What is Clean Beauty & Why I’m Swapping Out Toxic Beauty Products

What is Clean Beauty & Why I'm Swapping Out Toxic Beauty Products

Clean beauty has been a major buzz word lately. For someone like myself who’s into beauty and skincare, it’s even confusing for me. There’s a good reason why it’s confusing and overwhelming. The industry doesn’t have any sort of actual guidelines. So if something is “natural” or “no harsh chemicals” to one company, another may interpret it entirely different.  Basically there’s no real regulation for those buzz words so you the consumer have to be knowledgeable. Plus, what’s most shocking, is the FDA doesn’t have to approve beauty or skincare products before they hit the shelves.  Also, many brands are allowed to sneak in ingredients without telling you. This doesn’t mean they’re all dangerous, but it just goes back to the consumer having to be smarter! Consequently, clean beauty and buying products can be a little overwhelming while standing in the beauty aisle at Target.

Personally, I think it’s important to figure out what exactly clean means to you. It can be choosing vegan, or just going cruelty-free. This may mean keeping out toxic ingredients that can disrupt hormone balance and cause cancer (yes that’s IN MANY OF YOUR PRODUCTS).  Also, it could mean organic or not. It’s up to you the customer to decide what clean beauty means to you. But for me, it means removing as many toxic ingredients as possible. You may be wondering, wait, we live in the US, how are we allowed to have cancer-causing ingredients or harmful ingredients in our products? Well, what’s most shocking is that the US has only banned around 30 ingredients in cosmetics. But the European Union has banned over 1,300. We don’t regulate nearly as much as the EU and that’s alarming. So we have to be our own advocates here and I’m here to help!

What is Clean Beauty & Why I'm Swapping Out Toxic Beauty Products

What Is Clean Beauty?

When deciding what clean beauty means to you, you may look at one of these 4 common categories. I’m breaking them down so you can better understand what they mean when you see them on a label. One may not mean the other. If something is natural, it may not be vegan. And if something is vegan, it may not be cruelty-free either. Here are some common categories to keep an eye out for. Most clean beauty products are typically free of parabens, sulfates, silicone, synthetic fragrances and phthalates. We’ll get more into ingredients in a moment.

100% Free of Toxic Chemicals

This is typically what “clean” beauty is. A product that is free of synthetic ingredients, toxic chemicals or ingredients that may cause harm (hormone disruption, cancer, etc) or may be irritating to the skin.  A few brands I love that are “clean” are Beautycounter, COOLA Skincare, Goop and Axiology (also vegan).

It’s also important to always remember that most brands are trying to appeal to mass markets. Something my aesthetician has ingrained in my brain. So if something is “irritating” as in Retinol, which is actually safe, many brands leave it out. Why? Because if some consumers turn red a bit or become sensitive, they leave it out. Retinol is one of those ingredients you do need to be careful with. But it’s totally safe to use topically and I think EVERYONE should have it in their anti-aging routine. I personally love this one which isn’t as irritating as most Retinol.

Big name brands want to ensure, good smelling, nice textures when creating products. This then may result in mediocre results to appeal to more people which increase their bottom lines. This is why I always recommend trying products out so you can find ones that are not only clean but also effective. And don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t smell great, that should be the least of your concern when finding skincare!

Cruelty Free

A factor I care more and more about. Cruelty-free means that the products weren’t tested on animals. Which by the way, isn’t even an accurate way of testing the efficacy of products. A few brands I love that are cruelty-free are Urban Decay, IT Cosmetics, Physicians Formula, Milk Makeup and so many more. This is a great list to reference! Sadly, if anything is sold in China, it HAS to be tested on animals. A disgusting requirement that many brands abide by to expand sales. I recently learned that Covergirl received the Leaping Bunny Certification which I think is huge for such a major brand!

And I hate to be a Debbie Downer on this one, but the whole cruelty-free is not ALWAYS true. I want to note that when you see cruelty-free it ONLY means that THEIR final products aren’t tested on animals. This is great. However, guess what? Brands aren’t also creating their own ingredients. They have to buy those ingredients from a manufacturer or supplier and more often than not, those ingredients are being tested on animals. The only way to ensure a product has not been tested on animals all the way down to the ingredient supplier is to find Leaping Bunny Certified products. It’s definitely a good thing that there’s one section of the supply chain that isn’t testing on animals. But there needs to be a better effort on the industry as a whole. As technology and science improve, they’re able to grow actual skin to test on. It’s VERY expensive and a lot of manufacturers aren’t using it. I think it’s a huge step that Covergirl is officially certified and it’s a great move!


