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Who Defines "Clean" In The Beauty Space?

Who Defines "Clean" In The Beauty Space?

In the vast landscape of the beauty industry, one term reigns supreme: “clean.” But who defines and regulates the term clean in this realm? The truth is there’s no definitive authority casting a regulatory eye over this term. It’s left to companies to interpret and utilize at their discretion, often as a marketing tool. Even the dictionary fails to offer a concrete definition – queue the long scroll through Marriam-Webster.

This is where organizations can capitalize on the consumers’ fears, based on current patterns and trends, and decide who and what should be considered clean, curating their own standards – though rarely are any exclusive or unique to just one organization. Rather, it is up to both brands and consumers to make informed decisions regarding the products that they are choosing to either create or to use. We adhere to stringent regulatory standards and ensure our products are safe for both people and the planet. As a testament to our commitment, we've earned certification as a B.Corp organization, signifying our dedication to prioritizing social and environmental responsibility over profit.

What’s more, these organizations have heavy fees associated with their certifications and to be part of their lists, making companies seem “unclean” or “unregulated” if they cannot afford the listing/licensing fees for the appropriate certifications – this applies to popular organizations such as Leaping Bunny, Environmental Working Group (EWG), and many others. It is unfortunate that in this industry, we have given organizations such power, which through fear mongering, can negatively impact the relationship between the brand and the consumer, as well as negatively impact the overall consumer experience. We've encountered firsthand the consequences of unchecked authority, with EWG rating our products without authorization or access to our INCI list. This unethical behavior undermines consumer trust and highlights the need for greater accountability within the industry.

It is so important that you, the customers, have the same information that we have as a brand.

These organizations, and particularly EWG, are not the gold standard when it comes to assessing and interpreting the data on ingredients in the beauty space, nor do they tell the entire truth. Their work is believable and seemingly important, but their pricing structures and their use of paid influencers/celebrities to promote their organizations is concerning raises doubts about their credibility and reliability.

What one brand may consider clean may be completely different from what another brand does, and vice versa. At Cheekbone Beauty, we have a very rigid list of ingredients that highlights controversial ingredients that we prohibit or restrict in our formulations, which we call the Biinad Beauty Standards. Biinad is the Ojibwe word for “it is clean”, meaning that the absence of these specific ingredients, such as sulfates, formaldehydes, and parabens, would be part of our internal definition of “clean”, which is influenced by scientific evidence of potential human and environmental impact. We tend to shift our focus onto our sustainability efforts, which are all in line with our founders’ Indigenous roots.

Though our internal list may conform to some universal standards of “clean”, organizations such as EWG will still flag certain ingredients in brand formulations – not on the actual INCI list, but rather the “May Contain” list. For example, all colour cosmetic brands use pigments – this is common practice. However, part of using pigments in a formulation means that brands have a responsibility to include every pigment on their ingredient list as part of their “May Contain”, which is often quite generalized, regardless of whether or not it is actually present. However, these “May Contain” lists are immediately flagged on platforms like EWG and given high ratings. Our pigment supplier is incredible, and we have access to all of their Safety Data Sheets, which we are able to share with our customers, should they be interested. Another example of an item on an INCI list that would be flagged by a platform like EWG would be parfum. Parfum gives a high rating on these “clean” platforms because they are considered to be allergens, despite natural and ethical sourcing. We also have the Safety Data Sheets for all parfum present in our INCI, and everything complies with our Biinad Beauty Standards and other science-based perspectives on sustainability.

From a consumer perspective, high EWG ratings could be cause for concern, especially if they are considering switching to non-toxic, “clean” beauty, or have recently made the switch and invested in all new “clean” products. However, we encourage customers to continue their research on the platform. Many of the studies that they reference in relation to flagged ingredients often do not link to cosmetic testing, or the website offers very limited data and findings. There are many resources that share why we should take the (mis)information found on these platforms with a grain of salt – here are two that we love:

At Cheekbone Beauty, we have our own Indigenous Innovation Lab, and work closely with trained experts to adhere to our high standards, taking all product development and safety practices very seriously.

Despite the challenges, we stand firm in our commitment to transparency and integrity. Our Biinad Beauty Standards, rooted in scientific evidence and Indigenous wisdom, guide all our product development processes. We prioritize our sustainability efforts and follow rigorous certification processes like Clean at Sephora, ensuring you can trust our products. For example, we found out that one of our suppliers had been secretly using controversial ingredients in one of our formulations without written or expressed consent. Once we found out, we immediately shared the news with our customers so that they had all the relevant information, giving them the power to make an informed decision. In the meantime, we developed and launched a new formulation to replace the previous, ensuring that we continue to meet our Biinad Beauty Standards and the expectations of our customers. You can find the story on our TikTok.

If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for on our website, you can reach out to our team or our founder, Jenn Harper, directly. In a landscape where definitions of “clean” vary widely, we remain steadfast in our commitment to transparency, safety, and integrity. 

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