Pop quiz: What’s your definition of clean beauty? Depending on who you ask, it may be cruelty-free, or paraben-free, or derived completely from plants. We know it gets confusing — and therein is the big problem with clean beauty: Clean beauty, like natural and green before it, has no set definition. That’s why it’s up to consumers to vet their own ingredients list, which is tough if you’re not a cosmetic chemist, or for retailers and brands to set their own standards, such as Sephora’s Clean at Sephora seal.
At Glow Recipe, we have our own guide for how we formulate our products — and what we’ve chosen not to put in our formulas. Fruit extracts are fair game; so are safe yet super-effective actives. What’s not: Quite a few ingredients. There are concerns around their safety, not to mention their environmental impact. Another consideration: Their effects could be cumulative with everyday use. While the evidence isn’t always conclusive for their effects in humans, we’ve found enough safer (and effective) alternatives to go without. With that in mind, here’s what we’re avoiding, and why.
Parabens are a group of chemicals that are frequently used as preservatives in skin-care formulas. Anything that ends in the suffix “-paraben” is a type of paraben, such as propylparaben and butylparaben. The studies concerning their safety in humans is ultimately inconclusive, and we’ve chosen not to use it out of an abundance of caution. Instead, we rely on other methods of effectively preserving our formulas, such as fermentation.
Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate — also just known as sulfates — are molecules that are surfactants and foaming agents. That means they give shampoos and cleansers their satisfying lather and boost its cleansing power. However, they may strip skin of its natural oils and cause dryness, sensitivity, and irritation. We’ve opted for botanically derived surfactants to replicate their signature suds.
Synthetic dyes and colorants, such as FD&C BLUE 1 and FD&C RED 40, are used to give makeup, skincare, and hair color to lend them, well, color. The use of certain types are restricted by the FDA (you can find the full list here) due to their potential to cause sensitivity or irritation in skin. While they’re not present in our skincare products, our Watermelon Glow Lip Pop does contain synthetic dyes to enable the color to adjust to your pH. However, we’ve carefully formulated it to counteract any sensitivity.
In our effort to create clean, natural formulations with eco-conscious ingredients whenever possible, we’ve never tested on any of our animal friends. We’re proud to be certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny, which means that a company, its products, and its entire supply chain is free of animal testing. Also important to us: Our entire brand is vegan with the exception of manuka honey, found in our original Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask.
Clean beauty means a cleaner planet, which is why we don’t use ingredients that could pose a hazard to the environment. That includes oxybenzone or octinoxate, which harm ocean reefs, as well as plastic microbeads, which pollute water. We also don’t formulate with mercury or mercury-containing ingredients.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHA (not to be confused with beta hydroxy acid!) and BHT, two preservatives commonly found in skin-care products, are also not allowed in our products. BHA and BHT may interfere with the body in a number of ways. A report from the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption found that BHA is of high concern, since it can impact hormone function.¹
Formaldehydes & Formaldehyde-releasing Agents
Formaldehyde is all sorts of bad news for your health. In fact, the EPA has designated it a probable human carcinogen, meaning it can lead to cancer.² And though it’s naturally produced in the body, it’s typically broken down and rendered harmless by cells in your mouth, nose, and throat. On your skin, though, you lose this essential line of defense. And as certain ingredients can release formaldehyde as they break down, we avoid both in our product formulations.
Hydroquinone is commonly used for lightening skin, such as for treating dark spots. However, it’s also a possible carcinogen and known to cause ochronosis. While hydroquinone is approved for use in the FDA and even available over-the-counter, it’s currently banned in the EU, Japan, and Australia — and in our products.
A note on synthetic fragrance: We have a maximum of 0.5% of synthetic fragrance in our products. And we only use the minimum amount of fragrance needed to create a sensorial, enjoyable skincare experience. All the fragrances we use are tested and free of PCM, PTFE/PFOA, Styrene, Polyacrylamide/acrylamide, Acetaldehyde, Acetonitrile, Methylene chloride, Animal fats, oils, and musks, Benzalkonium chloride, Toluene, Resorcinol, Acetone, Butoxyethanol, Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, Methyl cellosolve, Methylisothiazolinone/methylchloroisothiazolinone, Mercury and mercury compounds (thimerosal), and Bisphenol A (BPA). Want to learn more? Our founders did a deep dive into this topic and explained how we use fragrance in Glow Recipe products.
Curious about other ingredients not on this list? Keep scrolling to see the full list of ingredients we leave out of our product formulations:
No animal-derived ingredients, including fats, oils, musks
No Oxybenzone or Octinoxate
No Plastic Microbeads
No mercury or mercury-containing ingredients
None of the following preservatives: Parabens, Formaldehyde or Formaldehyde-releasing agents, Triclosan, Triclocarban
No cyclical silicones: Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), Cyclohexasiloxane (D6) – Cyclopentasiloxane (D5)
BHA/BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene, preservatives that are not to be confused with Beta Hydroxy Acid)
No Mineral Oil
No Retinyl Palmitate
No Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
None of the following Ethanolamine’s: DEA, TEA, MEA
No Nanoparticles, as defined by the EU
No dyes or synthetic colorants are in our skincare formulations