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A Beauty Insider On The Clean Beauty Backlash & Clean-Washing

beauty products in a bathroom
Image by Martí Sans / Stocksy
October 25, 2022
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The world of clean beauty can often feel extremely messy. For one, there's always debate about what should or shouldn't end up on no and yes lists. Ingredients that were once mainstream can quickly become controversial with a viral TikTok video or misleading news report. And complicated ingredient nomenclature can often trigger undue confusion about a formula's safety and efficacy.

Often, folks are left feeling like they need to become their own armchair experts in order to suss out the product market.

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"It's positioned as empowering for the consumer to 'do their research' on ingredient lists, but I actually think it ends up being disempowering. You need an advanced degree in chemistry to keep up with the ingredients, formulas, and latest research. How can we expect the average consumer to do that?" says Jaleh Bisharat, founder of beauty e-retailer NakedPoppy. The site actually has an in-house cosmetic chemist researching the formulas of everything they sell—doing the work so you don't have to.  

But it's not just the ingredient lists and formulas that are confusing—customers often struggle with finding brands that align with their values. And so in this episode of Clean Beauty School, I chatted with Bisharat about how folks can go about finding brands they feel comfortable using.

Tune into the episode to learn more, but in the meantime, here are her tips.

How you can identify clean beauty brands easily, according to this insider. 

We've seen something of a "backlash" against clean beauty, which uses cases of fearmongering, bad science, and instances of brands making stronger claims they may have the right to. Certainly, that exists and I find as much of a problem with it as other folks do.

"I really don't think it's a backlash against clean beauty but a backlash against clean washing. People are tired of misleading marketing," she says. "But really, who can object to products that are better for you?" Well, I tend to agree.

So how can you find brands that actually hold themselves to high standards and make quality, informed products? Bisharat has a few guidelines:

  • Make sure they're clear about their standards and wording. "There's no set definition of the word 'clean,' so it's up to brands to be very clear about how they define it for themselves. When you go to their website, they should make it very apparent for you," she says.
  • Can you easily find the ingredient list? "When you get to the product page, is the ingredient list right front and center? Because not every brand does that. They make it very hard for you to find the ingredients," she says.
  • Is science-based information a priority? "It's important that beauty brands have an investment in science," she says. "A good clean brand is actually a science-backed brand." 
  • Are they making meaningful strides toward a greener future? "Our earth is increasingly fragile, and the environment is our health," she says. "So I'm very strict about the environmental practices of the brands I look at. The beauty industry is far from environmentally clean, but some brands are taking meaningful steps forward."
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For more information on how to find products that work for you, tune in.

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.