Why it's more urgent than ever to define "green beauty"

Just this evening I was scrolling through Beautyhabit and noticed a problem.

I don’t know about you, but Beautyhabit has always had a siren’s hold on me. Somehow, this website makes indulgent 150 dollar serums seem like dire necessities. I never thought that Beautyhabit would become a bastion of natural and organic finds, yet over the years the category is now listed as the first tab on the menu!

But here’s where I took pause over a growing dilemma. While scrolling through one screen after another of so-called natural products, I noticed decidedly non-natural brands like Decleor and Darphin sitting alongside Lurk and Odacité. It’s not only Beautyhabit but in all stores that are jumping on the green beauty bandwagon: there has been a dilution of the meaning of natural and organic and somewhere along the way, the truly authentic, natural brands are paying the price.

There has been a dilution of green beauty and the truly authentic, natural brands pay the price. Click To Tweet

I believe that part of the issue is that as a movement, we have never defined what “green” actually means, nor have we given a definition of “all natural,” hence the many ways that conventional brands adulterate those terms. Perhaps partially this was due to an unrealized need. We simply didn’t know how necessary it would become to set boundaries to protect naturally formulated beauty and prevent greenwashing, defined here as a company or organization that “spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.”

Another possibility is that inherent in green beauty is a metamorphic and organic quality that won’t allow itself to be pegged and categorized, much like nature itself. Those illusive qualities are hard to define.

So in an attempt to restore green beauty to its original factory settings, to help preserve the integrity of the visionaries who began formulating natural products years ago, I raised this topic of giving a definition to “green beauty” in a closed Facebook group of nearly 4,000 members and we put the nominated definitions to a vote. Here is what we came up with, though it is open to further refinement and improvement.

Green beauty is:

Most of us agreed that green beauty is:

  • A movement: a mindful effort of beauty and wellness brands to source the purest, most sustainable ingredients possible, in order to create efficacious and safe products
  • An environmental standard: a commitment to the earth, guarding its resources and the medicinal properties of plants, herbs, flowers, etc.
  • A community: a group of like-minded people determined to share what they’ve learned and discovered, so as to inspire and educate others to make mindful choices
  • A lifestyle: a conscious choice to avoid products proven to be harmful to the health of our planet and its inhabitants

In order for a product or brand to be labeled under the term “green beauty,” the requirements include:

  • The absence of ingredients that have been shown through studies to potentially harm health or to destroy the environment with cumulative use, often referred to as toxic chemicals (i.e. those linked to hormone disruption, cancer, deforestation, etc.)
  • The meticulous attention to using ingredients that are non-toxic and natural
  • A consideration of eco-friendly and organic sourcing, where possible, fair wages and working conditions
  • A concern for environmental impact, sustainability, and carbon footprint
  • An ongoing commitment to ethical formulating, transparency, research, innovation, and growth

Adherence to each one has gradations, since “green beauty” is an umbrella term that encompasses organic or non-toxic products. It is ultimately left up to the consumer to determine what suits their prerequisites prior to purchasing as there are no guarantees that all brands that call themselves “green” conform to these principles.

[With thanks to Stephanie Ferguson, makeup artist and blogger and founder of Säf, whose definition has great merit and was incorporated here.]

Distinguishing Green | Clean | Non-toxic | Vegan | Cruelty-free | Organic | Safe

While it may seem as though “green beauty” is an all-encompassing term, many people see it splintering further.

Shannon Burkhalter added the distinction that the following refer to different aspects of what is considered “natural”:

1. Green—good for the environment
2. Nontoxic/clean—safe for human use, not as harmful to health
3. Vegan—meets cruelty free standards


“People use all of them synonymously sometimes but they really aren’t the same thing,” Shannon stated. “Some green products are still toxic to us and some nontoxic products aren’t necessarily vegan. But sometimes a product is all of the above.”


A fourth distinction was also suggested to include a separate category for “organic.”
4. Organic—has certification as using mainly organic ingredients

Green speaks to the impact on resources, including trees and water, sustainability, reduction of landfill volume, and fair-trade, avoiding human and animal exploitation. Clean means what the product does not contain—carcinogens, hormone disruptors, irritants, neurotoxins, etc.,” said Jean Francis Scholtes.

Do take a minute to check out Adina Grigore’s definitions of “natural,” “organic,” “non-toxic,” and “hypoallergenic” here. She’s the founder of S.W. Basics and author of two books—one about the need for simplicity in skin care and one on essential oils—and she knows a thing or two about skin.

As you can see, there’s definitely more refinement needed but here’s a start. Let us know your thoughts in the comments as well as whether or not a definition is needed. Do we leave the terms as ambiguous and allow the consumer to decide what’s ok for them or not? Do we need to further educate buyers as to what green actually means?


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