What exactly is a ‘clean” beauty product? When I ask my patients, I hear all kinds of answers to this question.
Are Clean Beauty Products Made Entirely Without Chemicals?
Some think the term, “clean beauty” refers to products made solely from ingredients derived from plants, though most people refer to these skincare items as “natural”. Others say clean products are made without chemicals, but that’s a common misconception. All ingredients, even those derived from plants are, in fact, chemicals. Even water is a chemical.
Are They Made Without “Bad” Chemicals?
There are also those who say clean beauty products are made without “bad” chemicals. You know, the ones often manufactured somewhere in China that cause cancer, make you sick and irritate your skin. These ingredients are the ones watchdog groups put on their “to be avoided” list. It’s important to keep in mind that more often than not, the determination to put an ingredient on the ‘bad” list is based on limited data (by their own admission) without any regard to the dose of the ingredients included in the product. The truth is that every chemical has a dose at which exposure to that chemical is harmless. Take formaldehyde for example, a known carcinogen, listed on the World Health Organization’s list of known cancer-causing ingredients. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. Note the verbiage, PROBABLE carcinogen when exposure is UNUSUALLY HIGH or PROLONGED.
More About Formaldehyde
Did you know there is formaldehyde in your broccoli? It’s also in your morning cup of coffee. Formaldehyde is found naturally in all fruits and vegetables too. As it is a product of normal respiratory metabolism, we exhale formaldehyde with every breath. So, it’s not formaldehyde that’s the problem, it’s the amount that’s the problem.
One more important fact – formaldehyde itself isn’t actually added to the formulation of beauty products. Rather, the manufacturer adds a minuscule amount of a formaldehyde releasing ingredient, one that releases just enough of this chemical to kill unwanted microbes that can contaminate your moisturizer. Ingredients like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea are formaldehyde releasing preservatives often intentionally added to over-the-counter cosmetics because they keep your products CLEAN of unwanted mold, bacteria and fungus.
Why Preservatives are Necessary in Skin Care Products
Without a preservative, products become rancid, overgrown with harmful organisms, within two weeks of opening. So, adding a very small amount, an amount that comes to less than 1% of the product and releases a tiny amount of formaldehyde to keep your product clean, makes a lot of sense. Study after study demonstrates these types of preservatives are safe when used in these minuscule amounts. Still, formaldehyde releasing preservatives are blacklisted frequently. Unfortunately, we have yet to discover a plant derived chemical as effective at keeping your moisturizers uncontaminated or clean. When researchers discover one, I’m sure skincare manufacturers will use it.
So, What Is the Definition of Clean Beauty?
What is the definition of clean beauty? Truthfully, I have absolutely no idea. I do know the word ‘clean’ on a product label is a very effective marketing buzzword. I also know that a well-formulated skincare product is one that hydrates the skin and, as importantly, is a safe product. Those are the skincare products that I choose to keep on my bathroom vanity.
About the Author: Fayne Frey
Commonly known as the Ralph Nader of the skincare industry, Dr. Fayne Frey is a New York based, Ivy-League trained, board certified dermatologist where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer and a skincare consultant, as a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products.
Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles.
A graduate of Boston University, summa cum laude with Distinction, Dr. Frey is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a graduate of the Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
In her spare time, you might find her running, playing piano, reading or eating M&Ms. Dr. Frey lives in Rockland County, NY with her husband and has four grown children.