The clean beauty movement and misinformation are deeply intertwined? Why do you think that is?
In beauty, clean is not well defined or regulated. One big reason we do not have a clear definition is because it is so complicated. For example, does clean refer to ingredients, packaging, biodegradability, if a product is plant-based, or whether there's no animal testing? Does clean encompass all of the above? Or only one? Yet, even without a clear definition, clean is a word that has a powerful, positive association with it, and we want products that are deemed clean. Our capitalist society has quickly realized that labeling something as clean helps it sell, and as it is a word that is not well-defined or enforced, it has been added to everything! This "greenwashing" has led to significant fatigue with descriptors like natural and clean. But there is some progress being made. Stores and brands dedicated to clean beauty and skin care have emerged with a set of standards and a robust list of ingredients that you won't find in their products. Clean brands, including mine - Doctor Rogers RESTORE® - spend a great deal of time educating customers on ingredients, clean choices and helping them become a more informed consumer. We as a society are becoming savvier, better-informed beauty consumers because there is also more robust reporting on the subject and a greater demand for transparency.
I've listed five common clean beauty myths, below. Can you provide insight into why these aren't necessarily true?
Natural ingredients are better for you than synthetic ones. Clean products = more gentle
There is no scientific legitimacy proving natural ingredients are better for skin than synthetic ingredients. Many natural ingredients like essential oils and fragrances are common causes of irritation and allergy. And many synthetic ones are hypoallergenic. Yet, there is a growing body of literature about how non-biodegradable ingredients are accumulating in us and our world and the possible adverse effects this may have. The one thing I can say for sure is the safest path, particularly for those with sensitive skin, is being selective in your personal care products. Use fewer and pick those with well-studied, effective, biodegradable ingredients.
Your skin absorbs 60 percent of what you put on it.
No, no, no! What your skin absorbs depends on the formation of the chemicals trying to be absorbed and the current state of your skin. For the chemical, is it large or small? Is it hydrophilic or hydrophobic? What is the combination of chemicals? Does one particular chemical make it easier for the others to get beyond the skin barrier (like PEGS)? For the state of your skin, is it oily or dry? Is it irritated, damaged, is the skin barrier intact? When it comes to the skin's ability to absorb product, there is no percentage that you can apply to it because of these variables. We can say with certainty that our skin becomes thinner and drier as we age, making it easier for chemicals to penetrate the skin barrier. Also, when our skin is inflamed or injured, more of whatever you apply to it is absorbed into the body. In both these situations, when the barrier is weaker, it is more likely to be irritated by ingredients and increase the amount of non-biodegradable components accumulating in our bodies. These ingredients are often considered safe in very low percentages, but over time, with continued exposure, those percentages increase, and we need better research to know what that means.
Chemical-free, preservative and toxin-free products are safer for you.
Again no, no, no! A chemical, by definition, can be anything. Water is a chemical, so that word is misused in the beauty industry and is considered harmful when it is not. Second, preservatives are great! You should not bring a product to market that has water in it without a preservative or bacteria because yeast and other organisms will grow in the product, particularly if you are using good, food-grade ingredients. Spreading those organisms all over your face is not safe. It is much better to have a well-studied, biodegradable preservative, like the radish root ferment I use in some of my RESTORE products. As for toxin-free, yes, that is great, but we don't have a clear definition of toxins, making it an easy claim to abuse. Unfortunately, many ingredients commonly used in skin care can be harmful, particularly in high percentages. The EU, Canada, and Japan have done a great job of restricting these ingredients. The US is not as proactive.
