Sustainable Beauty: What Each Buzzword Means

“Carbon-Neutral” and “Carbon-Negative” Beauty

Supporting a carbon-neutral beauty brand means purchasing products from a brand that actively works to reduce its carbon footprint, or the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by a person or entity. To be carbon neutral means to offset your release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by contributing to causes around the world that help tackle climate change.

Carbon-negative brands are similar, except they offset the carbon they produce, in addition to removing extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to help reverse climate change.

“B Corp Certification”

A company that’s B Corp certified is one that finds a balance between purpose and profit and consistently considers how its practices may affect its workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. As noted in a previous POPSUGAR article, the B Corp Certification is an initiative created by B Lab, a global nonprofit started by three people who left their careers in business and private equity to make it easier for mission-driven companies to have a positive impact (which is continually improved upon over time) on people and the planet. The ultimate aim of B Lab is to use the power of business to address social and environmental issues.

Any company hoping to become certified will be assessed exam-style in five areas: governance, workers, customers, community, and the environment. The exam includes 4,000 questions about how each company conducts business, and to receive the certification, businesses are required to score a minimum of 80 points across all categories. Davines, Dr. Bronner, Ethique, Beautycounter, and The Body Shop are just a few of our favorite B Corp-certified beauty brands.

“Clean” Beauty

Clean beauty may be the most commonly misunderstood term of the bunch. In 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation released a list of ingredients now referred to as the “dirty dozen,” or 12 common chemicals found in cosmetics that are potentially harmful to the health of consumers. A clean beauty product is one that’s formulated without controversial ingredients like phthalates, parabens, oxybenzone, aluminum, some fragrances, and more. However, because there’s little regulation from the FDA in terms of what can be labeled “clean” and what can’t, any brand can slap a “clean” label on its products for the sake of marketing.

“There is no official definition for ‘clean’ as it pertains to [beauty] products, and different companies may use it referring to different things,” dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, says. “When I ask companies to explain, I get responses like that a product is vegan, organic, natural, or has no chemicals, preservatives, is ‘ethical’ with minimal waste, or ingredients that are on the warning list with the Environmental Working Group that would be glass and not plastic.”

Despite the lack of official definition, the market around clean beauty products is booming — and expected to be worth $54.5 billion by 2027, according to a consumer insights report from Statistica.

“Vegan” Beauty

In the same way vegan foods don’t contain any animal byproduct, vegan beauty products don’t contain animal-based ingredients such as beeswax, lanolin, milk, and honey. Determining whether a product is vegan can be slightly tricky, though, considering the label on the back isn’t always going to point out whether a specific ingredient is animal-derived. (For example, you’d only know that a product containing lanolin isn’t vegan if you were already aware that lanolin is derived from sheep wool, not because the label tells you that.)

These days, though, many brands make it clear whether their products are vegan, and there are certifications from groups like PETA and The Vegan Society that help validate these claims. That goes for fan-favorite brands like The Lip Bar and E.L.F. Cosmetics.

“Blue” Beauty

Blue beauty is a movement that was spearheaded by Beauty Heroes founder Jeannie Jarnot in an effort to preserve oceans, since wasteful, nonrecyclable packaging can eventually end up in the ocean after being discarded, destroying and/or harming the underwater habitats and the animals that live in them.

“Blue beauty specifically supports ocean conservation, using reef-safe ingredients and moving toward zero-waste packaging, or packaging that is virtually plastic free,” says Jillian Wright, founder of Indie Beauty Expo.

In an effort to decrease the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, more brands have begun producing items featuring sustainable packaging.

“Organic” Beauty

In terms of food, organic typically means a product was farmed without the use of chemicals or pesticides, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, the “FDA does not define or regulate the term ‘organic,’ as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products.” Still, a beauty product can carry an “organic” seal if at least 70 percent of its ingredients are organic.

“Natural” Beauty

Natural products usually feature ingredients that are naturally derived, but it’s important to remember that a product being made of natural ingredients doesn’t always make it safer than those that aren’t.

“Calling a beauty product ‘natural’ legally means nothing,” says Ebru Karpuzoglu, PhD, the founder of natural skin-care brand AveSeena. “It’s an unregulated term because the FDA, USDA, or EU do not have any regulations or standards on the term. Since there is no regulation on the ‘natural’ term, anyone can just use one or two natural ingredients in a product and call it natural. If you see the natural ingredients only at the end of the product’s ingredient list, that means it’s hardly natural.”

“Cruelty-Free” Beauty

You might think vegan and cruelty free are the same, but that’s not the case. Cruelty-free brands are those that don’t test their products and ingredients on animals. You can usually tell if a product hasn’t been tested on animals if it features a rabbit symbol on the label, aka the Leaping Bunny certification. Garnier is an example of a major global beauty brand that committed to being cruelty free, following in the earlier footsteps of CoverGirl, which received a Leaping Bunny seal back in 2018.

Danielle Jackson is the former assistant editor for POPSUGAR Beauty.


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