Clean Beauty 101: What to Know + What to Buy

February 19, 2020

What is Clean Beauty?

There’s no real FDA-approved definition for what makes a product natural or organic, so “clean” is a more accepted and descriptive term. Clean beauty refers to beauty and skincare products made without toxic ingredients. Many of these ingredients are part of what’s called the “Dirty Dozen,” which include parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and more.

Go to your medicine cabinet or makeup bag and take a look at some of the ingredients. You might be surprised! A lot of ingredients in beauty products also do double duty as carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, or hormone disruptors.

I’ve had my own personal struggles with cancer in my family. My mom developed stage 4 larynx cancer during my first week at my first job out of college, and my dad’s family has a history of breast & skin cancer. I’ve seen firsthand how cancer can disrupt lives, and research is increasingly showing that what we put on our skin is a huge factor. I’m always game to try something new, especially if it means it will help me be healthier, so I’m trying to implement more clean beauty into my routine.

Where did the clean beauty movement come from?

A growing number of consumers are rejecting chemical-filled cosmetics for natural plant-based alternatives. The clean beauty boom is part of the larger shift in consumer awareness about health and wellness. The beauty industry is grossly unregulated. Did you know that 80%  of the chemicals in personal-care products have never been tested for safety? Seeing as the United States is a country that knows how to regulate everything, I was shocked to learn how few laws the federal government passed to regulate the beauty industry. You’d be seriously floored at the amount of chemicals that are used in the products we use everyday—in our homes and on our bodies.

Of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products, almost 14,000 have been found to be industrial chemicals that are carcinogens, pesticides, and hormone disruptors. The EU law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. In comparison, the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics. Frankly, the US government has let us down.

The “clean beauty movement” has begun to gain traction in recent years, with many celebrities leading the way, including Gwyneth Paltrow with her clean beauty line Goop and Jessica Alba with her line Honest Beauty. The explosion of clean beauty brands on the market means that we have plenty to choose from, but it can be difficult to sort through all the options available.

For my fellow Charleston locals, AILLEA is your number one stop for finding any of these products locally. AILLEA has a few locations throughout the U.S. and is all about empowering women to make healthy choices in what they put on their body. All of the products they stock are clean, safe, and cruelty-free, so you can trust your purchase!

Q&A with Kathryn Dickinson

I sat down with AILLEA’s owner and founder, Kathryn Dickinson, to get the scoop on all things clean beauty and her personal recommendations:

What exactly is “clean beauty”?

The hard part about clean beauty (and natural, organic, green) is that none of the terms are regulated. AILLEA has clearly stated our standards and ingredients on our site. Generally, the term clean is all-inclusive to mean that the products are safe for you and the planet – that they have never been linked to cancer, are not linked to endocrine disruption or known to cause any other health issues. But to me it even goes further than that, I like to know that the brands are thinking about the product and packaging from seed to face, that the ingredients are sustainably sourced, and that the packaging and boxes are being thought of on a holistic level.

How can you check to see if the products you are using are toxic?

You can shop a retailer, like AILLEA, or brand that you have learned that you can trust. The brands at AILLEA are all equally passionate about the standards of clean beauty as I am. There are also many great bloggers to follow like Whoorl and This Organic Girl, or the app Think Dirty (it’s free!) that rates products based on their ingredient lists.

How did you get involved in the clean beauty industry?

I have worked in the beauty industry for most of my career, starting with my time in NYC when I was the VP of Marketing and Sales for a cosmetics company that retailed at Barneys and Sephora. It was through my own personal health struggles 13 years ago that I was driven to clean beauty. At the time there was no Facebook, Instagram, or Goop to help me find products. I kept wanting to shop a place where everything works and is TRULY clean with no green-washing. Finally, 5 years ago the universe aligned and I decided to open AILLEA, which is that place I kept dreaming existed.

What are ways that people can start to clean up their beauty routine?

The easiest way to switch is just as things run out, replace it with something from a clean brand. As your body soaks up most of the ingredients in your products, I also recommend focusing on products that cover a large surface area (e.g. your body moisturizer matters more than your eye shadow) as well as anything that is considered a sensitive or exposed area (like our deodorant).

What are some of the dangerous chemicals found in conventional beauty products?

