Clean beauty: a nebulous concept in search of a definition

Originating long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the “clean beauty” movement has exploded with the consumer craze for natural and organic cosmetics, which would be respectful of health and the environment. Brands and retailers alike espouse this reassuring notion, which is also a possible way to curry favor with increasingly committed and uncompromising younger generations.

A vague concept born in the USA

In fact, the concept is promising at a time when the public is particularly attentive to what they put on their bodies and what they throw away (or don’t throw away), seeking more natural ingredients, eco-responsible packaging, and transparency.

The important fact remains that clean beauty is not yet defined. The notion seems to have arisen in the 1990s, while the specific term arose in the 2000s, at the same time that certain cosmetic brands became references in the field, such as Tata Harper, Drunk Elephant and Goop, and retailers specialized shops like Credo Beauty or The Detox Market.

Modeled on “Eat Clean,” the concept tended to refer to cosmetics free of harmful or controversial ingredients, at a time when many American consumers, urged on by public action groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), were They asked if certain ingredients banned in Europe could be used in the United States.

In fact, the European regulations on cosmetic products [1] —generally presented as the strictest in the world— contains in its Annex 2 a list of ingredients and prohibited substances as long as its arm. Which is far from the case in the United States.

When apps come to the rescue

However, even in Europe, ingredients authorized by regulations are sometimes criticized. And to reassure consumers, some brands voluntarily blacklist them from their formulas and those who claim to go further in this direction say they are “clean.” And because everyone is confused, digital solutions like Beautylitic and Clear Formula are helping brands and retailers see things more clearly.

And as we are still far from the much-sought-for full transparency, shoppers are also turning to digital apps. From Yuka to INCI Beauty, QuelCosmetic or Clean Beauty, there are countless solutions designed to analyze and evaluate the content of creams, scrubs, serums, make-up removers and the like.

green revolution

But the apps themselves are struggling to keep up! In fact, adding complexity to the concept, Clean Beauty gradually took on a green hue… especially in Europe!

As a result, more and more brands pay special attention to the use of natural, sometimes organic ingredients, and to the reduction of excess packaging. Solid cosmetics, refills and bulk purchases, not to mention holistic beauty, are trends that gravitate around the concept of clean beauty.

overall success

Despite (or because of) this vagueness, Clean Beauty has captivated people all over the world. It is clear that the pandemic has reinforced the appeal of natural and organic cosmetics, with a boom in green skin care. On Instagram, the term “clean beauty” has already generated almost 6 million posts to date, while it has generated no less than 1 billion views on TikTok, not counting the many hashtags associated with it.

This interest has already sparked many beauty trends, such as the “Clean Girl” aesthetic, which celebrates a minimalist routine, but also “clean” makeup.

There are few new skincare brands these days that don’t claim to be clean, and clean perfumery is taking off, too. As for traditional brands, they are slowly but surely reinventing their formulations to accommodate this demand.

If some private labels try to emerge, it’s unlikely that the notion of Clean Beauty will ever be truly clarified. Actually, let’s not forget that “To be unambiguous can only be to one’s own detriment!”