'Clean' beauty has quickly become a multi-billion dollar industry | Source: Unsplash

How to See Through ‘Cleanwashing’ and Find Real Clean Beauty Brands

When it comes to natural ingredients, it’s not just food that consumers are concerned about. With increasing awareness around the health risks posed by ingredients like formaldehyde and parabens, we’re also looking for ‘natural’ or ‘clean’ cosmetics too. This push for clean beauty is set to see the global natural cosmetics market grow to approximately A$74 billion by 2027, according to Future Market Insights.

However, the road to finding quality products made with quality ‘natural’ ingredients is murky at best. For one, ‘natural’ ingredients are tricky to define and don’t always necessarily equate to being better for you. Secondly, the concept of ‘cleanwashing’, which borrows from the marketing tactic of greenwashing, makes identifying clean beauty products difficult.

Cleanwashing tactics

It’s no secret that the beauty industry is fairly unregulated. While the industry has certainly come a long way, we as consumers have come to expect unsubstantiated claims from beauty brands. From serums that promise to ‘rewind the clock’ and conditioners that guarantee to repair split ends, the cosmetics industry continues to be significantly defined by slick marketing rather than transparency and quality ingredients. Unfortunately, the same applies to a number of supposedly ‘clean’ beauty products.

Much like how greenwashing creates the illusion of being environmentally friendly through green packaging and pictures of trees, cleanwashing also employs the same tactics. Packaging with images of flowers or plants aims to convey the product as ‘natural’ when its ingredients are sometimes anything but. In the same vein, buzzwords like ‘non-toxic’, ‘organic’, ‘plant-derived’ can also be used to mislead consumers into thinking they’re purchasing a clean beauty product without the brand needing any real proof to make these claims.

And, as stated in an article by The Good Face Project, ‘a product is only as clean as its worst ingredient’. Regardless of the botanical extracts that may appear first in the ingredients list, a product that contains an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) like UV filters, parabens and phthalates or a known carcinogen like formaldehyde is far from clean. In fact, EDCs and carcinogenic ingredients like formaldehyde are linked to adverse health outcomes and have even been the source of class action lawsuits. So, be sure to look for harmful toxic ingredients like these hidden in the ingredients list.

With that said, clean beauty products don’t need to contain strictly organic, natural ingredients. To ensure the stability of the formula as well as safe preservation, preservatives are a must. Additionally, synthetic ingredients that have been clinically proven to be safe for use don’t need to be avoided in the name of health concerns.

So, which brands are clean?

Although the beauty industry continues to be self-regulated and a rather overwhelming one to navigate, consumers can empower themselves with the growing wealth of knowledge around ingredients and clean cosmetics.

Here are just a few brands that have been identified by beauty gurus and industry leaders as clean as clean beauty can get.

ILIA Beauty

While plenty of clean beauty products pale in comparison to its mainstream counterparts, ILIA’s products have been deemed as high performing by makeup lovers. In addition to using organic ingredients and safe synthetics, ILIA is also cruelty-free.

Tata Harper

Promising 100 per cent natural and non-toxic ingredients across their entire skincare line, Tata Harper is up there with some of the cleanest beauty brands in the industry. Using naturally derived active ingredients, Tata Harper’s skincare delivers results sans toxic ingredients.


Offering cruelty-free makeup products without talc, aluminium, parabens, phthalates and undisclosed fragrances, Kosas is another clean beauty brand worth looking into.

Other notable mentions include Australian skincare brand Go-To which you can read about here, as well as Drunk Elephant which you can read about here.

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