Clean beauty simply put

clean beauty natural organic vegan

everyone is talking about it…

…but no one really knows what it means!  The confusion permeates also aspects of the industry so together, let us separate fact from fiction.

Currently, an official definition does not exist.  The best bet is to speak with experts in the field and to understand the regulatory processes and judge for ourselves.

clean organic natural vegan skincare


Surefire formulae that are effective but are without toxic ingredients that affect both our health and that of the environment.

Today, more than ever, people scrupulously read the list of ingredients on the back of all their products.  It’s normal.  Between creams, serums, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, toothpaste, body lotions, we use roughly 18 grams of products daily (source Anne Dux at FEBEA, Federation des Entreprises de la Beauté)... At some point, what’s in these products becomes important, hence the birth of Clean Beauty.

We all want products that are a effective but also, ones that won’t disrupt the natural hormonal development of our junior population, or present carcinogens, because we are all touched by cancer in one way or another.  We don’t want products that can create issues with fertility.  These are facts.  We all believe that it’s important to save our planet, to preserve our coral reefs, to consume consciously and responsibly.  While the cosmetic industry is not the sole culprit, what is the magnitude of its impact?  Of its carbon footprint?

The parameters for what is organic, natural, or clean all point the finger at the toxicity of certain ingredients.  The propagation of fear is what sells most.  Everyday, consumer associations like EWG in the U.S, and UFC in France, issue warnings of new ingredients that are potentially harmful.  Evidently, certain formulae can be improved.  Ideally however, we would prefer that none of the products we use contain harmful ingredients, in any capacity.  However, we can’t very well ban all raspberries because some are sprayed with pesticides so it therefore becomes important to learn how to differentiate between what is true and what is ‘almost’ true.


What’s really in our cosmetics?

To really know what we put on our skin, it pays to consult the INCI , International Nomenclature for Cosmetics Ingredients.  The INCI focuses on the composition of each individual product, or their specific ‘recipe’, much like what you would find in a cookbook.  Hold up, I’m in no way advising that to eat your creams!  In the INCI, each ingredient is listed, from largest amount to smallest. It’s this very list that gets screened and oftentimes the ingredients are incredibly difficult to decipher.  


Unable to really grasp the ingredients on the bottle?  Don’t worry - you are not alone!  The formulations for cosmetics are purely SCIENTIFIC.  For a little extra help, you can visit the FEBEA website,  the ‘Federation des Entreprises de la Beauté’, https://; type in any ingredient and learn more about it.  

This is all pretty clean and simple.  Things start to get complicated because every country comes out with their own list of toxic ingredients, which adds another layer of confusion as the lists vary from country to country.  This makes for a not-so-clear picture of what ‘clean’ actually means.  

the lists vary from country to country

In Europe, there are 1328 different ingredients that are banned altogether and 256 that are heavily restricted.  Here’s a link to the list from the  Regulation (CE) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliamentary Advisory from November 30 2009 relating to cosmetic products;  European regulatory processes are far more advanced and restrictive in comparison to elsewhere in the world.  My advice is to follow their lists.  Even having been living in Canada, I still run things through the INCI for verification, in congruence with annexes 2 and 3 of the regulation.

In the U.S., only 10 ingredients are banned due to split legislation vis a vis products that can be considered medication.  This is why new Clean Beauty brands are popping up everywhere, each rendering its own list of banned ingredients, no doubt a byproduct of these regulatory processes.  I interviewed Annie Jackson from Credo Beauty, the Sephora of the Clean world, so get ready for that post next week!  

The Solution: It’s all about Concentration

Why do ingredients that are classified as toxic remain in our products?  There is some reassurance!  It is because “they are present in safe doses”, assures Anne Dux, Director of scientific regulation at FEBEA.  Also, because it is difficult to find satisfying alternatives to protect skin from UV Rays, or to preserve a cream from bacterial contamination.   We have insufficient data on the new ingredients used by these indie brands.  

Maximal concentrations are fixed and account for the risk involved with cumulative effects.  Certain ingredients are good up to a certain dose.  Butter is good, but having 3 pads of butter a day - not so much.



effet cocktail

Brands have only begun studying the ‘cocktail effect’.  It refers to those supplemental layers that top the serum like creams, SPF...  Do you fancy a Cosmojito Tequila? 

To conclude.
- Less is more... we should only be consuming products that we absolutely can’t live without, and in a responsible way. Slapping 15 layers on our faces isn’t a solution, nor will it make us look younger or prettier.
- Buy products that are recyclable and biodegradable. Caudalie is remarkable at this. The company partnered with Terracycle , a recycling enterprise, to optimize the recyclability factor of all their packaging. In reality, the associated costs of recycling make it more difficult to recycle some materials so Caudalie does what they can to get ahead of this.
- Buy products from engaged companies. Eco-conscious businesses minimize their carbon footprint and give back to the planet by planting trees.
- For sensitive skin, avoid allergens like certain preservatives, UV filters or perfumes like methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Oxybenzone.
- It’s important to keep products in dark, cool places.

