Brace Yourself For The Emerging Trend: ‘Clean Beauty’

clean beauty
Charlotte Rudd
by: Charlotte Rudd
Over the last 12 months, consumer interest in products being ‘chemical-free’ has seen a significant rise with a particular focus on “Clean Beauty”. And throughout 2020 this trend continued to take the skincare industry by storm, with many brands adopting it for their own marketing messages.

But why have so many brands decided to focus on a concept that isn’t even defined or regulated currently within an industry that relies on regulation, why are industry experts snubbing the trend and what does clean beauty even mean? 

We explore the growing fascination with using ‘clean’ buzzwords that so many brands have chosen to pursue and why consumers have changed their attitudes when it comes to looking after their skin.

What does “Clean Beauty” mean?

Defined by beauty giant Sephora, clean beauty is any product that has been made with “all-natural” and “organic” ingredients. However, as a fairly new concept, it has taken on a different meaning for different brands. The original ‘clean’ beauty brand, Unilever’s Simple, marketed its products has having a very basic ingredient list with ‘no nasty chemicals’, whilst other brands highlight features such as fragrance-free, natural or organic. Brands such as The Body Shop champion ‘clean beauty’ as being cruelty-free and largely offer vegan products, indicating there is a huge interpretation about what clean beauty really means.

Whilst it’s very clear within the industry that clean beauty can’t really be defined, one recurring feature amongst all brands that mention ‘clean beauty products’ is the view that “clean” skincare products are:

  • Delicate on the skin using minimal chemicals 
  • Largely made up of natural or ‘green’ ingredients 
  • Packaged in recyclable or compostable materials.
  • Produced by a brand with a moral ethos, for instance giving back to the community.

Delving into the search data, it’s clear to see that customers value many of the aspects that are core to “clean beauty” such as being natural, organic or sustainable. Consumers clearly prefer brands who are transparent with their audience, who are pioneering positive changes within the skincare industry but can also admit where improvements can be made.

Who’s looking for clean beauty products?

As a marketing concept, “Clean Beauty” appears to be more prominent overall in the UK compared to the US, although it’s an increasingly growing market. According to a recent study by Harper’s Bazaar, 50% of women in America said they were already using product’s they considered to be ‘clean’ and this is supported by a 50% increase in the US for “clean beauty” searches during August 2020, compared to August 2019.

Over the last 5 years, the trends data indicates that whilst “clean beauty” is not a new concept, interest levels are not constant and tend to ebb and flow- possibly down to media coverage or brand marketing. A clear example of this is in Australia, where there are defined sharp increases and then decreases across the five years. The UK has seen more steady growth with dips and spikes whilst The USA has seen the highest and most stable growth out of the three countries.




Despite what the industry experts tell us, the trends clearly show that whilst the ‘clean beauty is a fad’ debate continues to rage on, the interest for clean beauty continues to grow amongst consumers everywhere. So, why are skincare experts at odds with skincare brands when it comes to using the words clean beauty?

Why industry experts are snubbing ‘clean beauty’ as a concept

Firstly, describing a product as being ‘clean’ immediately portrays everything else before it as being ‘dirty’ or ‘bad’ which in the skincare industry is something no brands want to be associated with. Clean beauty products claim to be chemical-free or more ‘pure’ than other products too but the industry has always worked hard to market the science behind developing hard-working skincare products that work- using acids, parabens and other ingredients that are now in danger of developing a bad rep. 

It’s not that clean beauty is necessarily a bad thing, it’s that the claims brands are now making create a negative reputation for other products that aren’t focusing on being paraben-free, for example. Skincare experts such as head buyer at the beauty chain Space NK, Sarah Meadows, recognises clean beauty as being environmentally conscious; “Whether it is about sustainability, whether it is vegan, conscious living, free-from … playing into any of those would make you a clean brand. It can be fairly confusing for the customer.” Likewise, skincare guru, Caroline Hirons calls out certain ‘clean’ brands up for confusing consumers by mentioning ingredients that wouldn’t normally appear in skincare or makeup products anyway “Saying that they are not included in your line is redundant”. 

One thing all clean beauty brands appear to shout about it the removal of two key ingredients from their products due to the apparent irritation they can cause skin. Almost all “clean beauty” advocates state they don’t use parabens; the preservatives that help make product shelflife longer or sodium lauryl sulphate, or SLS; the ingredient that makes products like shampoo foam. 

How should brands use “Clean Beauty”?

With over two billion hashtags currently being used on Instagram, brands and consumers alike are still actively referring to #cleanbeauty so it’s clearly not going to disappear soon. Brands who are keen to get a slice of the traffic for this hot topic should focus on using the term on a dedicated category page. It’s beneficial to be transparent and ensure the consumer is aware that it isn’t regulated and the term ‘clean’ is coming from your brand’s perspective. Being clear and informative about what ‘clean beauty’ means to your own brand will help clear up the general misinformation or confusion created within the industry.

Reinforcing why you consider your brand and its products to be ‘clean’ can be another great way to showcase the qualities of your products and what makes them stand out from the competition. Focus on what’s in the product as well as what isn’t, and make this clear to the consumer. Transparency is the key here- if your products are vegan but not cruelty-free yet, let your consumers know whether you have the initiative to obtain cruelty-free status and the steps you are taking. 

A recent study into the labeling of skincare highlighted that 79% of women said they are at least sometimes confused about ingredients listed on the package label, with 45% admitting they’re are often, very often confused about the ingredients they should be looking for. It’s therefore key to explore the use of displaying different ingredients throughout the website and ensure users understand what is in every product. Considering CRO tactics and A/B testing could really help your brand here.

Ultimately, if your brand is keen to join the ‘clean’ tribe, it’s important to focus on being transparent across social media and your website about your own ethos and products is key to success with consumers. Don’t join the confusing noise about being ‘clean’ if really your products are environmentally conscious, cruelty-free or have a low carbon footprint- not because they’re paraben-free.

*Originally published Jan 11th 2021, updated Mar 5th 2021.

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