The paradox of clean beauty


1. Manager of Behavioral & Marketing Sciences, HCD Research, New Jersey, United States
2. VP of Research & Innovation, HCD Research


Clean beauty is a powerful movement driven and defined by consumer perception of just what “clean” means. Hearing the term “clean” beauty may induce thoughts of honesty for some and sustainability or cruelty-free to others, but even these terms have their own nuances. Without formal definition, the concept of “clean beauty” can be molded to fit what consumers want it to be, even if the actual product doesn’t meet those requirements. Perception can override reality when brands develop campaigns to imply rather than claim certain values they may not need to uphold. But the true test of consumer perceptual satisfaction is not all in the messaging, but also in product performance. Depending on consumer needs, some products can be more enticing than others through achieving product efficacy. Through understanding true preferences of consumers, brands can better address the nonnegotiable needs for products as intimate as cosmetics for ideals such as “clean beauty.”

The beauty industry is constantly churning out new ideas and trends to guide consumers to interesting and appealing products and beauty regimes. The clean beauty movement is one of the mainstream responses to the rise in a concept termed “conscientious consumerism.” The idea of clean beauty stems from this consumer concern to buy products that have a positive social, healthy, economic, and/or environmental impact. The wave of clean beauty has infiltrated virtually every store that sells cosmetics, with flowery branding along with ecological and sustainable messaging folded into the ads. Yet, the definition of clean beauty is unclear and murky. Since it is a newish term, the phrase continues to evolve, but it can lead to confusion and complications because the consumer decides what clean beauty means to them. Additionally, the standards behind the clean beauty movement do not have regulations, suggesting many of the catchy phrases may be meaningless. Even worse, some of the most popular narratives around clean beauty are false. From prescription to all-natural products, these items can be categorized into “tiers” based on their overall objective in serving the consumer. Y ...