A debate has sparked and I am compelled to delve into with you.  The topic is not a simple one.  Skincare is very much a science.  Not all aspects are black and white and while I know the industry well, I sincerely think that we can all benefit from expert advice that is non-sponsored, to move us along.  This Clean Beauty movement has sprung out of good intentions and is INDISPENSABLE when it comes to both our health and our planet.  It is imperative, however, that we also listen to our skin and get informed.  And especially comment. 👇👇👇

I would like to thank Dominique Du Crest from Skinaid , Chantal Soutarson from the brilliant podcast Beauty toaster, Marie Dehlinger from the blog poupounemakeupland and Emily Fleur from Caudalie.


Here are a few key terms that will help you navigate this Clean Beauty universe, which isn’t always as transparent as we would like it to be;

Message - Reality - Directive, here are the tags to help you find your way...


Derived from vegetables, micro-organisms, minerals, or animals (I.e. beeswax, honey...).

Message: More and more brands are listing the natural ingredients ahead of the others in their formulations.  We are made to feel like these products are healthy because they are plucked from nature.

Reality: The active ingredients are made up of molecules, sometimes hundreds of molecules, to arrive at a single dose of rose extract for instance.  The effect on the skin is difficult to measure and oftentimes creates a variety of reactions.Example: Castor Oil is often present in many cosmetic products but Resin, which stems from the same plant, can be fatale.  With men’s’ products, for instance, synthetics are often less toxic than the natural extracts because the molecule is pure, neutral, and stable.  Arsenic is 100% natural but are you lining up to try it?

Directive: If you’re in search of natural products, try these labels ISO.


Derived from ingredients that are organically cultivated.  Percentages vary depending on the different certifications.

Message: Organic products are better for both our health and our planet.  

Reality: They are not necessarily better for our skin and can oftentimes cause irritations.

Directive:  If organic is what you seek... In Europe, see Cosmebio, Ecocert, HBID, NaTrue, Nature and Progrès, Demeter... For the U.S, see the USDA, NFS/ANSI, or OASIS... For Canada, see Québec Vrai, or Ecocert Canada.


Used to define a solution, either solid or gas, that contains one or multiple chemicals, organic or not.

Message: Chemicals are bad for our health.

Reality: Everything is chemical - water, oxygen, the air we breathe.  Should we fear this?  The real fear factor lies in petrochemicals - those which are transformed and manipulated by man. However, now we are getting back to the point I mention earlier...  Skin tolerates mineral oils that are formulated using petrochemicals better.

Directive: information is key


Chemical substances that deregulate our hormones, thereby affecting our reproductive systems and other organs.  

Message: All endocrine disruptors are synthetic and harmful.

Reality: We find them in many of our foods and household products.  The birth control pill is a hormone disruptor, and soy is even a natural one.  

Directive: Many ingredients are considered hormone disruptors but it’s necessary to evaluate the risk and danger involved.  To date, scientists don’t agree on how to define them, nor on their effects on our bodies.  Toxicology tests are performed daily.


Substance or chemical that is added to products such as food, pharmaceutical drugs, cosmetics etc... to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes.

Message: Preservatives are all harmful to our health.

Reality: Preservatives stabilize cosmetic formulations. A cream is composed of water and preservatives save it from bacterial proliferation and rendering it toxic. While certain parabens have been banned, it is too soon to know the effects of the more recent preservatives, being that they are newer on the scene and may even be more irritating.  A publication from NCBI Pub Med  In cosmetics, certain preservatives have been replaced with alcohol, much like in the new deodorant from Respire, but alcohol can have a real drying effect.

Directive: Avoiding preservatives limits you to oils and solid soaps that do not contain water.


Applications you can download on your phone.

Message: Clean Beauty, Yuka, and others work to unearth toxic ingredients for you.

Reality: Beware of oversimplification.  It’s impossible to deconstruct scientific formulations by isolating ingredients without looking at their relationships to the other components. They should be treated as a whole and ingredient concentration must also be accounted for.  Pierre

Louis Delapalme, president of Biologique Recherche, recently shared with me that me that «certain ingredients can be very advantageous at 0,01% and carcinogenic at 1% » .

Directive:  Apps are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to understanding ingredients.  Things are far from a back and white rendering.


Signifies that no ingredient is animal-based in product, (perfume or otherwise).  

Reality: animal-based ingredients are still present in many products but they are slowly being replaced.

Directive: Check packaging for the “Leaping Bunny” or “vegan” labels, which signal that a product is vegan. 


No animal testing has been performed at any stage of the product development process.

Reality: Over the years, animal testing was the norm.  Times, they are changing, and this is happening less frequently.  Some countries are resisting this change, such as China for one.  If a non-Chinese product is to be commercialized in China, it must be animal tested. Unless a cruelty-free label is present, the majority of cosmetic brands are selling products that have been tested on animals.  

Directive: Search for the “cruelty-free” label.