for an ingredient made from petrochemicals (and therefore petrochemical oil) to be ultimately less harmful to the planet than its natural counterpart, if the latter comes from the other side of the world. But these ingredients are frowned upon, so it’s worth favouring local or ethically-sound sourcing as much as possible. Here, the key factors are traceability and the selection of materials produced in the least harmful way possible. When it comes to packaging, no material is perfect or perfectly neutral. Glass can be recycled, but its production requires water and sand. Plastic can be avoided by using aluminium, but the latter comes from bauxite mining which destroys ecosystems. Plant-based plastic is not always suitable, and comes from edible plants which would feed other populations in need. Paper cannot be used to hold beauty products… The best solution is packaging made from recycled recyclable materials, eco-designed to be as lightweight as possible. Lastly, producers have to manage to resist the temptation of distributors who take a big margin, whose store networks would make it possible to ramp up sales… But by selling one’s soul to the society of overconsumption.

Clean beauty goes further in its commitment


In toughening its criteria and quality requirements, clean beauty is going ever further. It is also taking more and more risks as far as consumer retention is concerned, with higher prices than those of standard products. Brands also make commitments to environmental associations, to which they donate a percentage of their profits or which they support. They undergo checks to secure certifications or finance the attainment of their carbon footprint. These are principled moves that appeal to a clientele which is also principled, and prepared to pay more for certainty as to what they are buying. And who most importantly, don’t want to put any old thing on their skin or for their behaviour as consumers to harm the environment. Or as little as possible. The right balance still has to be struck. And most importantly, the traps of greenwashing are to be foiled. Those set by big chains who ride the wave of clean beauty codes without genuinely doing what it takes to comply with it.

Clean beauty is without a doubt something that all beauty product brands should lean towards. They account for an enormous market with consequences for the environment which are every bit as enormous. Pared-down, refillable packaging made from recycled recyclable materials and biodegradable formulations without polluting ingredients must be the new rules governing perfumery and the beauty product industry. And not that of tomorrow, but today already!

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