How to Choose Clean Beauty & Skincare Products

clean beauty and skincare

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A dive into statistics surrounding skincare products indicates the majority of us look for natural and organic skincare products when shopping. As a result, more and more clean and conscious beauty and skincare brands and products are popping up every day, which is great news because it means more clean options!

If you know it’s a good idea to opt for clean beauty and skincare products but aren’t sure what it really means or why it matters, we’ve got you covered! This article will help you understand what clean beauty is, why it matters, and how to choose clean beauty & skincare products.

What is Clean Beauty?

Clean beauty is a term used to describe beauty and personal care products that are formulated without certain potentially harmful ingredients. The term “clean” generally refers to the absence of ingredients such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances.

The goal of clean beauty is to use products that are free of chemicals and synthetic ingredients to reduce the amount of toxins that are absorbed into the skin, as well as to protect the environment. 

Proponents of clean beauty believe that these products are safer for both people and the environment and that they may be more effective in promoting healthy skin and hair. However, there is no standardized definition of “clean” in the beauty industry, and different brands may use the term to refer to different sets of ingredients.

It’s important to note that the safety of cosmetic ingredients is regulated by government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union’s Cosmetics Regulation, which have established limits on the use of certain ingredients in cosmetic products. However, some people choose to use clean beauty products as a personal preference or as a way to reduce their exposure to certain ingredients.

Why Is Clean Beauty Important?

Clean beauty is an important concept because it focuses on reducing our exposure to potentially harmful ingredients and promoting the use of natural, non-toxic ingredients that are gentle on our skin, bodies, and the environment. 

By choosing products made with clean ingredients, we are taking a proactive approach to our health and well-being, as well as the environment. This helps to ensure that we are using products that are safe and effective while minimizing the risk of allergic reactions and other health issues. Some studies have suggested that ingredients such as parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives may be linked to health issues such as allergies, hormone disruption, and cancer. The skin has an average absorption rate of 64%, which means that we’re absorbing what we put on our skin. Choosing clean beauty products can help reduce your exposure to these potentially harmful ingredients.

Another important factor is that many conventional beauty products contain ingredients that can be harmful to the environment, such as microplastics for example. Clean beauty products often use more sustainable and eco-friendly ingredients, such as plant-based extracts and natural oils.

Clean beauty products often come with greater transparency around their ingredients, allowing consumers to know exactly what they are putting on their skin and hair. This can help people make more informed decisions about the products they use and avoid ingredients that they may be sensitive or allergic to, or just don’t want to put on their skin. 

Overall, clean beauty is important to many people as it allows them to make choices about their personal care products that align with their values and concerns around health, the environment, and transparency.

Top 5 Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid & How to Identify Them

There are many potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in skincare products, but here are five that you may want to avoid:

1. Parabens

Parabens are a group of synthetic preservatives that are commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products. They have been linked to hormone disruption and have been detected in human breast tumors.

How to Identify Them: Parabens are usually easy to identify on an ingredient list because it will have the term ‘paraben’ in the name. For example, common parabens in cosmetics include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.

2. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and can be found in a variety of personal care products. They have been linked to reproductive and developmental harm and are known hormone disruptors.

How to Identify Them: The best way to avoid phthalates in your beauty and skincare products is to choose products that indicate they are ‘phthalate-free’. Unfortunately, phthalates can be difficult to detect on an ingredient list, but when they are listed, these are the most common phthalates to look out for:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
  • DINP (diisononyl phthalate)
  • BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
  • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
  • DEHP (di-2-Ethylhexyl phthalate)
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
  • DIDP (dodecyl phthalate)
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate)

3. Fragrance

 Fragrances can be a mixture of dozens or even hundreds of synthetic chemicals (including phthalates), many of which have not been tested for safety. Some fragrance ingredients have been linked to skin irritation, allergies, and hormone disruption.

How to Identify Them: Usually if a product contains fragrance it will be listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the ingredients list.

Note: Some clean beauty brands will use essential oils instead of these toxic chemical fragrances. If this is the case, you may see ‘fragrance*’ listed in the ingredients list with an asterisk (*) indicating on the packaging (usually below the ingredient list) that it’s made from essential oils.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES are ingredients commonly used in skincare products to create foam and lather. They can be harsh on the skin and have been linked to skin irritation and dryness.

How to Identify Them: These are typically easy to identify as they will be listed either with their full name (sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate) or their acronym (SLS or SLES) on the ingredients list.

5. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (such as DMDM hydantoin and quaternium-15) are used in some skincare products to prevent bacterial growth. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and has been linked to asthma and other respiratory issues.

How to Identify Them: To avoid formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in your beauty and skincare products, avoid these ingredients on the ingredients list: formaldehyde, formalin, formic aldehyde, methanal, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol, glyoxal, and methylene glycol.

Avoiding these potentially harmful ingredients is a good starting point for people who are looking to choose safer skincare products.

How to Choose Clean Beauty & Skincare Products

Choosing clean skincare products can feel overwhelming, but here are some tips to help you navigate the process:

Look for third-party certifications: Some companies may use terms like “natural” or “organic” on their products, but without any certification, it may be difficult to know whether these claims are accurate. Look for third-party certifications, such as USDA organic, EWG Verified, or Ecocert, which indicate that the product has met certain standards. Even if a product has third-party certifications, it’s still important to read the ingredient list.

third party certifications

Check the ingredient list: Review the ingredient list and look for potentially harmful ingredients, such as the ones listed above. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of concentration, so if a harmful ingredient is listed at the beginning, it may be best to avoid the product altogether.

Understand your skin type and needs: Choose products that are appropriate for your skin type and concerns. For example, if you have sensitive skin, you may want to look for products that are fragrance-free and contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera.

Use resources: There are many online resources that can help you determine whether a product is considered clean or contains potentially harmful ingredients. Some helpful resources include EWG’s Skin Deep database, the Think Dirty app, and Made Safe Certified products. 

This is the tool we use most often. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an app called EWG Healthy Living which you can use to scan the barcode of a product to determine how it’s rated before purchasing. 

More information to understand the EWG Skin Deep ratings can be found here. Essentially, products that are rated EWG Verified, 1, or 2 are considered to be low hazard as it relates to the ingredients in the product. Their rating system goes up to 10, with 10 being products containing ingredients with the highest hazards to health.

This is another tool that rates products according to how healthy they are based on the ingredients in them.

Keep in mind that, while Think Dirty and EWG Skin Deep both care about helping you make conscious choices with products that contain healthier ingredients, their rating systems differ.

Made Safe is a company that certifies products to ensure that their ingredients are safe and the products are sustainable. They have a great list of Made Safe Certified Products. You can learn more about their mission here.

Remember that “clean” is not a regulated term, so it’s important to do your research and choose products that align with your values and concerns.


Clean beauty and skincare products matter to an overwhelming majority of us. Thankfully, there are more and more clean products available to us every day. With better ingredients, more transparency, and more choices, we can enjoy a beauty and skincare regimen that’s both healthy and effective. We hope this information is helpful to you in your quest for clean beauty!

Here are a few clean beauty and skincare products that we love:

Amazon Beauty Favorites – February 6, 2023

Skincare Holy Grails

The Best Concealer

Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. We only recommend products we genuinely like. Thank you for your support!

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