Just like people who lead a vegan diet, the beauty products are no different. No animal by-products at all. It also means no product made from animal origin. A few vegan brands I’ve recently learned about, Axiology (great organic lipsticks), Elf Cosmetics and Tarte.

All Natural or Organic

Natural beauty products are simply products that don’t have synthetic ingredients. The items may not necessarily be organic either, so always keep that in mind. Natural ingredients don’t mean organic, and organic doesn’t always mean natural. Here’s the thing, not all natural ingredients are gentle. They typically are, but be aware that there’s plenty of natural ingredients that may be irritating. It’s important again to decide what you want to see or not see on your labels. Going natural is a great start in my opinion as these products are typically more gentle than their synthetic competitors.

What Are The Negative Effects of Toxic Beauty Products

Fun fact, your skin is an organ. A pretty darn big one! So why are we not more aware of what we put on our skin if it’s such a major part of our health?  Your skin absorbs products, free radicals, pollution and more through dermal absorption. If you can put on your skin something that’s cleaner, safer and doesn’t cause harm, why wouldn’t you? A few negative effects that toxic products may cause are hormone disruption, irritation and the worst, cancer. I truly don’t think the latter is a MAJOR fear we should have, but it’s something we should be aware of.

Besides our bodies, these ingredients also have an effect on our environment. Hawaii just passed a ban on chemical sunscreen ingredients due to what it’s doing to the coral reefs. They’re basically gone because of the residual product that ends up in the ocean when people lather themselves with toxic sunscreen and hop into the ocean for a swim. Let’s also note that the coral reefs are damaged because of CLIMATE CHANGE as well. Ingredients to look out for are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These are all banned in Hawaii now and are found in nearly every single SPF you would buy at the drugstore with those big brand names. You can switch to zinc, which is a perfectly effective and safer alternative to these toxic chemicals and feel good about putting them on your body and leaving it behind in the ocean. You can shop safe SPF for you and your family here at Beautycounter.

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Common Toxic Ingredients Found In Everyday Beauty Products

There’s a ton of ingredients that have been deemed toxic, dangerous, irritating and so on. I like this list on Credo Beauty’s site and I referenced some of them here. These are personally, the top ingredients that I would like to try to stay away from. Again, choose what works for you and do your research to advocate for your cleaner beauty routine. Beautycounter also has their Never List with descriptions of everything.


Parabens are commonly used as a preservative and you may see them listed out as Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Methylparaben, and Propylparaben. There are many ways to preserve products without the use of harsh chemicals and these should be avoided whenever possible. They can cause hormone disruption specifically with an increase in estrogen. And as many of us know, an increase of estrogen may be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.

Harmful SPF

As mentioned earlier, SPF is often listed out as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. This is something to look for when buying your SPF. And spoiler, all the major brands that you’re buying at the store are probably using the harsh SPF chemical.


Although typically not listed as an ingredient, Formaldehyde “releasers” or “donors” often are listed on ingredient labels. These ingredients likely have Formaldehyde tagging along and may be listed as one of the below. Formaldehyde is linked to respiratory problems and cancer and should be avoided whenever possible.

  • Dmdm Hydantoin
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea
  • Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin
  • Quaternium-15
  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol
  • Polyoxymethylene Urea
  • 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1,3 Dioxane
  • Glyoxal
  • Methenamine
  • Benzylhemiformal

safe skincare, clean beauty brands, beautycounter favorites, how to start with beautycounter, what is clean beauty - My Style Vita

Why I’m Switching To Clean Beauty: The Benefits

The benefits to clean beauty are endless. From bettering your health, the environment and supporting companies that are making a change. These are the three benefits for me that are making the switch worth it.

Overall Health

It’s a no-brainer that removing harsh chemicals, parabens and other ingredients from my day to day routine will improve my overall health. My skin is my biggest organ and just like I want to eat healthier, work out and consume more natural and organic products in my life, I also want to treat my skin better.

