What’s in your makeup? We look at the “clean” cosmetics trend.

Jar of clean cream on edge of water

What exactly is “clean makeup” and “clean beauty”? Does using “clean” makeup truly make a difference? Is it important for women over 60 to make the switch?References to “clean” in the cosmetics world are everywhere these days, particularly in the last two years.

Makeup and skincare companies—particularly newcomers to the marketplace—have been quick to anticipate this new trend and to incorporate “clean” into their unique selling position.  And, by the way, this trend toward clean beauty is nothing to sneeze at. The clean beauty market is predicted to make $22 billion by 2024.

Why are women over 60 interested in this “clean” trend?

While young women may lead the market for clean skin care and makeup products, many older women are also seeking out these products.

There may be health or medical reasons, or a desire to go green. Or perhaps it’s because so many of us took a break from wearing makeup during the pandemic that we are rethinking the products we use.

What exactly does “clean” mean?

There is no one definition for “clean” makeup or skincare.  Still, there are basic similarities when various beauty editors, gurus, blogs and dermatologists are speaking about it.  For our purposes, we define clean makeup and skincare as:

* Cruelty free

Most new makeup and skin care lines do not test their products on animals.  That is not true of some of the older companies including L’Oréal (founded in 1909 by a young French chemist) and Revlon (founded in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression).  Those two conglomerates own many other companies and continue to test their products on animals.

* Safe

The European Union has banned more than 1,000 chemicals common in personal care products. In contrast, the United States has banned just 11. Rather than man-made chemicals, clean makeup and skincare use plant-based ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to recall toxic beauty products unless a manufacturer volunteers. This said, cosmetic and skincare developers understand that flying in the face of the clean makeup trend is a recipe for sinking sales.  Just consider Cover Girl, founded in 1961. In 2019 the company launched its CLEAN FRESH vegan beauty line of products, which are available at multiple retail outlets including Amazon and Ulta.

Jones Road, created by Bobbi Brown (the woman, not the brand) in 2020 is a line of clean beauty products that claims to follow guidelines “even more stringent than those of the E.U. to eliminate over 2,700 potentially harmful ingredients from our formulas.”

* Ethically sourced ingredients

Today more of us care about this issue.  Yet it was not so many years ago that most of us probably didn’t give much thought to the sources of our clothing, coffee, and makeup.  Today makeup and skincare companies are realizing it is important to talk about where they source the ingredients for their products.

One example is Dr. Hauschka, a German brand that has been around for years. They recently stated on their website: Due to close co-operation with the local authorities, a better co-operation with the miners and regular and unannounced on-site audits, our supplier can guarantee, since the middle of 2011, that all mica retrieved by them from India is free of child labour.”



* Made with fewer ingredients

Clean is also simple.

Take a quick look at the ingredients list on some of your products. You may wonder about the sheer number of them.  While not all these ingredients are “bad”, the more there are, the more complex the product is. Is this truly necessary?  More ingredients mean that more hands have touched it, more sources are involved and the environmental impact is likely to be greater.

* Minimal environmental impact

From packaging, to toxic chemicals, to pesticides sprayed on raw ingredients, to the use of palm oil (a significant player in deforestation), to the damaging ingredients in chemical sunscreens, consumers are becoming more educated about the health dangers posed by cosmetics and skincare products.

There are not-for-profit agencies such as Environmental Working Group (EWG), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, The David Suzuki Foundation, and others that work to raise the awareness so that the brands are forced to do better.

Clean, but not organic…?

You may note that we have not included terms like “organic” or “vegan” or “green”, or “free of man-made chemicals”, in our list.  That’s because many of us are just beginning to understand “clean” as it applies to makeup and skincare.

While it’s not to say that other traits are not important, the list is endless if we take it to the extreme.  In addition, it is important to understand that some of these characteristics may be nice to have but not essential; for example, “organic” is not always necessary and not all man-made chemicals are “bad”.  Our objective has been to present a list that is balanced and achievable if you decide to go the clean route.

Go clean without wasting the products you have

If you have decided to go clean, we have a common sense approach that will get you started. It is not wasteful and won’t require you to spend a lot of money to replace what you have.

The following steps will help you to ease into the clean beauty scene:

1. Discard anything with these ingredients

We do not advocate being wasteful and we would not encourage a wholesale purge of your beauty products.  We do suggest, however, that you get rid of products, as soon as possible, that contain any of the following ingredients.

Table of potentially harmful cosmetic ingredients
Chart Sources: Environmental Working Group, Odacite, Byrdie, Black Paint Microbiome Skincare, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and others.

2. Replace your products as they run out

This list is not exhaustive by any means.  During the research for this article, these ingredients cropped up on most lists of things to avoid in your skin care and beauty products.

Most people who care about how they look have hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars worth of makeup, toiletries and self-care products at home.  As you use up your “unclean” products, you can replace them with clean ones.  Remember when you are shopping to read ingredient lists thoroughly and not to skim over names, particularly the ones you don’t understand and can’t pronounce.  If you plan ahead and know which products you want to buy, go to their websites to learn more about their ingredients.

3. Use the triangle principle to replace your products

Think of an inverted triangle with the base at the top and the point at the bottom.  The base represents products that cover the largest surface of your skin (like body lotion) or that stay on your skin all day (like facial moisturizer).  The tip represents products like an eyebrow pencil that cover a very small section of your skin.

Replace your products starting with the base first and work down to the point.  The one exception is with your lipstick.  Even though lipstick covers a very small portion of your skin, you ingest lipstick when you lick your lips throughout the day.  If you wear lipstick regularly and frequently reapply it during the day, you may want to consider a clean product.

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