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  • Writer's pictureRedwood Naturopathic Medicine

Navigating Clean Beauty

The Art of Clean Skincare: Unveiling the Truth Behind 'Clean' Beauty Brands

Clean skin care has emerged as a revolutionary approach, embracing the principles of purity, sustainability, and transparency. However, the journey to radiant and healthy skin is not without its challenges. In this article, we will delve into the world of clean skincare and shed light on why not all brands are created equal, empowering you to make informed choices that align with your health and wellness goals.

The Rise of Clean Skincare

In recent years, awareness has increased regarding the harmful chemicals and toxins present in conventional skincare products. This growing concern has paved the way for the rise of clean skincare, which advocates for natural, plant-based, and environmentally friendly ingredients. However, there is no regulating legislature that clearly defines what 'clean' means in the beauty industry. Clean beauty and makeup generally encompass products formulated without harmful, artificial, or unsafe components. Typically, these products are derived from minerals or plants, although individual brands may have their own specific criteria and interpretations.

Differentiating Brands: Not All Are Equal

While the concept of clean skincare is undoubtedly appealing, not all brands within this realm uphold the same standards. It is crucial to understand that the term "clean" is not regulated, allowing some companies to use it as a marketing ploy without adhering to stringent criteria. As consumers, we must navigate through the marketing noise and discern genuinely clean brands from those that are not.

  • Ingredient Transparency

Truly clean skincare brands are committed to full ingredient transparency. They provide detailed information about the components used in their products, empowering consumers to make informed decisions. On the contrary, some brands may use misleading labeling or vague terms to hide potentially harmful ingredients, making it challenging for consumers to decipher the product's true nature.

  • Sourcing and Sustainability

Authentic, clean skincare brands prioritize responsibly sourced ingredients and sustainable practices. They are mindful of the environmental impact of their manufacturing processes, opting for eco-friendly packaging and supporting fair trade practices. In contrast, not all brands prioritize sustainability, often contributing to pollution and unethical practices.

  • Research and Testing

Reputable, clean skincare brands invest in research and testing to ensure their products are safe, effective, and suitable for various skin types. They may collaborate with experts, dermatologists, and naturopathic doctors to develop formulations promoting skin health. Other brands may skip proper testing, potentially leading to products that lack efficacy or even cause harm.

  • Cruelty-Free and Vegan

Many clean skincare enthusiasts embrace a cruelty-free and vegan lifestyle. Authentic, clean brands refrain from animal testing or using animal-derived ingredients. However, some brands may claim to be clean while still testing on animals or using animal-derived substances in their products.

How to Navigate Finding Clean Beauty

Let's start with Ulta and Sephora have both curated a clean or conscious beauty list, which follow similar guidelines to one another with a few minor changes. See below as we dive into both brand's clean beauty initiatives and work through how to navigate them.


Sephora has created a labeling system called "Clean at Sephora," which features products that are formulated free from around 40 harmful and potentially toxic ingredients such as parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, sulfates, oxybenzone, triclosan, etc. (see below for the complete list). Sephora also has a "clean and planet positive" initiative, which has a list of requirements to be met for the product to receive the "clean and planet positive" seal.

  • Clean and Planet-Positive Seal Requirements:

  • Clean ingredients: contain no ingredients on the "excluded ingredients" list

  • Climate commitment: Operations must be carbon neutral, run on renewable energy, or have emissions reductions in place

  • Sustainable sourcing: no microplastic, sustainably sourced mica, sustainable or fair trade sourced palm oil

  • responsible packaging: at least 30% post-consumer recycled content in half of their packaging

  • Environmental giving: Brands must allocate one percent of profits to environmental causes


Ulta's regular "conscious" beauty seal follows its made-without list, which contains about 50 ingredients they avoid in their products (full list below). Conscious beauty must also adhere to a few specific guidelines to ensure the "conscious" aspect.

  • Conscious Beauty Seal Requirements at Ulta:

    • To qualify for conscious beauty at Ulta, all brands need to contain clean ingredients, but all other categories listed below are another way of categorizing. So, all brands under conscious beauty have nothing on the "made without a list" but might only fall under one or more of the other categories.

      • Clean Ingredients: excludes everything on the made-without list (all conscious beauty brands must adhere to this at Ulta)

      • Sustainable Packaging: To quality, at least 50% of a brand's total packaging, by weight, sold at Ulta must be made from recycled or bio-sourced materials or be recyclable or refillable

      • Cruelty-Free: must be certified by Leaping Bunny, PETA, or Choose Cruelty-free. Aka, no testing on animals

      • Positive Impact: There are not many specifics on this one except that the brands must do "something" to make a positive impact, such as donating or giving back in some capacity (but the website was very vague when describing this)

      • Vegan: no use of animal-based products

Credo Beauty:

  • There is the conscious beauty seal at Ulta, which follows all the guidelines described above. But Ulta has also partnered with Credo, which created the Credo Standard. The Credo standard takes "clean" to a whole new level. They have a "dirty list" that contains over 2700 chemicals they do not allow in their products. Not only do they follow their "free from" list, but they also follow more in-depth guidelines to ensure the safety of their products. Credo Beauty follows similar guidelines to the European Union.