Effective But Safe

Knowing that these brands are going above and beyond to not only create cleaner, safer products, but also effective is a plus. It’s like they have something major to prove and they aren’t afraid to put the work in. I love that clean can also mean effective. Anti-aging, hydration, SPF and more. These products are safe AND effective and that’s a benefit I can get behind. Trust me when I tell you that these products are also high performing. This body moisturizer has helped my keratosis pilaris on my arms thanks to how hydrating it is.

Supporting The Cause

Money talks, and by putting your money behind companies that are doing better for our overall health speaks mounds. I also love that Beautycounter specifically is an advocate for true change. New legislation is needed as the last major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products was back in 1938. A lot has changed since the 30s and I think it’s time our representatives took action too.

How To Commit To Clean Beauty Products

I know this entire post may have been a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Committing to clean beauty products doesn’t mean you have to toss your entire makeup bag or skincare routine.  The way that I’ve been doing it that I think is easiest and a great way to approach this is to just swap out when things run out. Tossing everything today and switching RIGHT THIS SECOND won’t change your life instantly. But over time, if you replace your empty eye cream with this one from Beautycounter (I just got it, very excited about it!) or adding a new holiday lip color to your makeup bag (I love this Girls’ Night one that I’ve been wearing on the blog). It’s easy and attainable swaps that don’t feel overwhelming.

Before you know it, your makeup bag and skincare routine will look a lot cleaner with more clean ingredients that you can actually read. Or natural, or cruelty-free, whatever CLEAN means to you. I challenge you to swap ONE thing out today. Yes, TODAY. Look at your makeup products and medicine cabinet. What are you running low on? Or what do you want to try that’s new for you? Buy it today. Make the effort now to start a change in not only your day to day life but hopefully the future of the beauty industry. Because putting your dollars behind brands that support the cause and are ethical is what sparks change.

Photos by Hannah Michelle


Want to take action? If you’re interested in becoming a Beautycounter consultant I recently signed up and would love to assist with getting you started. It’s new to me, so we can all work at this together. I love it for one, the great discount you get and two, the perks! Also, if you’re NOT interested in signing up to be a consultant but still want a good deal, you can become a Beautycounter MEMBER. For only $29 a year, you get free shipping over $100, 15% back in credit on all orders, exclusive offers and of course, a welcome gift! You can learn more about that membership here.



Jessica is an Atlanta life and style blogger. Aiming to bring practical tips to your every day life. Tips that you can easily tackle and make your life feel just a tad more 'put-together'.

Leave a Comment


  1. 11.27.18
    Cathy said:

    This is such a great post! It’s so important to know what we put on our skin and how it can affect us. I need to try that lipstick, it sounds amazing.


    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      The lipsticks are one of my favorites. Axiology and Beautycounter!

  2. 11.27.18

    That’s great Jessica. I am doing the same It is so important to do a little research on all the products we apply and use. I am trying to do the same with clothes as well. It is a slow process but we can get there.

    ❥ tanvii.com

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      Same on the clothing! I’ve got a great post coming tomorrow about a sustainable collection I’m loving!

  3. 11.27.18
    Danielle said:

    This post gave such a comprehensive overview and was so helpful. All in for supporting clean beauty brands!

    xx, Danielle | http://www.pineappleandprosecco.com

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      Thanks for stopping by and reading!

  4. 11.27.18
    Katie said:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on today’s blog. I have been interested in switching to cleaner products and this post is so great at pinpointing items that you have personally used and loved. Definitely going the Beautycounter route for sure! Thank you for your great post and being so thoughtful.

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      Thanks so much for reading and considering checking out new products that are safer!

  5. 11.27.18

    Love that CoverGirl recently went cruelty free. I haven’t looked into “clean” beauty as such, but have always supported brands who do NOT test on animals 🙂

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      Same here! I think it’s huge that a major company is cruelty free all the way down to the ingredient supplier. I was most shocked in my research to learn that cruelty free doesn’t apply to the ingredients unless it’s leaping bunny certified.

  6. 11.27.18

    I love that you are going to clean beauty products. I only use cruelty free items — lots of good brands here. Love that you found a lot of vegan friendly ones as well. You should also check out 100% Pure.

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      I was so surprised to learn though that cruelty free only relates to the final product most of the time. Definitely going to check out 100% pure!

  7. 11.27.18
    Rachel said:

    Loved this post, Jess! Clean beauty is so important but understanding what exactly it is can be confusing. I have recently started switching out my products and love that I can turn to Beautycounter to do this!


