‘Green’, ‘Clean’ and ‘Natural’ Skin Care – What does it all mean?


Green beauty is a newish term invented by beauty consumers who are conscience about what they put on their skin, how the products are tested, and what impact they might have on the environment. Today the green beauty enthusiast expects recyclable packaging, no animal testing and desires skincare formulas to be made from toxic free ingredients that are not harmful to health or the environment.

Greenwashing is a term used by consumers that implies that manufacturers who claim to be ethical and environmentally conscientious can sometimes use misleading language and claims to sell their products and in actual fact use questionable ingredients that are harmful to the environment, animals or humans.

‘Natural beauty’ is another term in the beauty industry and involves skin care formulations that use ingredients derived from a natural source (animal, plant, mineral or substance produced by microbes) with minimal processing. Minimum processing methods are simple chemical reactions that do not alter the chemical structure of the natural product. This may include distillation, saponification, alkylation, esterification and even fermentation of the natural substance. Some of the words that are used as a result of these processing techniques can sound pretty scary- caprylic/capric triglycerides, ferulic and hyaluronic acids to name a few. Some natural skincare purists would definitely disagree with some of the processing methods and therefore the definition of ‘natural skincare’ is often skewed.

Terms such as ‘natural’ is as personal as it is subjective.

The definition of ‘natural’ is not set in stone.


The term ‘Clean beauty’ implies that the skin care formulations contain no ‘toxic’ substances known to be harmful to humans. Some cosmetic  ingredients have been linked to adverse health effects and are being questioned by the scientific community and the consumer. Most natural skincare manufacturers try to stay clear of these ‘toxic’ ingredients, but some don’t and bamboozle the consumer with words like ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ on their packaging.  To be fair some of the ‘toxic’ ingredients listed on various websites are backed up by very little scientific evidence  and are hotly debated by cosmetic formulators, environmental scientists and healthcare practitioners. However, some of these ‘toxic’ substances have been substantiated by sound research and have been shown to have carcinogenic, estrogenic, skin sensitizing and neurotoxic effects [1]. Ingredients such as pythalates and parabens often present in synthetic perfume and plastics have been linked to reproductive issues [2].  Some of these harmful ingredients include: coal tar, hydroquinone, formaldehyde-releasing compounds, sodium lauryl sulphates (SLSs), artificial fragrance, synthetic colour, phthalates, toluene and triclosan. 

Why make the switch to natural Skin care?


Natural skin care has come a long way and formulations are constantly evolving and improving. Efficacy is improving and often comparable if not better to synthetic counterparts. Clever formulations can now be targeted to your needs and skin type.

Natural ingredients in skin care formulations can contain highly active ingredients that protect and nourish the skin. Vitamins and phytochemicals from certain plants have powerful antioxidant capabilities; some can soothe the skin and are anti- inflammatory. Plant oils and waxes are effective emollients, protect the skin and offer hydration. Naturally derived hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin and reduces the look of fine lines. Some plant extracts such as liquorice can help to reduce pigmentation.


What to look for when purchasing natural skin care


• Sustainable packaging; look for the recycling icon on the package.
• Check for potentially harmful ingredients such as synthetic fragrance, parabens, coal tar, triclosan and many more on The EWG’s Skin Deep Database website or Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website. The EWG website  offers a rating on most harmful chemicals used in cosmetics [3,4].
• Make sure that the product is professionally formulated.
• Look for the certification badge. Certified organic ingredients give the consumer assurance that the ingredients are what they are, however keep in mind that small business may not be able to afford the yearly costs associated with accreditation. Also some ingredients are ‘wild-crafted’ or harvested from the wild and can not be certified.
• Be informed and do your research from credible sources.
• Do a patch test. Just because it reads ’natural’ doesn’t mean it is suitable for your skin. Many volatile essential oils incorporated into skin care products can be irritating and cause sensitivity.


The next biggest trend in natural skin care


Phytocannabinoids are found exclusively in the Cannabis plant and are showing great potential in the treatment of acne due to its anti-inflammatory, lipostatic properties and in its ability to suppress sebocyte production. It also shows promise in the relief of other skin afflictions such as eczema and psoriases. I think we will see this star ingredient incorporated into more Australian skincare formulations in the near future.



1. Bilal M, Iqbal H. An Insight into toxicity and human-health-related adverse consequences of cosmeceuticals- A review. Science of the Total Environment [internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Jul 6] 670:555-568. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.261

2. Huang P-C, Liao K-W, Chang J-W, Chan S-H, Lee C-C. Characterization of phthalates exposure and risk for cosmetics and perfume sales clerks [internet]. Environ. Pollut, 2018 [cited 2019 Jul 5] 233:577-587. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.079

3. EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database [internet]. Washington, DC (USA): Environmental Working Group; 2109 [cited 2019 Jul 8]. Available from: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

4. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics [internet]. San Francisco (CA): Breast Cancer Prevention Partners; 2019 [cited 2019 July 8]. Available from: http://www.safecosmetics.org