If you’ve recently shopped around for skincare products, you’ve likely seen products with labels like “clean beauty” and “natural beauty.” It might sound similar, but clean beauty and natural beauty are two different kinds of products. So what exactly is the difference between the two?
Check out our ultimate guide to understanding the difference between clean beauty and natural beauty, plus what it can mean for your skin.
What Is Clean Beauty?
Clean beauty refers to products that do not contain a certain list of chemicals of concern. This list varies brand-to-brand but tends to include parabens, sulfates and other “trending” potential toxins. Clean beauty brands still use synthetic ingredients.
Unfortunately, the FDA's list of banned chemicals and compounds is small compared to how many ingredients, like talc and formaldehyde, there are which are considered to be harmful. To put it into better perspective, the European Union has banned more than 1,400 cosmetic ingredients, while the FDA has banned 11.
Anything from nourishing moisturizers to hydrating lotion to mascara, lip balm, or deodorant could fall under the umbrella of clean beauty.
What Is Natural Beauty?
Natural beauty is the easiest to explain and the most simple to remember. Natural beauty relates to beauty products made with “natural” substances or anything not grown in a lab. The ingredients in every natural beauty product are derived from nature, meaning plants or minerals.
Three Ships, for example, use 100% plant and mineral derived ingredients without any artificial substances, fragrances or fillers.
How Do I Know If a Product Is Natural?
Since the beauty industry is self-regulated, knowing what beauty brand you can trust can be tricky. While many beauty companies say they are natural, they may still contain ingredients, like fragrance, that are artificial.
How can you tell if a product is natural? Look for the right kind of labels. Beauty companies can pay third-party companies to test their products, or a company can use the right words to reflect shared values. Certifications (like EWG) are an easy way to see if a brand is actually doing what they say they do, while other informative labels (like cruelty-free or vegan) can help you make a more informed decision.
Leaping Bunny Certified
If cruelty free products are important to you, you’ll want to see a Leaping Bunny label. Eight national animal protection groups worked together to form the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). They set the standard for cruelty-free beauty.
The Leaping Bunny certification designates how brands, like Three Ships, don’t test their products on animals while developing products.
“Organic” refers to anything grown naturally, typically without pesticides or harsh chemicals. For something to be labeled as organic, it needs to follow strict guidelines to achieve organic certification or operate a business – like a farm – that sells less than $5,000 in product a year.
The most common organic certification is from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA requires an extensive process to receive their organic certification, including a list of rules and regulations that companies must follow.
Some beauty products, like our Refresh Papaya + Salicylic Acid Cleanser, are made using recycled ingredients. Pentylene Glycol is naturally derived from sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous leftovers from the sugarcane juice extraction process.
In addition, companies like Three Ships try to keep down excessive waste by the use of recyclable glass bottles, limited product inserts, and screen-printed packaging (instead of wasteful labels).
Recyclable packing has also become a staple in the beauty industry as it reduces the amount of waste buildup. Their bottles and packaging can go on to be made into something entirely new once you are done with them.
Fragrance-free products are made without the addition of any artificial fragrances in the product. Companies may add natural fragrances such as essential oils to their skincare products, which you can find on the ingredient label. Fragrance-free does not equal unscented.
Some common natural fragrances include lavender and citrus extracts, which can help lessen acne, even skin tone, and reduce the appearance of fine lines.
This is a broader term for beauty products. “All-natural” mainly represents that the skincare product does not contain artificial or chemically-created ingredients.
Cruelty-free products are not tested on animals, but that does not mean they are always entirely made without animal-based ingredients. Many ingredients, such as amino acids and fatty acids, can be derived from animals or plant alternatives.
To ensure that your product is completely animal-free (with no animal by-product), look for the vegan certification on the label. The label will typically show an uppercase V with the word “vegan” underneath.
What Ingredients Should I Avoid?
Here’s a list of the ingredients commonly included in “clean” beauty products.
We know that alcohol can have adverse long-term effects when consumed regularly, and that is no different when you use alcohol in your skincare products.
Alcohol has been shown to increase dryness on your skin and cause skin irritation and redness.
In addition, an ironic fact is that alcohol in skincare products may cause your pores to enlarge, which can cause excessive oil production, so even if you are using alcohol to dry your skin, it might just do the opposite.
“Phthalate-free” is another buzzword that you often see advertised on clean beauty products, but why is it bad for your skin?
Phthalates are plasticizers. If that word looks familiar, this is because it pertains to plastic, which is another harmful ingredient found in commercial skincare. Phthalates help make products smoother and flexible to have a better feel on the skin.
The problem with phthalates is that they are endocrine disruptors, which may prevent your endocrine system from creating essential hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.
Sulfates are also commonly found in commercial cosmetic products, and they are known for giving you that rich lather that you get in your cleansers and even hair care products, like shampoo and conditioner.
Sulfates are meant to strip the oils and dirt from your skin to promote clean and fresh skin, but they are often too cleansing.
Sulfates can strip away too much of your skin’s natural oils, causing dryness and excessive oil production when your skin begins to overcompensate for the loss.
Now we love a good sunscreen, and we highly recommend having an SPF in your skincare routine, but the type of sunscreen you use is just as important as the consistency you are using.
There are a lot of mixed opinions about the safety of chemical sunscreens, but many dermatologists suggest that chemical sunscreens require more chemical ingredients, such as fragrances and preservatives, to actually benefit your skin.
In addition, chemical sunscreens are not coral reef-friendly and can cause damage to ocean life when they come off in the water. Mineral sunscreens, such as zinc oxide, tend to be a safer and eco-friendly alternative.
Yes, you read that correctly. Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring chemical used in the embalming process, but it can actually be found in food and our own bodies.
The main concern with formaldehyde in beauty products is that inhaling formaldehyde fumes can cause health issues when exposure is frequent.
Formaldehyde may also cause skin irritation to sensitive skin.
The good news is that even in commercial products, the risk of inhaling formaldehyde fumes in skincare products is relatively low, but still, we want to take caution and exclude it altogether.
Why Are Natural Beauty Products Important?
Natural beauty products can help us to maintain optimal skin health and reduce the risk of skin irritations and issues caused by chemicals and preservatives found in too many “clean” products.
Having naturally-derived ingredients in natural skincare also ensures that harmful chemicals are not being leaked into the rest of our body and building up concentrations of toxins that may harm us down the road.
Natural beauty products are essential not just for our health and our skin but also for our environment. When we use products containing chemicals and harmful preservatives, these ingredients can transfer into the air and affect the ecosystems around us.
Using natural beauty products helps protect us and the environment around us from harm and pollutants. Join the natural beauty movement and use personal care products free of toxic ingredients and synthetic fragrances.
The Bottom Line
At Three Ships, our goal is to give you naturally made skincare products that protect your skin and boost its natural radiance. We want you to feel comfortable with your skincare products knowing that everything inside is safe for you and your environment.
You can read our Ingredient Glossary to find out what we put in our products, how they are derived, and what benefits they can have for your skin. We want you to know that your skin’s best interest is always at the forefront of our minds.
Not sure where to start? Take this quiz to build your personalized skincare routine.
Organic Regulations | United States Department of Agriculture
Ensuring the Safety of Sunscreens, and Their Efficacy in Preventing Skin Cancers: Challenges and Controversies for Clinicians, Formulators, and Regulators | PMC