From Aesop cleansers to Kiehl’s moisturizers, ‘clean’ beauty products have swept the cosmetics market by storm. According to Brandessence Market Research and Consulting, ‘clean’ skincare and cosmetics dominated the beauty space in 2020 and will only continue to grow in the coming years. By 2025, the market is expected to be worth a whopping $11.6 billion USD.
While it’s undeniable that ‘clean’ beauty products are immensely popular, is that popularity really merited? To answer this question, we need to dive deeper into what makes a product ‘clean’ in the first place.
We all know what it means to be ‘clean’ but when used in a commercial context, the word starts to look vastly different. Most people would imagine a ‘clean’ product as one made from organic and sustainable materials, one that’s safe for use and free from toxic ingredients. While this is a great definition to keep in mind, this is actually NOT always the case. As there are no strict regulations surrounding what makes a product ‘clean’ and how the term can be used, many companies claim their products are ‘clean’ when they’re far from it.
In reality, many companies take advantage of the conscious consumer and “cleanwash” their brand and products. Similar to “greenwashing”, “cleanwashing” refers to the deceptive marketing practice of advertising oneself or one’s products as clean when it is not true. By using words like natural, nontoxic and organic, companies are able to frame themselves in a positive light to the consumer. Generally, when we perceive a product to be ‘clean’, we automatically assume that it’s healthy for our bodies and we tend to buy those items.
Remember that point about the cosmetics industry being unregulated? This is a very big issue. The Food and Drug Administration does not inspect beauty products prior to them hitting the shelves. They only ensure that the products are safe for human use. This essentially means that companies can create synthetic products containing less-than-natural formulas and get away with it! This also means that they can charge a hefty premium for their ‘clean’ products. Any product with natural ingredient labels automatically becomes more expensive than other generic products.
However, it would be wrong to say all ‘clean’ brands fall into this category. There are real companies taking real steps to become more sustainable and offer more ‘clean’ products. For example, American-based beauty company, Aether Beauty, has taken steps to offer their consumers more transparency and protection with their ingredients. The founder, Tiila Abbitt, started her company after noticing how many harmful ingredients and chemicals were “safe-for-use” in the US. For context, there are only 11 banned ingredients in the US as opposed to over 1,300 in the European Union!
Ultimately, the hype surrounding ‘clean’ beauty products is debatable. Some might see it purely as a marketing opportunity while others might genuinely want to enact change. At the end of the day, it’s important as consumers that we do our own research and support brands that we feel strongly about. However, one thing is clear – ‘clean’ beauty is here to stay.