What exactly is clean beauty?
Despite its ubiquity, clean beauty has never actually been universally defined. Instead, it’s an umbrella term that’s moulded to purpose.
Initially it referred to products that are ‘free from’ things like parabens, sulphates, phthalates, artificial colours and fragrances – to name just a few of several hundred.
With origins in the ‘green’ or ‘natural’ beauty space, the idea started to undergo a more polished makeover and transition into ‘‘clean living’’ in 2008, around the same time as a little known newsletter called Goop also started to grow. As more brands popped up in the space in challenge to ‘not clean’ or traditional brands, consumer curiosity and demand increased.
With the clean beauty market on track to reach $22 billion by 2024, it’s little surprise most major beauty retailers, including Sephora, Ulta Beauty, Target (US) and Amazon, have their own ‘Clean Beauty’ categories or accreditation for easy identification by consumers.
But as brands have stepped up, so too has customers’ expectations. As the scrutiny on sustainability has been brought into focus, clean no longer needs to be just about being ‘better for you’ but ‘better for the environment’, too. Case in point: Sephora’s have updated their clean beauty badge to ‘clean and planet positive’.
This shift from ‘free from’ (search terms related to this idea are reportedly decreasing in popularity) to more holistic sustainability can be attributed in part to the consumer demands of Gen Z, who, according to NielsenIQ’s 2030 Clean Beauty report, are 1.3 times more likely to want to try environmentally friendly products.
So what’s next in clean beauty?
‘Cleanical’ products: An inevitable union, WGSN points to ‘Cleanical’ (Clean + Clinical) aka the blend of green ingredients with the latest scientific innovation, as a key beauty trend for the coming years. While consumers want their ingredients to be ‘safe’ for their skin, they want to see impressive results too. This trend will challenge the perception of clean beauty’s limits when it comes to specific skincare conditions like acne or signs of ageing.
‘Blue’ beauty: Originating in South Korea, waterless beauty is coming for the mainstream thanks to the growing concern of water scarcity and climate change. Referring to products that have no or very little water in its formulas, waterless products promise more potency and less environmental impact. Beauty products can contain up to 90 per cent water, often as a filler ingredient or an addition to improve texture. And that’s not even taking into consideration water used in the wider production, including packaging.
Refill me up: Beauty refills will no longer be a novelty, but a necessity. Brands will need to consider this from inception, ensuring their packaging genuinely offers a more sustainable option rather than performative. Fans will notice and call you out, even if you’re Kim Kardashian.
Integrity is the newest essential ingredient for clean beauty.
For brands entering or making themselves known in the space, the demonisation of what’s not in your products no longer cuts through. And with an increasingly knowledgeable consumer leading the space, you need to be able to answer questions about exactly what your brand means by ‘natural’ or ‘clean’.
Ready to stand out in the clean beauty space? We’re squeaky keen to chat.