  • Products

    • Use only official ingredient terminology (called INCI), not marketing language on ingredient lists.

    • Obtain documentation on ingredients' composition, purity, and sourcing information.

    • Conduct stability and shelf-life testing.

    • Back-up product and ingredient claims

    • Be transparent about "fragrance"—at a minimum, Credo brand partners must categorize the type of fragrance they use, and we encourage full disclosure of all fragrance ingredients.

Overall, Ulta seems to have put a lot more time and energy into their "clean beauty regulations," plus the credo beauty standard is the most in-depth "clean" we will find on the market. The credo standard is more similar to EU regulations! Sephora's clean beauty seal is a great start. It is essential to double-check that the product contains the seal because some products under the same brand qualify and others don't. It is essential to be informed of what we are putting on our skin, as our skin is our largest organ. And what we put on our skin ends up in our bloodstream and can significantly impact our internal systems.

Clean skincare presents a promising path towards nourishing and maintaining healthy skin, aligning with natural living and well-being principles. At Redwood Naturopathic Medicine, we encourage individuals to be discerning consumers and thoroughly investigate brands claiming to be clean. Look for transparent ingredient lists, responsible sourcing, and a commitment to sustainability. Genuine, clean skincare brands prioritize the long-term health of your skin and the planet, embodying the essence of a holistic approach to beauty. By making informed choices, you can confidently embrace clean skincare and embark on a journey to unveil your skin's true radiance and vitality.

Ulta’s Made Without List

  • Ethyl methacrylate; Methyl methacrylate:

  • Acetaldehyde 

  • Acetonitrile

  • Alkylphenols (Octylphenols, nonylphenols) and Alkylphenol Ethoxylates

  • Aluminum powder

  • Aluminum salts

  • Benzophenone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-2

  • Benzophenone-3 (Oxybenzone)

  • Benzyl Alcohol

  • Black 3

  • Butoxyethanol

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)

  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

  • Carbon Black (low purity)

  • Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4)

  • DEA complexes/derivatives/condensates (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)

  • Dioxin

  • Ethoxylated ingredients

  • Formaldehyde

  • Formaldehyde-releasing agents (formaldehyde donors)

  • Fragrances

  • Heavy metals

  • Hydroquinone

  • Latex

  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

  • Mineral oil, Paraffin, Petrolatum (that do not meet USP grade)

  • Nanomaterials

  • Octinoxate

  • Parabens

  • Perfluorinated compounds (PTFE, PFAS, PFOA, PFOS)

  • Phenylenediamine, phenylenediamine salts & phenylenediamine derivatives

  • Phthalates

  • Resorcinol

  • Retinol and esters

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

  • Styrene & styrene oxide

  • Talc (with Asbestiform)

  • Triclosan

Other Ingredients

  • **These are no longer commonly used in beauty and personal care products or are natural contaminants in the manufacturing process. The brands that participate in the Clean Ingredients pillar of Conscious Beauty at Ulta have represented that they do not intentionally add these ingredients to their products

  • 1,4-Dioxane.

  • Acrylamide

  • Ethylhexyl Ethylhexanoate

  • Heavy Metals

  • Lead Acetate

  • Methyl Cellosolve (Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether or 2-Methoxyethanol)

  • Phenoxyethanol

  • Polyethylene microbeads, polypropylene microbeads & polystyrene microbeads

  • Thimerosal

  • Toluene

  • Triclocarban

Sephora’s Made Without List

  • Sulfates- SLS + SLES

  • Parabens

  • Formaldehydes

  • Formaldehyde releasing agents

  • Phthalates

  • Mineral oul

  • Retinyl Palitate

  • Oxybenzone

  • Coal Tar

  • Triclosan

  • Triclocarbon

  • Undisclosed synthetic fragrance

  • Acrylates

  • Aluminum salts

  • Animal oils/musks/fats

  • Acetonitrile

  • Acetaldehyde

  • Benzophenone

  • Butoxyethanol

  • Carbon black

  • Lead/lead acetate

  • Methyl cellosolve

  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone & Methylisothiazolinone

  • Mercury and Mercury Compounds

  • Insoluble plastic microbes

  • Resorcinol

  • Talc

  • Toluene

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) that is .01% or more of total formula

  • Ethanolamines DEA/TEA/MEA/ETA

  • Nanoparticles

  • Petrolatum and paraffin

  • Phenoxyethanol

  • Polyacrylamide & Acrylamide

  • Styrene

  • 1,4 Dioxane

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