What is clean beauty?

Clean beauty is a growing movement for creating skin care and beauty products with ingredients scientifically assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to human health or the environment. On average, American women use about 12 personal care and/or cosmetic products each day, resulting in exposure to over 100 distinct chemicals before you even walk out the door in the morning. It’s important to remember that not all chemicals are harmful or even synthetic—in fact even water is technically a chemical—but it’s important to know how little is actually known about their safety.  We interviewed Dr. Nicole Acevedo, a leading clean beauty scientist, to get her perspective.  Here’s what she had so say.

How are chemicals regulated?

There are over 10,500 chemicals used in the global cosmetics industry to date. The vast majority have not been assessed for safety by a publicly accountable agency or regulatory body.

The U.S. law that currently governs the $60 billion national cosmetics industry was passed in 1938, and does not provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the power to ask cosmetic companies for safety data or issue recalls of cosmetics found to be unsafe. Currently, there is no pre-market approval for cosmetics to be on sale in the U.S. market and there are no laws that require the regulation of words like ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ on cosmetics and skin care products. Even more surprising is that the FDA does not require that every single cosmetic ingredient included in a product be declared on the product label for consumers! There is a still a regulatory loop hole that allows manufacturers to ‘hide’ the exact chemicals used in fragrance, flavor or even ‘trade secret’ ingredients from consumers, so even savvy shoppers may not be able to know exactly what ingredients are in their products.

In fact, the FDA has only banned or partially-restricted approximately 30 ingredients in personal care products since 1938, whereas the European Union has banned over 1300 chemicals from cosmetic products considered to be harmful to human health since 1976, and places strict restrictions on over 250 chemicals permitted for use in cosmetic products. Therefore, over 1500 chemicals have been banned or restricted to date in the EU. Over 500 ingredients are currently banned for use in Canada as well. More importantly, there is ongoing scientific review of the safety of chemicals and ingredients used in cosmetic products in the EU, so the more science that is generated, the better evaluations can be made.

How do we navigate this landscape?

So how do we make sure that ingredients in our products won’t harm us? By digging deep into the details of each ingredient, researching each chemical for evidence that it may directly contribute to harmful effects on our health such as through hormone disruption, organ toxicity, carcinogens, mutations, or allergens, or may pose health risks to mom and baby during pregnancy. There is a lot that we still don’t know about the potential health impacts of ingredients we use in our everyday products, so the beauty industry needs to commit to demystifying the ingredients in products so we can have an honest conversation about what we are putting on our bodies every day so we can all make better, safer choices.