Clean Beauty 101

What does “clean beauty” mean?

You’ve heard the buzzwords, and you are probably vaguely aware of the notion that there are harmful ingredients in our personal care products, but what does “clean beauty” actually mean? Generally, clean beauty refers to products that are made without harmful or toxic ingredients. They’re usually marketed as clean, natural, or non-toxic.

Looking for products that brand themselves as being “clean” is a good start, but if you don’t know what to look for it can be easy succumb to greenwashing by products that may technically be “natural” but still contain some potentially harmful ingredients. Today I’m talking about how to shop for truly clean products that work, so that you can feel confident in choosing personal care products that are right for you and your family.

What role does the government play in regulating personal care products?

Before I learned about ingredient safety, I assumed that there were laws governing our personal care products and protecting us from “real” harm.  I had heard about avoiding things like sodium laurel sulfate in shampoos, but I figured it was related to having better hair, not better health.  I followed several health and wellness bloggers for many years, and they had started talking about how it not only matters what ingredients are in our food, but what ingredients are in the products we use every day. I slowly started learning how the ingredients in our personal care products may actually be causing us harm, and that there was nothing the government could do in its current state to regulate the safety of personal care products.

number of restricted ingredients by country

More than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced to the environment since 1938, and only 15% of those have been tested for human safety.  The FDA technically has power over the personal care industry, but that power is extremely limited.  They do not require ingredients to be tested for safety, and they cannot force brands to recall products when there is a safety concern.

With this gross lack of regulation and accountability, the personal care industry is free to do whatever it likes with little or no consequences.  We need to hold brands accountable, and start voting with our dollars by seeking out safer options.  The good news here is that The amount of chemicals in your system drop drastically within days of switching to cleaner products. 

What ingredients should I avoid in my personal care products?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start:

Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben) – used as preservatives in personal care products like makeup, hair care, moisturizer, etc.  They are known hormone disruptors that can be absorbed into the skin.  There have been studies recently linking parabens to breast cancer

Phtalalates(DBP, DEHP, DEP and others) – Another hormone disruptor, this one is used to help fragrances stick to skin.  Because of it’s function, this chemical is frequently hidden under the term “fragrance”, which means it can be hidden in just about any product.

Fragrance – Did you know that a company’s fragrance formula is considered a trade secret? That means they’re not required to tell you what is included in that formula.  There are currently over 3,000 materials that are considered fragrance compounds – including Phtalalates.  Unless a brand is open about where their “fragrance” came from, do yourself a favor and put it back on the shelf.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES) – As it turns out, avoiding these products isn’t about having better hair.  They can cause skin irritation and trigger allergies.  If you’re using a product that creates suds, check the ingredient list because these ingredients are most likely present.

Formaldehyde – yes, that’s right. They same stuff they use in the embalming process can be found in personal care products! It usually present when these preservatives are listed on the label: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol)

How can I shop for clean personal care products?

It can be overwhelming to try and find products with ingredients that you feel good about at first, but with practice it will become second nature. Here’s a few tips to get you started on your clean beauty journey:

  1. Use the EWG’s guide for ingredient safety
    https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
    The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that is commited to improving human safety by exposing health risks in our every day products through research and education.
    You can pull up their website, or download their app, to quickly check out products and/or specific ingredients to decide if it’s something you want to be using. I am totally that person at Target; using my phone to look up ingredients before I add something to my cart, and it is so worth it for the peace of mind! I love being empowered to make choices that are right for me and my family.
  2. Shop brands you trust
    There are some really great brands out there that are transparent about their ingredients and sourcing, so that you know you can trust what you’re buying from them. You’ll find your own favorite brands over time as you learn what you like, but here’s a few of mine to get you started:
    Beautycounter: I’m an independent consultant for Beautycounter because I love them that much. Not only do they make safer, high performing skincare, cosmetics, and personal care itmes, but they’re on a mission to reform the personal care industry in the United States, and I’m proud to be a part of that mission! If you choose to shop with Beautycounter, I’d be honored to be your consultant and help you find the products that work best for your skin and lifestyle.
    Primally Pure is a family owned business makes products that are safe, clean, and effective! I love the charcoal deoderant, dry shampoo, and almond + vanilla body butter.
    Dazzle Dry is a complete nail system that wears like gel (dries in 5 minutes!) but without the toxic ingredients! I’ve been using them for the past few months and love everything about them. My favorite colors right now are Joan’s Arc and Seduction.
    David’s Natural Toothpaste: You probably didn’t think about checking the ingredients on your toothpaste, did you? For the most part, ingredients toothpaste are not that bad (all of the brands listed on EWG are a 5 or better), but I like the peace of mind knowing that I have a brand I can trust to use quality, safe ingredients.

Share your favorite brands and products below! I’m always looking for new things to try out.


Many of the facts listed above are from educational materials provided by Beautycounter.  If you’re interested in learning more or would like source information, please contact me directly.

As a Beautycounter consultant, I make a comission on any products purchased through the link above. Please contact me with any questions, or for help choosing products that are right for you.