What Makes a
Beauty Conscious Product?
The cosmetics industry is a melting pot of rumors. Beyond the pretty packaging and “trustworthy” branding, you’re not always getting the clean, fairy-tale formula of your dreams. Why? Because unlike the medical industry, the cosmetics scene is highly unregulated by the FDA. This means that some of your favorite skin care products might not be as pure or “beauty conscious” as you think. To separate fact from fiction, we’ll uncover the secrets behind what really makes a beauty conscious product.
The beauty conscious standards
The standards of a beauty conscious product are hard to pin down. There’s tons of criteria that can qualify a brand as being “beauty conscious” — but the requirements depend on your personal standards.
Some cosmetic companies will focus on the quality of ingredients, promoting their use of natural or organic extracts. Yet other brands are big on being vegan or cruelty-free, meaning they don’t test their products on animals. Other brands, however, are keen on waving the green flag: they focus on using biodegradable packaging that’s environmentally-friendly (otherwise known as “zero waste”).
And the list goes on further. Some brands pride themselves on only using ethically sourced ingredients — which in layman's terms means that no farm or factory workers are exploited in the process of obtaining the ingredients. And on the most extreme end of the spectrum, some companies promise a commitment to sustainable business practices and partnerships.
While all these claims sound lovely, here lies the conundrum: knowing exactly what happens behind the manufacturer’s closed doors is a minefield through which few people dare to search.
Needless to say, the standards of what makes a beauty conscious product are foggy at best. The truth is that many consumers really don’t know where to draw the line.
Who sets the standards?
Let’s make something clear: the standards that define a beauty conscious product aren’t officially regulated. So no, the FDA doesn’t get to decide.
The whole “beauty conscious” label is a marketing movement which unfortunately is abused as a buzzword by companies to earn your trust. And in recent years, it seems like almost every brand in the biz is using this label.
Which brands do we trust?
Since the beauty conscious standards aren’t regulated, it’s up to you, the consumer, to create the criteria. Let’s start with what you should know about regulations in the cosmetics industry.
For a cosmetic product to be approved as being “natural” by the FDA, it only needs to contain 70% natural substances, according to the National Law Review. This standard means that the other 30% can have toxic ingredients with names so scientific-sounding, you wouldn’t even think to worry about them. So essentially, a brand can make claims like “made with natural ingredients” and promote a few popular extracts like jojoba and coconut oil, but hidden in the ingredient list may also be a bunch of hidden toxins like aluminium and oxybenzone.
As the Environmental Working Group Organization states, “Lax federal regulations mean that claims like ‘natural,’ ‘nontoxic,’ ‘plant-based’ and ‘free of’ have no legal basis in the personal care industry. With so many different claims on packages, consumers are often left confused, or even misled, about what’s really in their products.” Frustrating, right?
Why are beauty conscious products unregulated?
Since cosmetics are not considered a medical treatment, the FDA has limited control over the marketing and production of beauty products.
As the Food and Drug Administration explains, “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.” Why? Because cosmetics are not drugs. Whereas drugs can affect the function of the body, cosmetics are only meant to improve your appearance without making changes to your cells or DNA.
So even if the American Cancer Society or the FDA identify an ingredient as dangerous, a cosmetic company can still formulate products with it. What’s even scarier is that these companies can market themselves as a beauty conscious beauty brand while still using harmful ingredients in their formulas. With all the hypocrisy and confusion, how do we decide what truly makes a beauty conscious product?
What makes a beauty conscious product?
Since we can’t always trust a company’s claim, consumers need to educate themselves on what makes a beauty conscious product. By learning how to develop your own criteria, you can make informed buying decisions based on your own standards of wellness, purity and ethics.
Most often, the following criteria defines a beauty conscious product: 1) High-quality ingredients 2) Cruelty-free formulas 3) Sustainable practices.
1. High-quality ingredients
High-quality ingredients don’t always have to be natural. Keep in mind that even if a formula is 99% natural, you still won’t know if the ingredients are high-quality.
There are tons of holistic or naturopathic beauty brands out there, which use 100% pure ingredients, and do absolutely nothing to improve skin quality, tone and texture — even though their mineral-based formula sounds promising. Annoying, we know.
Rumors about synthetic ingredients
Synthetic or lab-made ingredients get a bad rep. However, many of these ingredients do wonders for your skin and are considered safe.
For example, retinol (a derivative of vitamin A) is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients out there, but it’s not natural. But even celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski are loyal users of retinol-based products, as the model reveals in her skincare video for Harper’s Bazaar.
Here’s another example: PEG (polyethylene glycols). It’s a petroleum-based substance that is commonly used in cosmetics as a thickener, softener and moisture-carrier. According to a study published in the Toxicological Research Journal, “PEG is considered safe for cosmetic use.” Nevertheless, companies will use scare tactics to convince you it’s dangerous to earn your trust (while secretly still using toxic ingredients like aluminum).
Although some synthetic ingredients can be harmful, many are not. In turn, when you’re determining a beauty conscious product based on its ingredients, do your homework.
2. Cruelty-free and vegan (not tested on animals)
The truth behind labels such as "Cruelty-Free" or "Not Tested on Animals" aren’t always what they seem. Companies can apply the vegan label to a finished cosmetic product, even if they engaged in animal testing in the past.
Also, keep in mind that many raw materials used in cosmetics were already tested on animals years ago when they were first introduced. For this reason, as the FDA explains, “A cosmetic manufacturer might only use those raw materials and base their ‘cruelty-free’ claims on the fact that the materials or products are not ‘currently’ tested on animals.”
For these reasons, you’d have to do a truckload of research to really know if a product is 100% cruelty free (with no loopholes).
3. Sustainable practices
It’s no secret that plastic packaging is a huge problem in our waste culture. So if you’re truly committed to the beauty conscious goal, you should add “eco-friendly” to your list of standards.
The need for green products have turned hundreds of cosmetic brands to bio plastics. As EMK cosmetics explains, “Bio plastics are repurposed from renewable resources and are compostable — meaning this material can return to the earth naturally. Not only are they biodegradable, they can also be recycled.”
EMK is the first cosmetics company that plans on producing packaging with 100% bio plastics by 2025. While this goal is an ambitious target, they are not far from turning this research into reality. Already, this company is producing packaging with over 50% bioplastics and other brands are following their lead.
As more awareness grows about what makes a beauty conscious product, more people will get pickier about what they buy. Remember that there are no official laws or rules that control these quality standards, so it’s your mission to make your own.
About The Author: Rachel Esco is an educator and consultant in advanced cosmetics who empowers consumers to make informed choices about skin care. With a profound interest in beauty and biochemistry, her articles explore the latest breakthroughs in epigenetics and anti-aging technologies. Rachel is also a passionate advocate for the Beauty Conscious Movement, promoting the use of environmentally safe materials to create a zero waste culture.