What is clean beauty and why is it important?


Skincare is an important part of your beauty routine – if not the most important. As our bodies’ largest organ, it’s important to use high quality beauty products to keep it looking and feeling its best. However, what many people don’t realise is that the beauty products we use to care for our skin can actually have nasty side effects – not only on our own health but the health of our planet too. Luckily, society is quickly embracing clean beauty, opting for sustainable products with natural, safe ingredients rather than those packed with potentially harmful chemicals. 

However, being a relatively new industry, many people don’t know where to start when it comes to incorporating clean beauty into their daily routine. That’s why, in this week’s blog post, we’ll go over the most important aspects of the topic including: 

  • What is clean beauty? 
  • What is the difference between green, natural, organic and clean beauty products? 
  • How to choose clean, safe beauty products 
  • Which ingredients to avoid in skincare products 

What is clean beauty?

Generally speaking, clean beauty products are those with ingredients that don’t contain any potentially harmful chemicals. In essence, it’s a mindful approach to beauty, ensuring it has as little negative impact on the environment and our own health as possible. 

However, with so many beauty brands slapping labels on their products such as “green”, “eco-friendly” and “all-natural”, the guise of clean beauty is quickly becoming a marketing tactic rather than a genuine commitment to reducing environmental and health impacts. That’s why it’s so important to know what these different terms mean and how to tell if a beauty product truly is clean. 

What’s the difference between green, natural, organic and clean beauty products?

While all these terms may seem like they’re referring to the same thing, they actually all point to different aspects of sustainable beauty. For example, a beauty product may contain natural ingredients but they may not be organic.  

Here’s a summary of what each term really means: 

  • Green beauty: This means that the product or brand engages in environmentally and socially responsible practices and is committed to protecting the earth and its resources. 
  • Sustainable beauty: This is essentially another term for green beauty. 
  • Natural: This refers to the ingredients themselves having natural (i.e. not synthetic or manmade) origins. 
  • Organic: Organic beauty products contain organically farmed ingredients, meaning they were not grown using pesticides, synthetic fertilisers or herbicides and do not contain GMOs. 
  • Clean: This means products containing no toxic or potentially harmful ingredients. They could be either natural or synthetic. 

However, there is still some debate as to what each term really encompasses, and since there are no legal definitions or criteria yet, buying a clean beauty product isn’t as simple as having a quick glance at the packaging.  

How to choose clean, safe beauty products

With clean beauty quickly becoming a trend, and with no regulatory body to ensure terms aren’t used misleadingly, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which beauty brands are truly clean. Just because one ingredient in a product is technically “organic” or “natural”, it doesn’t mean that the product as a whole is clean. 

That’s why the best way to decipher whether a product is clean or not is to carefully read the label. Beauty products containing questionable ingredients, especially ones that are potentially bad for your hormones, should be avoided. However, not all “chemical-sounding” ingredients are harmful. For instance, salicylic acid is derived from natural sources like willow trees and is perfectly safe to be used on your skin. 

Skincare ingredients to avoid

Unfortunately, many of the ingredients that should be avoided have long names that many be difficult to remember. That’s why we’ve created this complete list of ingredients to avoid if you want to adopt a clean beauty routine. 

Ingredients with harmful side effects

Scientific studies have found that the following ingredients may have negative side effects on your health. 

