You don’t need the last name Paltrow, a standing gua sha appointment, or a shelf full of powdered mushroom extracts to care about the ingredients in your beauty products. From parabens, phthalates, and sulfates to oxybenzone, triclosan, hydroquinone, and artificial fragrances, these dirty beauty words are fear inducing enough to elicit a Marie Kondo-style purge of your entire bathroom cabinet, even in the most apathetic among us. But what does clean beauty even mean? Can you trust all-natural labels? And are nontoxic products important?
Nearly 50 percent of women are already using clean beauty products, according to a Harper’s BAZAAR poll of more than 1,000 women across all ages, races, and ethnicities, and more than 60 percent of women would be willing to splurge on one. But with more options than ever before—you don’t need to stray far from the drugstore to find a natural version of your favorite skin care, makeup, and hair care products—there comes more opportunity for greenwashing. Not only is the beauty industry self-regulated (meaning anyone can make a “clean beauty” claim with no oversight), but America’s cosmetic regulations for safe products is 81 years old—older than most modern beauty companies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to recall toxic beauty products unless a manufacturer volunteers. And while the European Union has banned more than 1,000 chemicals common in personal care products, the United States has banned just 11. Should you be concerned? And where do you even start on a path to a cleaner beauty routine?
To separate science from science fiction, we spoke with leading beauty experts; pored over studies and data; and swiped, swatched, and spritzed hundreds of clean hair and skin care products to get to the root of what it really means to be clean and natural in the realm of beauty.