After National Clean Beauty Day in the USA (July 15 2021), it got us thinking about the debate around the concept of “Clean Beauty.” We asked ourselves and our brands, and here are some questions we’re left with, as well as our response to how others in the industry and ourselves at NATIVE are Coming Clean.
THE MESSY UNCERTAINTY BEHIND THE “CLEAN” CLAIM
Like so many are suggesting, is Clean Beauty just another unregulated marketing opportunity for beauty businesses to green-wash and win more conscious consumers' attention? Is the bigger problem at play the term’s ambiguity and usage in an under-regulated industry? Or is there even a problem at all?
We think Clean Beauty has potential to truly be a transformational “trend” to educate and influence consumers, but we need to get more critical about the precise meaning first. Or, as a recent SpecialChem article suggests, if we don’t agree as an industry on the meaning, then each company must clearly define what Clean Beauty means to them, “on-pack, on the website and social media channels. As formulators, product developers and marketers in the industry we need to find new ways of conveying ingredient and chemistry knowledge to consumers, which are credible and are not condescending.”
WHAT IS CLEAN?
It means different things to different groups, and can even have different meanings across each step in the production process - so here are some questions we need to answer as an industry before it becomes another abused and tainted term like “natural.”
Are ‘chemical-free’ marketing claims confusing consumers?
Even the most natural, plant-based compounds are technically ‘chemicals.’ As American chemist Michelle Francl has brought to our attention, every living thing in nature is comprised of chemicals. We are surrounded by chemicals of natural and synthetic origin. Water (H2O) is a chemical and even our bodies are comprised of chemicals. The phyto-compounds we extract from our Cellular Extracts are created in nature, and yes, they are also chemicals with a molecular structure. Our miracle natural Vitamin C is a chemical – it is biological L-Ascorbic Acid made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. It’s time to call it out in the cosmetics industry – “chemical” is not a bad word. Its negative connotation is deceiving, and even if you formulate with thin air ... it is still made of chemicals! Now, “synthetic-free” might be more like it for those focusing on natural sources of compounds, but while we are a company that takes pride in our ability to harness natural molecules in a species’ water-soluble entourage; we see there are also amazing scientific advances achieved in product design in the lab too. It is about doing your research and backing claims with science, not scary sweeping statements.
Is Clean Beauty solely for plant-based solutions?
What keeps brands that use synthetic chemical ingredients from claiming they’re “Clean”? The definition and regulation of “safe” synthetic ingredients largely differs based on location (i.e. The EU has banned 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics, whereas the U.S. has only flagged 11).
Is Clean Beauty always safer?
Just because a formulation is “toxin free” does not mean it is better for people or the planet. Plants can be toxic just as well, and unpreserved or poorly preserved (with the latest push back on preservatives) formulations can carry dangerous levels of microbes (i.e. E. coli and S. aureus).
Does Clean Beauty involve the manufacturing processes of ingredients and finished products?
Does it consider the cleanliness of solvents, by-products and processing waste, and how they are disposed of? We think it’s important – we see some plant extract companies not disclosing their solvents and claiming 100% plant! Our Cellular extracts are created using rain-harvested water (deionized and purified) saving the public supply approx. 1000L/day. Our process minimizes biomass used and the only waste is spelt biomass which is composted.
Does Clean Beauty mean more energy-efficient processing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Our process is rapid, and significantly reduced over past methods of maceration and percolation. We’ve identified our next phase of energy reducing practices to start at the end of 2021.
Is it referring to packaging that has less impact on the planet?
Or does “clean” offer consumers the chance to “opt out” of frivolous outer packaging, and “bundles”? And what about all the single-use samples adding to the plastic problem? Our waste jerry cans are picked up weekly by community groups using them to make gardens to grow food for people in mobile homes.
Is it consumer-driven, pushed by growing demands for more transparency?
Is it looking at more eco-sustainable agricultural sourcing? Bio-diversity over mono-culture?
Is the industry recognising we could do things better, whilst talking about our improvements?
What are the other concepts you think of when you think “clean”?
CAN WE SIMPLIFY THE MEANING OF CLEAN?
Our simple answer is that there is no right answer because “clean” means different things from different perspectives. But on the other hand, there are many wrong answers. It quickly becomes “Unclean Beauty” when brands can’t back up their claims, when it’s clear that they are relying on fear tactics and chemophobia (a latent feat of chemicals) to sway consumers away from their competitors. One of our favourite cosmetic chemistry MythBusters, Michelle Wong, explains that this fear mongering and misinformation has led many cosmetic scientists to acknowledge Clean Beauty as an unscientific trend, one that is challenging formulators to find new natural solutions that may not be as safe as traditional ingredients. So, to us, Clean Beauty should definitely not be a desperate response to a consumer craze, but a calculated consideration of what’s best for people and the planet’s health. And goes beyond the ingredient.
CALLING “CLEAN” INTO QUESTION
Of course it’s hard for brands to answer all of the questions above correctly, but what’s important is that they are transparent in answering them honestly, it boils down to having the best of intentions and showing continual improvement. NATIVE EXTRACTS’ Director and Innovator, Lisa Carroll, says it’s all about Coming Clean, “whatever the label or phrase, I’m all in for a ‘trend’ that supports re-envisioning how the personal care industry impacts our planet, whether through agriculture, transportation, packaging, formulating, manufacturing, distribution and all the steps in between. The more we talk, the more we share ideas and find solutions. I am always looking for inspiration to do better and for solution-based collaborations as well as share what works well in our practices– we are in this together.”
Lisa continues, “There will always be groups that see a noble cause as an opportunity to leverage for selfish reasons, but I see this “clean” concept being curated by a collective of consumers, brands, growers and manufactures that truly want to contribute to better solutions and practices, whether it is reducing water consumption, repurposing waste, choosing sustainable sources, building circular economies, reducing packaging, making packaging less damaging t oceans and land etc. That is my experience on a daily basis – brands come to us sharing the same ethos, they ask the questions, we build commitment agreements together - it is part of their mission, it is part of our vision and practices. And we all know we can do more, and continually build. They see through the cheap imitators. We’ve even seen brands use our Organic logos on their website and then publish green-washing pieces in media publications!”
Maybe “Clean Beauty” is so loosely defined because it leaves more room for interpretation and creativity to start making little improvements, but as we are seeing, taken together as a whole, the sum of what each of us can do is what will make a very BIG difference. We are definitely not getting on our high horse, because we can always make further improvements ourselves.
WE ARE COMING CLEAN and it can become your backstory too
When we asked ourselves what “clean” meant to NATIVE (our operation and commitment to giving brands tools to achieve their own “clean” vision), it turned into a presentation we thought worth sharing and having conversations around – ASK about our Coming Clean Industry Insight Report, where we look at innovative and eco-responsible extraction processes, waste reduction and management, repurposing biomass, and the next steps to do better. To us, “Clean” is a moving target, a work in progress, a continuous focus toward improving our practices and a continual evolution as we build solutions. What does it mean to you?
“I think you will love this presentation. We are committed to transparency – we can help you navigate some of your ingredient questions. If you know what is in your ingredients and how they are made and what is done with the waste, then you can be more informed in your decisions. I hope you like it and it helps you with your own journey” – Lisa Carroll
Request our Innovation Map (NPD Brief template)!
It is a great tool to start with! Together we can help you find a tool kit of ingredients that support your “clean beauty” vision.