The FDA doesn't regulate cosmetics (Referring to the EU's list of "banned" ingredients)
Sadly, this has some truth. Personal care products are classified as soaps, cosmetics, and drugs. Drugs are "articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease." So if you claim your skin care product improves fine lines, it is a drug. If you say it improves the appearance of fine lines, then it can be a cosmetic. Before a drug can be brought to market, it requires testing to show that the product is safe and effective. The FDA regulates over-the-counter drugs like sunscreen. They must undergo safety testing and review of labeling before being sold. But soaps and cosmetics do not require this level of regulation. In the US, cosmetics companies are responsible for testing for the safety of their products and the accuracy of labeling. There are no legal requirements. Further, in the US, only 30 substances are restricted from personal care products, while the European Union bans 1,500 and Canada, 800.
Sources: Clean by James Hamblin, Beautycounter.com
Any other clean beauty myths you want to include?
The thing that you should look for on product packaging is the words that do mean something. For example, if you're trying to stay away from parabens or formaldehyde, many products now state on the packaging or website that they are paraben-free and phthalate-free. Hypoallergenic means the product passed testing on human subjects and is non-irritating. Also, many nationally recognized logos found on packaging must be reviewed by a third party before use. Look for the PETA Bunny to represent cruelty-free or the National Eczema Association seal to assure that the product is considered safe for sensitive skin.
Despite a lot of misinformation, do you think there are any benefits to the clean beauty movement?
In my mind, clean beauty equals sustainable beauty. Not using clean beauty means you are not doing all you can to limit exposing yourself and our world to ingredients and packaging that accumulates. Clean products are the products we should buy to create a monetary incentive for companies to do the right thing for our bodies and the environment.
The big picture is less is more. Much like what has already happened to our kitchens and our closets is also happening to our skincare routines. Fewer steps, fewer ingredients, and greater transparency are all part of skin care in 2021. The consumer realizes careful, more educated choices lead to the best results despite all the marketing for useless, often counterproductive products. A great way to not spend money is to be selective in the products you use on your skin. Irritation ages the skin, and everyone seems to be developing sensitive skin. Why? We are putting too much on it! This is why I had to create Doctor Rogers RESTORE. We have to be more selective in what we put on our skin to keep it healthy.
That said, you do not need to be perfect. For my daily staples, I always pick clean. I use Doctor Rogers RESTORE® for all my skin care needs and Westman Atelier, RMS, and Ilia for makeup. But I also use clinically studied, medical-grade products that are not as clean, such as peptides, antioxidants, and retinol. Hopefully, someday, this part of the beauty industry will clean up as well, but I like the results enough to tolerate the fact that not all of their ingredients are biodegradable.
A bit about RESTORE and clean beauty
We only use ingredients that are plant-based, biodegradable, and vegan. Some are organic, and some are not organic. My focus is far more reaching than being simply natural. I have created a safe, smart, selective, and sustainable brand to restore our skin and keep it healthy.
What do these terms mean? When I say safe, I mean we only use hypoallergenic ingredients that do not accumulate in us or the world we live in. That means no parabens, no phthalates, no formaldehyde, and no common allergens like fragrance or lanolin. It means I extensively test my products to ensure they are safe and effective before bringing them to market. Smart means the ingredients have a proven track record in helping the skin, and we also use high enough concentrations and percentages so that these vital ingredients can do what they are supposed to do. Our formulas are selective and remarkably sophisticated because of how streamlined they are. For example, our Healing Balm only has three ingredients: Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Glycerin, and Hydrogenated Castor Oil. They work in harmony to heal even the most damaged and fragile skin in addition to serving as an everyday treat for lips, skin, and nails. It may come as a surprise, but making a product with such selective ingredients is incredibly hard to do! And finally, every step of the way, we pick the most sustainable option. We use sustainably grown ingredients, and we opt for glass and aluminum packaging because it is the most easily recyclable. We have to use plastic to maximize the use of PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic to decrease the amount of virgin plastic we are introducing to the world. Our boxes are made from Forest Stewardship Council certified trees, and we do not laminate them to ensure easy recycling for our customers. None of these steps are easy or inexpensive, but as consumers, we deserve better options.
Please contact us if you have any questions by filling out this form or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.