During the last years with the rise of Natural Beauty, i.e. products mainly formulated with natural derived ingredients, the marketing of most beauty brands decided to focus their communication on the ingredients themselves rather than the product. Although active ingredients in finished products were always highlighted as the main reason to buy those products, the shifting attention on active ingredients mainly derived from natural sources, needed a new communication spin. In fact, with the exception of vitamins, natural ingredients had often occupied a marketing role and not an efficacy role, especially in mass market products where diluted extracts have been used. When about efficacy, Mastige and Prestige brands preferred technology based and functional synthetics (such as glycols, esters, peptides, molecules, natural identical, etc.). The dissociation between efficacy and natural ingredients has always been present. The new communication spin was then finding other values than efficacy. This is why brands started to focus on natural ingredients safety and sustainable sourcing.

I think everyone agrees that clean beauty is a clever marketing definition grouping a series of attributes  that have been growing in importance in the beauty marketplace (and not only) during the last 10 years.


Clean as opposed to Dirty has a positive connotation and multiple meanings. It can describe a product as well as the way to create the product. It has implications in purity, non-layered, proper, healthier as well as honest, transparent, visible. A simple, safe and effective product, formulated with fewer ingredients, with known efficacy, reminds me basic formulas using nonirritating ingredients at an effective concentration. Sound familiar? It does look like a dermatological approved product, but here is the novelty: there is a strong spin in natural ingredients and supply chain as well as a strong association with the pillars of sustainable development (safe for humans but also for the environment). That is when the second connotation of clean (i.e. honest, transparent, visible) comes up. To do good to the environment and to humans has positive impact for the majority of the population. Who wouldn’t agree? Especially if it creates business opportunity and new jobs? It is clear that beauty brands developing clean beauty products must closely look to the carbon footprint of product’s production as well as the product’s impact on the environment (including packaging), but also on the communities involved in the supply chain of the ingredient.



Dellacqua Consulting | USA




The next step for a beauty brand formulating clean beauty products (i.e. containing safe and sustainable ingredients) was the ability to maintain a natural message while delivering what ultimately a consumer wants: efficacy. One of the reasons why chemical and synthetic based functional ingredients rapidly developed in the marketplace was because of a superior performance and an overall excellent aesthetic in the finished product. This result was achieved in a very cost-effective way. Natural ingredients have always been a challenge in formulation due to their color, odor, overall instability and ultimately cost. Moreover, seasonality issues associated with raw materials harvesting as well as variability between batches created further challenges in production ultimately affecting finish product consistency, creating possible variability in aesthetics and functionality in the marketplace.


As discussed above, formulating natural ingredients in clean beauty products to bring efficacy has been challenging, especially if multiple natural ingredients were used. This is due to the activity of the multiple components present in the natural extracts or oils and the consequent chances of multiple chemical interactions resulting in instability in the finished product. Multiple options have been studied that have favored the clean beauty approach. One is to use less ingredients so to increase the concentration of the few, another is to use more concentrated ingredients. Both methods favored the use of a limited amount of ingredients in the formulation but at an optimal concentration for efficacy (1). It is interesting how this type of formulations does remind a pharmacist/traditional use approach focus on safety and efficacy of natural remedies.


Clean Beauty is not necessarily based on all-natural ingredients. As previously said, it does remind a dermatological approach where safety and consistency of treatment is as important as efficacy. Dermatologists like a formulation approach based on synthetic/drug and only very recently they have been attracted by the healing capacity of natural ingredients. Many brands developing clean beauty products massively favor safe ingredients while relying on the performance of synthetics, sometime conveniently labeled natural identical (if the molecules synthetized are identical to the natural ones, see for examples many vitamins). Again, cost compared to efficacy is in favor of synthetics especially when formulations contain few ingredients and a synergy between natural ingredients is not expected. There are different views on this approach with brands strongly positioned in using natural ingredients while others accepting both naturals and synthetics as far as safety is proved. Since the definition of clean beauty is broad enough all views are possible, so both “all natural based” as well as a mix of synthetics and naturals find space in clean beauty formulas in the market.


What is more sustainable, a product formulated with all naturals or a product formulated with all synthetics? Also, in this case both views are possible. In fact, although the majority of consumers would identify sustainability with natural ingredients, the overuse of them could generate a model that is not sustainable, while the use of synthetics would not affect environmental depletion of natural ingredients. When looking at clean beauty brands, communication sticks with the consumers view and the sustainability piece is introduced when natural ingredients are sourced. However, as I said previously, it is an obligation for these brands, that the ingredients are sourced sustainably, i.e. respecting the environment and aware of the social impact on communities (2,3). Because a majority of consumers wants natural based ingredients in their beauty products, a brand formulating clean beauty products containing naturals must work on the supply chain sourcing the most sustainable ingredient. It is a challenging task but organizations that certify the sustainability of the supply chain are available and many ingredients suppliers are already certifying their ingredients for the sustainability piece.


When looking at clean beauty brands, we notice different attributes claimed to their “clean beauty message”. It depends on the brand. It is often the case that one or two clean beauty attributes are fully developed, and the others are not. Because of marketing needs and the cost associated with the process for a clean beauty brand, to delivery 100% on all attributes I described earlier, can be challenging. It is therefore not unusual to observe clever marketing twists with little true behind on some attributes that in fact are not met. In some cases, the clean beauty brands may disclose the lack of an attribute and share with their consumer base the wish to bring the attribute as a goal for the future, in other cases it is falsely claimed. I think clean beauty has the obligation of transparency and honesty (remember the definition?), therefore brands carrying false clean beauty claims may not survive in a competitive market.


Amazon and B2C sales have created an E-commerce platform that is key to clean beauty brands to grow. It has allowed numerous brands to exist in an exciting competition giving multiple opportunities to consumer to choose the brands that better fit their expectation, both from a performance and environmental/social point of view. Although consolidation and M&A are already on their way, with larger multinationals trying to catch up with the clean beaty movement, there are examples of brands that are happily surviving and growing by cleverly exploiting the advantage of direct sales.



Although the clean beauty movement finally brings together elements that have been praised by younger consumers such millennials for a long time and that helped grow the natural beauty movement in the past, the integrity of the message is key as well as the deliverables. It is still the consumer that will eventually decide which brands will succeed. My suggestion: focus on what you can deliver and be transparent and honest with your message, and of course, make products that work!


  1. Dell’Acqua G. Natural and Clean Cosmetics: the science behind the ingredients. NYSCC Cosmetiscope 26(5): 1-5, 2020

  1. Dell’Acqua G. The challenges of sustainable development. NYSCC Cosmetiscope 23(2):1-6, 2017 

  1. Dell’Acqua G. Green isn’t enough. Social Progress is the next chapter for naturals. Cosmet. Toil. 134(7): 28-40, 2019