Common Clean Beauty Terms Explained

21 May 2021 | By Atlehang Ramathesele

We asked an expert to explain what commonly-used clean beauty terms really mean.


Beauty consumers are becoming more conscious of how their skincare products and cosmetics are made. 

According to beauty editor Lauren Nicoll, the clean beauty movement centres around conscious consumerism. Part of this is becoming more aware of the ingredients used to create your beauty favourites, so that consumers can be better informed about what they are putting on and in their bodies. 

Clean beauty brands tend to contain ingredients that are less harmful to people as well as the environment.

“Brands are progressively finding safer, non-toxic, sustainable and eco-friendly ways to formulate and package your beauty products,” Nicoll explains. “Clean beauty cares about moving towards a more sustainable beauty industry, through transparency and by formulating products that eliminate the 'nasties' that have been linked or been suspected of being harmful to human health.”

The development of the clean beauty movement has brought with it a whole host of new terms that can be confusing for consumers. We unpack what these labels mean below…


According to Nicoll, products that are marketed as natural aren’t made from 100% natural ingredients.

“When a beauty product is genuinely natural, it should mean that majority of the ingredients are sourced directly from nature, and are minimally processed for the antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes packed into these ingredients to remain active for better performance,” she says.


Organic beauty products are often the most regulated certified products you can find on beauty shelves.

“Consumers can be assured that if a product has been certified as organic by law, all of the correct processes and standards have been approved and followed,” says Nicoll. 

Organic products are processed in a way that reduces irritants and contaminants and use naturally grown ingredients that don’t contain antibiotics, fungicides, pesticides or chemicals.  

All of this means that organic products are slightly more expensive. Says Nicoll, “It’s quite an arduous process that organic brands take great care with, from sustainable sourcing and farming of ingredients to packaging and manufacturing.” 


A vegan product does not contain any animal by products. 

“It must be free of any animal ingredients like dairy, honey, eggs, gelatin, or collagen,” says Nicoll. 

It must be noted while a product may only contain plant-based ingredients, this doesn’t guarantee that it hasn’t been tested on animals. A “vegan-friendly” notation on the packaging merely confirms that no animal-derived ingredients have been used.


Cruelty-free refers to animal testing.

“It means that throughout the manufacturing process, from finding ingredients to formulation to putting out a finished product, no animal testing has been done at any point in the process,” says Nicoll. 

If local organisation Beauty Without Cruelty or international body Leaping Bunny has certified a beauty brand, you can rest assured that no animals were harmed to make the product. 


According to Ethical Consumer, parabens, triclosan, and phthalates are ingredients to look out for. Parabens have been linked to hormone disruption, reproductive- and neuro-toxicity and skin irritation, while triclosan and phthalates can cause various hormone issues.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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