Clean beauty: how far have we come, and where should we go?

di V. Montanti  (R&D Manager, Gale & Cosm)

According to the research consultancy Branessence, the Clean Beauty Market is valued at USD 6.46 Billion in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 15.29 Billion in 2018, growing at a CAGR of 13.1% from 2022 to 2018 (1). The demand increase for natural beauty products, with more cautiousness and awareness for skin, as well as the rise in the launching of more sophisticated and clean beauty products for better skin care can be considered the major factors driving the growth of the global market.

Natural products, clean beauty: what do they mean?

Given the lack of common and agreed definition of “natural” and “clean” in Personal Skin Care Industry, strengthened by the absence of a regulatory oversight, industry and beauty influencers freely claim for clean and natural beauty according to their interest. Generically speaking, natural ingredients come from natural sources (non-synthetic). This means that they can be found in nature in the same or mostly the same chemical form as the ingredient in the product.

Instead, what is meant by clean beauty is based on the consumer perception of “clean” rather than on science. The purpose of the movement is to avoid certain ingredients deemed harmful or toxic, such as chemical sunscreens, preservatives, parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and petrochemicals (2).

As you might imagine, there is no consensus on the specific substances and chemicals that should be avoided or embraced.

To help consumers who want to embrace the clean beauty navigate this jungle, some retailers, including Sephora and Credo, have begun commercializing and distinguishing dedicated branded products labelled as clean, environmentally sustainable or planet positive (3).

Credo beauty has identified 5 standard parameters and a Dirty List® containing over 2.700 specific ingredients, aiming at creating a safer, more sustainable and more ethical beauty industry. Last year, Sephora added sustainability metrics, establishing a novel category named Clean + Planet Positive. Many consumers and brands believe natural ingredients are always better than synthetic ones, but the latter may paradoxically be safer and more sustainable. Some ingredients that are popular in “clean” products like argan, juniper and shea are being overharvested, according to a report published last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Ingredients like sandalwood, for example, can be sourced from nature but can also be made synthetically, and companies that do so say a major incentive is to protect the environment (4).

Natural doesn’t necessarily mean safer, in fact, these products may be a significant source of allergen exposure exacerbated by the fact that many naturally derived ingredients don’t undergo the same safety testing as synthetic or engineered ones (5).

I think it is profoundly wrong to demonize a cosmetic ingredient as unsafe without considering the risk, consisting of time and area of exposure, and without scientific evidence of his potential toxicity.

The Clean beauty in my opinion should pay more attention to the environment, in terms of packaging and biodegradability of ingredients, focus on the origin of raw materials and leaving off lists of hazardous ingredients. Because, according to the Cosmetic Regulation, if a cosmetic is placed on the market, it is safe and so are its ingredients.

HPC Today, Vol 18 (2) March/April 2023 – Published by Tekno Scienze srl


  1. Sawant, V. (2022) – Clean Beauty Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report.
  2. Tran, Jennifer M. MD; Comstock, Jeanette R. MD; Reeder, Margo J. MD. Natural Is Not Always Better: The Prevalence of Allergenic Ingredients in “Clean” Beauty Products. Dermatitis 33(3): p 215-219, 5/6 2022.
  3. McDonald JA, Llanos AAM, Morton T, Zota AR. The Environmental Injustice of Beauty Products: Toward Clean and Equitable Beauty. Am J Public Health. 2022 Jan;112(1):50-53.
  4. Paton, E. (2023) – The Dirt on Clean Beauty. The New York Times accessed on January 7th:
  5. George A. Burdock, Wendan Wang, Our unrequited love for natural ingredients, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 107, Part A, 2017, Pages 37-46.