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Clean beauty products: What it means and why brands ban certain ingredients

by Ezequiel Hook (2020-10-02)

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Some people are swapping traditional beauty brands for "clean" versions -- here's why.
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This story is part of Road Trip 2020, CNET's series on how we're preparing now for what could come next.

When I was in college about five years ago, I started doing more research about the ingredients in food and how they can affect your health. I did the One of the big drivers in my desire to change my products was this one fact: Your in your body. And it's largely thought that at least some of the ingredients that you put on it absorb into your bloodstream. Not to mention all of the (increasingly growing) in beauty products are endocrine disruptors, which means they can disrupt your hormones. , for example, which is linked to hormone disorders, thyroid disorders, obesity and even hormone-related cancers. So if ingredients I put on my body can be absorbed and potentially go into my bloodstream, why would I want to eat healthily but not care about the other chemicals coming in? 

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For many clean beauty brands, sustainability is a priority -- whether that means using sustainable ingredients or choosing packaging that is biodegradable and better for the environment. The is a key civic group known for providing groundbreaking research on how toxic ingredients and other practices can harm people and the environment.
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It didn't make sense for me so I slowly made the switch and changed out all of the products one by one -- I didn't throw everything away, but when something ran out, I would replace it with a "clean" option. When I did this, I learned that even though clean beauty is largely made up of expensive luxury brands, more affordable brands are available now, especially as the demand for clean beauty increases.  When shopping for these products, I found that the labels in the industry can get really confusing: there's "clean," "natural," "nontoxic," -- I could go on. What do all of these terms actually mean and how do you know what products are worth investing in? The answer is complicated. Which is why I talked to two brands that are leaders in the clean beauty world -- Drunk Elephant, founded in 2012 by Tiffany Masterson, and Beautycounter, founded in 2013 by Gregg Renfrew.  Keep reading to learn more about what clean beauty means, why Masterson and Renfrew decided to start their brands and how they choose ingredients, plus more on how ingredients are regulated. group-5-17-3Drunk Elephant is a highly popular clean beauty brand founded by Tiffany Masterson. 
Drunk Elephant
The gray area in clean beauty  In the United States, the beauty and cosmetics industries are largely unregulated when it comes to what ingredients they can and cannot use, and also how they can market and label products as "clean," "natural" or "nontoxic." Compared to 40 other nations in the world, in , the US is lagging behind when it comes to enacting measures for safety in ingredients in products. The Food and Drug Administration  from beauty products for safety reasons, and Congress has not updated laws on personal care and beauty product safety in about 80 years. By contrast, the ingredients from personal care products. The FDA also has no standards or guidelines that require personal care and beauty brands to test ingredients for safety before they are sold and marketed.  ewg-social-share-personalcaremap-c02More than 40 nations around the world have tighter restrictions on the ingredients used in personal care products than the US.
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Since there is little regulation for ingredients in the US and no standard definition for clean beauty -- then what does it mean? The answer varies depending on each brand. "Since there is not one industry wide definition of 'clean' beauty, every brand defines it a little differently. To me 'clean' means using only ingredients that are safe and not known or thought to be linked to internal disease or disruption if they are able to get into the bloodstream," Masterson tells CNET. She developed the "," a list of six potentially harmful ingredients, as a guideline for what the company will never use in its products.  But for Masterson, those six ingredients aren't just about safety in terms of potential links to endocrine disruption or other health issues, it's also about "respecting and supporting the healthy function of skin. The ingredients in Drunk Elephant products won't cause irritation or congestion and they keep the  intact -- that's what makes them biocompatible. My mission is to help people by delivering products that work and can improve the quality of their skin when the philosophy is strictly adhered to," Masterson says. For Beautycounter, "clean beauty" means much more than the list of ingredients that the company bans from its products, which it calls the . "For Beautycounter, it's more than just formulating safe ingredients. It means we look at how we are sourcing the ingredients, and how people are treated along the supply chain and how we select packaging, making sure that we keep sustainability in mind and that we screen all of the packaging materials for potential ingredients that could leach into our clean formulas," says Lindsay Dahl, SVP of social mission at .