Clean - What does it mean, and why does it matter?

The term ‘clean’ or ‘green’ beauty is gaining momentum. If it’s news to you or you are developing an interest in it, then I hope this provides a helpful starting point for what to look for when purchasing ‘clean’ beauty products.


Firstly I want to say: women, our choices absolutely matter! We hold a lot of power, in simple terms our spending can alter the world. In an industry that’s worth USD $532 billion, and geared almost exclusively to women, it’s incredibly important to exercise this power and our right to choose what is good for us, our children and our planet.


These days we are way more clued-up about our food, household products, fashion and now beauty. We are spending more dollars on organics, reading food labels, checking where our food is coming from and turning our hands to growing things.


Plastics and other petrochemical products are undoubtedly a worldwide problem. Global warming is impacting us all and the world is reflecting this stress on many levels. What we do and why we do it is up for re-evaluation and it should be no different with beauty products.

The beauty industry has for many years gotten away with limited labelling legislation, often using cheap and harmful ingredients, preservatives and fillers. It's been been down right unbeautiful to turn over big bucks and in many ways has dis-empowered us with potential health side effects.


Do we want petrochemicals and harmful ingredients in our creams and lotions? Absolutely not! However, we do very much still want our beauty products. At times we’ll turn a blind eye to the unsightly aspects of the beauty industry to keep applying our beloved foundation, or mascara, right? Maybe not even a blind eye, just a misty eye. Let's not. We can opt for cleaner options without compromising what we like.


So what exactly does ‘clean’ beauty mean? This is a question that I have been pondering as I’m investigating and investing in consciously made, yet high-quality products for my professional makeup kit.  It seems that there are many different facets of ‘clean’ as there is currently limited regulation around the clean beauty movement. Until a fully transparent industry emerges it means prioritising what’s important to you. If cruelty free is the best you can do, then do it. If vegan is where you are at, then, great.  


But what do I mean by ‘clean’? Organic ingredients. Sustainable processes. Scientific research. Recyclable packaging. Chemical and petrochemical free. Cruelty free. Local. Vegan if it can’t meet other criteria.

Collaborative shoot for Antipodes Skincare, a clean beauty brand, showcasing their mud-mask ‘Halo’. Hair and makeup by me, illustration by Zoe Gillet.

Collaborative shoot for Antipodes Skincare, a clean beauty brand, showcasing their mud-mask ‘Halo’. Hair and makeup by me, illustration by Zoe Gillet.

 For me, organic is tops. Ingredients grown without sprays, insecticides, fertilisers, genetic modifications, and generally in a holistic approach that takes into account soil health, eco systems, companion planting, crop renewal and rejuvenation, and the well-being of the humans contributing to its processing. 

Dr Hauska and Logona, both originally German brands, have done this very well for years. RMS, Sante and Absolution are also brands that use a lot of organic ingredients .

Not all ingredients can be, or are organic, so secondly I am looking for sustainability. Most clean beauty brands use derivates of coconut and palm oil – if not sustainably produced these have devastating impacts on the planet. Many of the other oils and alcohols are sourced from large crops such as corn, soy, rosehips and many, many other plant materials, again often farmed with negative impacts. Some brands will say if they use sustainable sources, many don’t. Insist on sustainably produced plant materials. 


Remember, we do still have power by asking and enquiring; the more of us doing so, the more we create a culture of transparency. I really do suggest reading ingredient lists on brand websites, writing to companies and exercising your dollar power and social influence.

The next stop is packaging. Is it made from recycled material or can it legitimately be recycled here in NZ? This does require some research. I am currently opting for glass as NZ has a major recycling crisis going on, but glass we can handle. RMS use glass pottels, Aleph Beauty, an Auckland brand has also created conscious packaging, using glass and aluminium. Some companies are starting to sell refills, therefore cutting down on their packaging altogether. Ere Perez and Kjaer Weis offer fantastic refill options.


Many brands are cutting out animal ingredients in their products, stamping on their labels “vegan” and calling themselves ‘clean’; whilst I support vegan products, I don’t know if being vegan is simply enough. Many products still have harmful ingredients in them, such as BHAs and BHTs, synthetic colours and dyes (petrochemical derivatives), these are some of the ingredients with question marks around them regarding hormone disruption and cancer. Not to mention the environmental effects the oil industry has on our world. Again it’s about what’s important to you, and doing your research. Many ‘clean’ products still need to use synthetic ingredients, but many are now very well tested, and don’t have harmful effects on us. “Us” being humans. Because lastly, cruelty-free is not negotiable, and the fact that animal testing still exists is appalling to me and a lot of the big brands still do this, if you can do one thing, it’s to make a shift to cruelty free brands.


Thank goodness there are some awesome brands out there, doing important, innovative work, and it’s only going to get better. I am grateful that I can even delve into this world of ‘clean’ in a professional capacity, and it is exciting! It has given me a new passion for my job and is aligning me with the issues right at my heart.


I would love to hear from you about your clean beauty wins; brands that you are loving, products you have found. And please also let me know what you would like me to write about. I will delve more into some of these big topics, so please stay tuned.


Beautiful is a whole picture, let’s turn our attention to every part of that picture.



David Suzuki Foundation Website

FTC Green Guides

Acme-Hardestry/Green Cosmetics

Other Clean Bloggers – including Lou Dartford