  • Formaldehyde: Although this component may not appear on ingredient labels, it may be present in “releasers.” Common formaldehydes to look out for include: glyoxal, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3 dioxane,benzylhemiformal, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, quaternium-15, dmdm hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and methenamine. 
  • Hydroquinone: Hydroquinones are implicated in inhibiting the synthesis of melanin. Typical side effects caused include irritation and discolouration of the skin. Additionally, because it is a benzene metabolite, hydroquinone may also heighten cancer risk. 
  • Ethoxylated Ingredients: These are produced using a carcinogenic substance – Ethylen Oxide. These chemicals are found in ingredients such as steareth-20, polysorbate-20, polysorbate-40, emulsifying wax, ceteareth-20, PEGs, ammonium laureate sulphate and sodium laureate sulphate. 
  • Methyl Cellosolve (2-Methoxyethanol): A known skin irritant, Methyl Cellosolve can be harmful to the central nervous system, and also the liver, kidney, blood and bone marrow. 
  • Nanoparticles: Just as their name suggests, nanoparticles are extremely tiny, but their health and environmental effects can be huge. Watch out for beauty products labelled as “non-nano”. 
  • Retinyl Palmitate: The ingredient shouldn’t pose any threats when worn at night, but daytime use may cause increased skin sensitivity. 
  • Lanolin & Keratin: Lanolin and Keratin are derived from sheep. The former – an oil found in the gland of sheep, and the latter from the animal’s wool. Sourcing these components is often harmless to the sheep, but farmers may employ toxic insecticides in the process. An effective alternative to Lanolin is Cupuaçu Butter. 
  • Parabens: This component needs no introduction if you’re a beauty maven. Parabens are known to mess with your hormones, so it’s best to avoid them when shopping for beauty products. 
  • Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone: In addition to causing problems in the nervous system, methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone can trigger skin allergies and irritation. 
  • Synthetic Fragrances: Fragrances are often included in many products, and aren’t necessarily bad. However, phthalates and synthetic fragrances are some you want to avoid when buying a skincare product. 
  • Resorcinol: resorcinol is a common ingredient in hair dyes. Its use may cause hormone disruption, allergies and irritation. 
  • Triclosan & Triclocarban: They are antibacterial agents included in some personal care products. However, they have been linked to hormone disruption and adverse effects on the environment. 
  • Phthalates: Another culprit to watch out for are phthalates. These chemicals are often used in “fragrance,” and may cause hormonal dysfunction. 
  • Petrolatum & Paraffin: These ingredients are a concern mainly due to the chances of contamination by polyaromatic hydrocarbons during their sourcing process, which may heighten cancer risk. 
  • Silicones: While beneficial for most individuals, silicones are implicated in skin clogging, and are thus unwanted ingredients if your skin is susceptible to acne. 
  • Toluene: Used in nail polish, toluene is harmful to the immune system and can lead to birth defects. 

Other ingredients to avoid

Although these ingredients aren’t expressly dangerous, excessive use may cause unwanted side effects or may have negative social or environmental consequences.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole: This chemical agent may irritate the skin, cause hormonal imbalance or increase cancer risk.
Carmine: Also called cochineal, Natural Red 4 and crimson lake, this red pigment is found in colour cosmetics. The ingredient isn’t considered dangerous but should be duly noted when used in any personal care product.
Chemical Sunscreens: When it comes to sunscreens, natural minerals are your safest choice, such as titanium dioxide and zinc. Chemical alternatives are either not well documented or can lead to hormonal imbalance.
Microbeads and Glitter: Your ideal exfoliating agent should be microbead free. Go with natural exfoliants from pulp, seeds and coffee. Glitter derived from minerals such as Mica are also safer than synthetic ones.
Animal By-Products: These include fats, animal oils and musks. While some brands may claim 100% vegan products, it’s not uncommon to see animal by-products finding their way in the constituents.
Glycols: While propylene, polypropylene, butylenes and dipropylene glycol are not harmful, other glycols compounds like propylene glycol may cause skin irritation, and polyethylene glycol should be avoided.
Heavy Metals: Natural mineral pigments and synthetic colourants may contain trace amounts of heavy metals. They may not present immediate problems, but regular and extended use of cosmetics containing trace metals can be a threat in the long run.
EDTA: EDTA compounds may endanger aquatic life since they don’t break down naturally.
Ethanolamines: These include nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer.
Cyclical Silicones: Cyclical silicone contains chemicals that may become toxic to the body, causing endocrine and reproductive dysfunction.
HDPE Plastic: If your product is packaged in a plastic container, go with PET 1 packaging, and not HDPE Plastic, since the former is more readily recyclable. Glass is always a better option.

Your beauty choices have an impact

Choosing clean beauty products isn’t only beneficial for your health, but for the environment, too. Products that are washed down the drain and into our water systems can have severe effects on the environment. That’s why, when choosing a beauty product, it’s best to go with not only clean beauty, but green, natural and organic too. 

One of the best ways to ensure your products meet all the criteria without having to spend hours reading ingredient labels is by looking out for certifications such as the Butterfly Mark. These types of certifications are awarded to brands that meet strict criteria in terms of sustainability. 

The best option in high-end, clean beauty

La Fervance is the first of its kind – a high-end luxury beauty brand that is not only clean, but environmentally and socially responsible too. Made of ingredients with 100% natural origins that are sustainably and ethically sourced, La Fervance meets every clean beauty standard, which is why we were awarded the Butterfly Mark, too. 

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