Clean Beauty—and Why It's Important

Clean Beauty—and Why It’s Important

Clean beauty is made without ingredients shown or suspected to harm human health. At goop, clean beauty also has to be luxurious, high-performance, and all-out enchanting, whether it’s a shower gel you use every day, a youth-boosting superserum that leaves your skin glowing, or a lip color you reserve for when you want to look and feel your prettiest. There’s no compromise to be made anymore—the tech has gotten that good–so there’s even less of an excuse for conventional beauty companies to keep making products with potentially harmful ingredients.

While it’s hard to believe that conventional beauty companies would ever include such ingredients in their products, the fact is that they do—it’s still common practice and perfectly legal. The conventional beauty and personal-care industry is still minimally regulated in America. To give you an idea of where we are, consider that there are 11 cosmetic ingredients currently banned by the FDA, while in the EU, over 1,300 ingredients are banned. Companies operating in the US are mostly free to do whatever they want, with little government oversight. So they continue to pack products that we use every day (mascara, face wash, shampoo, etc.) with potentially harmful ingredients that can include known carcinogens, irritants, and endocrine disruptors

Greenwashing and Clean-Washing

Because it’s essentially a free-for-all, companies can use many adjectives to market and greenwash these potentially harmful products—“natural,” “green,” and “eco,” for example, have no clear definitions.

What Clean Means at goop

At goop, we’ve created our own, strict standards of what we call clean beauty, which you’ll see in action in our own beauty lines (goop skin care, fragrance, hair care, and body care), in all the products sold in the goop Clean Beauty Shop, and in all of our editorial stories as well. Clean, for us, means a product that is made without a long (and ever-evolving) list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects, which can range from hormone disruption and cancer to plain-old skin irritation. To name a few of the offenders we avoid: parabens, phthalates, PEGs, ethanolamines, chemical sunscreens, synthetic fragrance, BHT, and BHA.

We look to scientific studies as we make our decisions about which ingredients we can live with and which we can’t. The science can be murky, but we go with the clear offenders: Do you want antifreeze (propylene glycol) in your moisturizer? We’re going to guess no.

Do we love luxurious, incredible-smelling, super effective, beautifully pigmented beauty products? We do—and we make them, sell them, and write about them. Clean beauty involves no compromises in terms of quality, efficacy, or luxury at this point; it’s a beautiful thing.

Our ultimate goal? That more people vote with their dollars (at goop or elsewhere) so that someday, we won’t ever have to wonder what’s in this perfume or that face cream, because all of it will be clean and safe (more on that below).

Learn more about clean beauty

These stories give a good overview about what’s going on in the industry—and what’s at stake.

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The most important things to know about clean beauty

  1. Why “fragrance” isn’t an ingredient:

    The FDA has little power over the personal-care industry—a point that is perhaps most glaring (and maddening) when it comes to ingredient labels: Cosmetic companies are not required to disclose ingredients that are considered trade secrets, namely fragrance. This loophole means that any skin-care, makeup, or bath product can contain multiple toxic ingredients with no mention of them so long as they are considered part of the fragrance formula (which includes not just scent but also color and experiential elements, like how the fragrance sticks to your skin). Despite the unforgivable lack of transparency, what has become evident is that trade-secret label terms—fragrance, perfume, parfum, flavor—are often Trojan horses for thousands of toxic ingredients that are commonly used by conventional brands, making them the biggest red flag to look for when shopping.

  2. The reason endocrine disruptors are so scary:

    Chemicals that have the ability to mimic the body’s hormones are classified as endocrine disruptors. They include the ingredient class parabens (a routinely used preservative; look for words ending in -paraben on labels, like butylparaben), and chemical sunscreens (which are often in moisturizers and creams, too, or fall under the guise of fragrance). As the name suggests, endocrine disruptors mess with the endocrine system, which regulates our body’s essential rhythms (like our metabolism, mood, and reproductive processes). The reason that endocrine disruptors are particularly dangerous is counterintuitive at first: They come in very tiny doses. It’s their micro-ness, though, that allows them to impersonate our own hormones (also very tiny), altering the production levels of our hormones and the way they behave. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to severe, long-term health damage, including reproductive issues, birth defects, metabolic problems, and cancer. (Parents take note: Endocrine disruptors are even more of a concern for littles with developing systems.)

  3. The presence of carcinogens in beauty products:

    It’s mind-boggling but true: Today, ingredients that are known carcinogens—meaning they can cause cancer—and many more that are considered possibly carcinogenic, are frequently put into personal care products, and it’s completely legal to do so. A main carcinogen to be aware of is formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative in makeup, hair, body, and skincare products. To make matters worse, formadelhyde is never listed on labels; what is listed is the chemicals in formulas that release formaldehyde (when added to water, they slowly decompose, forming molecules of formaldehyde). Here’s what to look for: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, quaternium-15.

Clean Beauty Buying Guides

We take you through important considerations—chemical vs. mineral sunblock, the concern around aluminum in deodorant, etc.—and winnow it down to our very favorite products.

  1. Deodorant
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Beauty Balms
  4. Body Oils
  5. Face Oils
  6. Lip Balms

Where We’re at with Clean Beauty Legislation

As mentioned above, the only piece of legislation regulating the personal care industry, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFCDA) was signed into law by FDR back in 1938 and hasn’t been updated since. The result: a severely restricted FDA that cannot require companies to disclose the amount of each ingredient they’re using in a product, puts virtually no funding towards uncovering potentially dangerous ingredients, and (shockingly) does not allow the FDA to recall products that have been proven to harm consumers.

During the last session of congress, the first amendment to update the FFDCA since 1938, the Personal Care Products Safety Act, was brought to the floor of the Senate. The act was co-sponsored by two senators: Democrat Dianne Feinstein (California) and Republican Susan Collins (Maine), and had widespread industry support from big industry players like Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Revlon, L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and Unilever. Under this amendment, cosmetic companies would be required to register their facilities with the FDA and submit ingredient lists disclosing the amount of each ingredient to the FDA. In addition, salon brands and online brands, which currently don’t have to disclose any ingredients, would be required to do so as well. The FDA would have the critical authority to recall unsafe products (it’s currently voluntary), and be required to review five potentially dangerous ingredients each year. While many clean beauty advocates are pushing for an even stronger bill, there’s no denying that this progress is much better than the decades of stagnation we’ve seen on the subject.

Unfortunately, the Personal Care Products Safety Act never made it out of committee during the last congress. As a bipartisan bill with broad industry support, though, it’s widely expected to be reintroduced. The timing is still uncertain, so stay tuned for updates once the lawmakers are back in Washington, as we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that this congress is the one to pass it once and for all.


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