Clean Beauty—and Why It's Important

Clean Beauty—and Why It’s Important

Clean beauty products are 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 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 face much less stringent regulations than those in the EU. So they continue to pack the products that we use every day (mascara, face wash, shampoo, et al.) with potentially harmful ingredients that can include known carcinogens, irritants, and endocrine disruptors.

Greenwashing and Clean-Washing

Even with FDA and FTC regulations in place (like the FTC’s Green Guides), companies continue to use many adjectives to market and greenwash these potentially harmful products—”natural,” “green,” and “eco,” for example, have no clear definition.

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).

Why We Report on Clean Beauty

These stories give a good overview about what’s going on in the industry—and what’s at stake. Note: Further down in this story, we’ve also included a number of buying guides in specific categories, like deodorant and face oil.

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The Most Important Things to Know about Clean Beauty

  1. Don’t Trust “Fragrance” When You See It on an Ingredient Label :

    The FDA’s lack of power over the beauty industry is perhaps most glaring (and maddening) when it comes to ingredient labels: Cosmetics companies aren’t required to disclose what’s inside ingredients that are considered trade secrets, like fragrance. This loophole means that any skin-care, makeup, fragrance, hair, or bath product can contain many potentially harmful ingredients with no mention of them, so long as they are included in the fragrance formula. So trade-secret label terms like “fragrance,” “perfume,” “parfum,” and “flavor” serve as Trojan horses for thousands of potentially harmful ingredients that conventional cosmetic companies include but don’t want consumers to see. Here’s a story that goes deeper into the issue.

  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 parabens (a routinely used class of preservatives; look for words ending in “-paraben” on labels, like “butylparaben,” but remember, of course, that these ingredients could be hidden under the term “fragrance”), and chemical sunscreens (also often included in makeup and moisturizers and also often hidden under the term “fragrance”). As the name suggests, endocrine disruptors mess with the endocrine system, which regulates our body’s essential rhythms (like metabolism, mood, and reproductive processes). The reason 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 little ones with developing systems.)

  3. Known Carcinogens Are Legal 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 beauty and personal-care products, and it’s completely legal to do so. A main carcinogen to be aware of is formaldehyde, which can be used as a preservative in makeup, hair, body, fragrance, and skin-care products. To make matters worse, formaldehyde is never listed on labels; what is listed (if not hidden under “fragrance”) are 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

Each of these pieces takes you through the important considerations—chemical versus mineral sunblock, the concern about aluminum in deodorant, etc.—and winnows down the options to our very favorite products.

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

Where We’re at with Clean Beauty Legislation

One of the most important pieces of legislation regulating the personal-care industry, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FD&C Act) was signed by FDR back in 1938. The result: a severely restricted FDA that cannot require companies to disclose the amount of each ingredient they’re using in a product and puts virtually no funding toward uncovering potentially dangerous ingredients.

In 2019, the Personal Care Products Safety Act was brought to the floor of the Senate. The act was cosponsored by two senators, Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and it had widespread industry support from big industry players like Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Revlon, L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and Unilever. Under this amendment, cosmetics 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 (such recalls are 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 116th 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.


What you put in your body is just as important as what you put on it, so we look at beauty from a whole-body, drink-it, eat-it, smooth-it-on, 360-degree perspective.

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