What exactly is a clean product, exactly? Hugely popular but woefully mis-understood at the same time, it’s time to get to grips with the difference between sustainable, clean, green, vegan, organic and natural. We like to imagine them as conscious (and oh-so-woke) characters to make getting to know them a little easier. After all, understanding what makes someone tick makes them way more relatable, right? The question is, which crew will you want in with?
Predominantly Gen Z, they can often be found flicking through INCI lists (the ingredients on the backs of products) whilst trying to meditate their way through their fear of parabens. Ok, not just parabens. They tend to be phthalate, silicone, mineral oil and fragrance-phobic too.
A young, woke Gwyneth Paltrow if you will.
‘Clean’ is the most difficult to define, so do a bit of digging on the brands you want to get to know better first with apps like think dirty and GoodGuide.
No longer seen as hemp-donning, patchouli-wafting outliers, like the geeky girl in the Hollywood film who gets a - wholly implausible - makeover, vegan products are positively bathing in their newly-found hotness (vegan products have doubled in the past five years). As plant purists they eschew animal products, by-products (including honey) or derivatives and they love a bunny meme. But watch out - this doesn’t mean that they can’t be cruel too (‘vegan’ doesn’t mean that a product hasn’t been tested on animals).
PETA certified, cruelty free, Leaping Bunny and Vegan Society certified.
On the surface of it, these are upstanding (and hugely popular) members of the beauty world who purport to be healthier than their synthetic counterparts. But here’s their (rather large) achilles heel. Some more unscrupulous members of the clan are prone to exaggeration (greenwashing if you will) as the definition of ‘natural’ isn’t regulated by any governing body. This means that you might get your naturalite home only to discover the percentage of ‘natural’ ingredients is actually as little as 2%. Awks.
Niche brands tend to do natural best but it’s worth learning how to decode ingredient names - plant ingredients are always listed by their Latin names followed by a common name in brackets. Also look for a COSMOS certification.
Probably the most woke of our gang, this hyper-conscious bunch are the ones likely to be holding up traffic (with a biodegradable sign thankyouverymuch). A post-plastic world is their dream (hello jute) as well as a healthier planet overall but these are people guys too and love nothing more than helping their fellow human beings to ensure they get treated fairly. Come to think of it, if they weren’t so darn good we’d probably hate them.
Go for brands with the ‘Look For The Zero’ certification, look for charity initiatives, choose more simple recycled and recyclable packaging, avoid anything wrapped in plastic, and remember that bigger is generally better in terms of bottle sizes.
Most likely to say ‘is it certified?’ they have a propensity for being snooty (dare we say a touch evangelical) and delight in pulling rank over their naturalite counterparts. And who can blame them? They are, afterall, supposedly free from controversial chemicals and synthetics having been grown without the use of GM, fertilisers and herbicides. But here’s the thing; though they may be loath to admit it, they actually have more in common with the naturalites than they’d like to think in that there is currently no legislation for organic products resulting in a lot of mis-leading labelling.
Look for an Ecocert or Soil Association certification and check the Organic Trade Association and Soil Association websites for reputable brands.