The US bans 12 ingredients from their products, the EU bans over 1300. AILLEA uses the EU standards to start, but goes further than that. I think obviously the big ones you always hear about are sulfates, phthalates, and parabens. Fragrance is another big one. Did you know brands do not need to disclose what is in a fragrance as it is considered a “trade secret”. Hundreds of harmful chemicals can hide in that single word, so I recommend staying away from synthetic fragrances.

What are some of your most highly recommended clean beauty products? Ones that you use on a daily basis?

This is like asking me a favorite child! Here is what’s in my regular rotation right now: Rahua shampoo and conditioner, Indie Lee squalane oil, Kypris Moonlight Catalyst, ILIA foundation, RMS bronzer, Maya Chia Highlighter, Olio e Osso Lip Gloss, and Lily Lolo Mascara.

It blew my mind learning everything about what might be in the products I use every day, and I’m excited to start down this clean beauty road! Let’s be clear, I’m not a doctor. I am simply a consumer who became concerned about my beauty and personal care products and what I am putting on my body. My clean beauty journey has just begun and I am slowly adding more of these products into my daily routine. I think it is important to remember that you don’t have to toss out your entire makeup bag to go clean, either. Instead, just wait until you use up a product and replace that one product with a cleaner version. Start there. Start small. Here are 5 clean beauty brands that I love:

1. Indie Lee

When Indie Lee received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and a rare brain tumor within the same year, she started on her mission to create ski-care products that were free of toxins, non-synthetic, and that actually worked. That was in 2008. What started as a few products made from botanicals grown in her greenhouse (calendula oil lip balm, lavender body oil, and coconut citrus body scrub) and whipped up in her kitchen has turned into a chic, thoughtful and impressive line of products. Indie Lee’s clean beauty products span a range that fall into the rituals of prepare, perfect, prevent, protect, and boost. I recently got the chance to meet Indie Lee herself at Aillea’s Charleston location for a clean beauty class and was awed by her kindness and knowledge about all things clean beauty!

2. Maya Chia

Susanne Norwitz founded her clean beauty brand, Maya Chia, based on the discovery that chia was a staple for the Mayan people and possessed a wealth of nutritional benefits for the skin. Founded in 2014, the brand is based on high-performing ingredients, science, and results. No matter what the skincare trend at the moment is, Maya Chia relies on their background of successful products that produce results. Beauty outlets everywhere rave about the Highlight of the Day, Maya Chia’s illuminating face serum (there’s a body serum too!), which comes in four different shades, but they also have a whole host of balms, oils, and serums to address all of your skincare needs. Extra bonus: Maya Chia is based in Charleston!

3. Kosås

This clean beauty brand focuses exclusively on cosmetics, offering products from foundation to eyeshadow and lipsticks. Sheena Yaitanes founded Kosås in 2015, drawing on her experience in studying chemistry and painting to create the minimalist brand. Kosås uses only clean beauty ingredients and is transparent about what goes into each of their products to create a line of cosmetics that are clean, vibrant, and weightless, delivering gorgeous looks with nourishing benefits. I love their blush and highlighter duos, which come in either a cream or powder formula to add an extra pop and warmth to my face. Their lipsticks are also so moisturizing of all-natural lipsticks comes in super chic black packaging and Thrillest (bright poppy red) is my favorite hue. 

4. Vapour

Vapour draws its clean beauty principles from combining art and alchemy, inspired by the purity of light and the elemental energy of Taos to create their line of color cosmetics. The brand has products for nearly every step in your beauty routine, from primer to brow definer and even deodorant! The Taos AER Next-Level Deodorant is my absolute favorite natural deodorant. The gel to powder finish feels so nice and dries down quickly, and there are three fresh scents to choose from. Vapour promises that you won’t have to compromise between comfort, lasting power, color, and safety, and I love their commitment to sustainability. 

5. ILIA Beauty

ILIA Beauty is a clean beauty brand that combines makeup with skincare so your products work as you wear them. ILIA digs down into what truly clean beauty means, since not every “natural” ingredient is necessarily good for your skin. They combine the best of clean practices and scientific development to create their products. ILIA’s best known for their foundations, which come in a wide range of natural-looking shades and contain aloe leaf, rosehip, jojoba and marula oils to give a serum-like feel during application. Many of their products, like their toner, illuminator, and multi-use blush colors come in a stick format so they’re easy to apply and so great for travel! I personally adore their True Skin Serum Foundation. It has a radiant finish and skin-nourishing ingredients like aloe leaf extract and jojoba oil. It offers light to medium coverage, and it’s vegan, cruelty-free and gluten free.

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