    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      Same here! i’m not looking to switch most of my skincare over as I still love Cosmedix and their ingredients are great. But definitely looking into more of their body and makeup products!

  8. 11.27.18
    dana said:

    OMG. This post has me scratching my head and COMPLETELY rethinking my skincare routine — definitely going home and doing my research!

    What are your thoughts on organic/natural deodorant?

    The Champagne Edit

    • 11.27.18
      Jessica said:

      If you can do it great but I haven’t tried it yet. Got one brand/scent sent to me and HATED the smell so still haven’t tried it. I’d like to but am so fearful I’m going to stink!

  9. 11.27.18
    Candace said:

    Great post! I always make sure that my cosmetics and skin care products are cruelty free. That’s priority!


  10. 11.27.18

    I’ve heard this stuff is absolutely amazing!

  11. 11.27.18
    Alaina said:

    Great post! I’ve spent about the last year swapping personal care and home products to non-toxic options. Haven’t tried Beauty Counter yet (pricy!), but have found a few small businesses that I like! Rootpretty.com and erinsfaces.com are two I like. Hair products have been a challenge for me. Any suggestions on non-toxic shampoo, conditioner, and styling products?

  12. 11.28.18
    Irene said:

    Jessica, you are one of my favorite bloggers because you’re so genuine and candid with your thoughts. I never feel like you’re BSing me just to sell me something. I do, however, think you’re somewhat misinformed on this subject. For one thing, synthetic ingredients can be good or bad just as “natural” ingredients can be good or bad for skin. Like you say, Retinol is awesome. It’s also a synthetic ingredient. Essential oils are in the “natural” category but can be extremely irritating to skin and cause long term damage. Also, like you say, just coz it smells good, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

    It makes me sad that so many people with a real influence online use words like “clean” and “natural” to inadvertently spread misconceptions and fear over synthetic ingredients all being “toxic” by default. Nothing is “clean” just because it’s derived from a plant. And many “natural” ingredients like zinc are altered from their “natural” state to become effective skin care ingredients. Please read this article:

    I want to say something every time a blogger talks about “clean” beauty but I never do because I know it’ll just be ignored and a waste of my time. But I really think you’re someone who’ll listen.

    • 11.28.18
      Jessica said:

      Thanks for your input I think I did a good job of sharing that it’s up to us the consumer to decide what’s clean. This is definitely not a post to tell people they have to choose clean because I personally still don’t think you have to and think there’s major concerns with the industry as a whole. I totally agree that natural doesn’t mean safe and safe doesn’t mean natural either. This post was designed to educate on popular terms and trends and that we need to research our own preferences on beauty and the brands we wear.

      • 11.28.18
        Irene said:

        I agree that everyone should do their own research and make up their own minds. But since you’re trying to educate people, you should be careful to provide factual information. For example, there is no research showing that parabins at low concentrations are harmful. The fearmongering comes from studies where very high concentrations, up to 100% were used or large quantities were fed to animals. The concentrations of parabins in cosmetics are less than 1% and we apply this stuff topically, we don’t eat it. Most ingredients, including parabins, don’t penetrate deeper than the upper level of skin. Parabens are very effective at keeping mold and fungi from forming, are well researched and used internationally, and are less sensitizing than some other preservatives. Sure, if you’re still worried about a chance of hormone disruption, don’t use products containing parabens, but understand that the lists of “toxic,” “never,” or “dirty” ingredients are marketing tools for so called “clean” beauty brands. They provide no citations to specific studies but do an excellent job of placing their brands on a perceived higher ground. Don’t take those lists as gospel and, please, don’t disseminate them as such. Your readers listen to you and trust you. We love when you recommend products that work for you, but please don’t call everything not positioned as “clean” in a marketing sense as “toxic.” That is simply not true.

  13. 11.28.18
    Anna English said:

    I’ve slowly started transitioning my beauty products these past few months. I love the changes it’s made to my skin!

  14. 12.2.18
    Stephanie Jackson said:

    I love Beauty Counter. I have slowly started switching products!

  15. 12.4.18

    Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this informative & insightful post – clean beauty can be so confusing (and a lot of the brands have found loopholes) so thanks for laying it all out there for us! I love beautycounter & I’m happy to see other brands are following suit.