5 of the Most Common Beauty Industry Buzzwords and What They All Mean
You deserve to have beauty products that are clean, safe, non-toxic and green—but what if we told you that these words don’t mean exactly what you think?
The beauty industry has grown to be a $500 billion-dollar business. And companies from big-name brands to small businesses count on the fact that consumers don’t question their marketing terms to determine if a product is really what it claims to be.
You’re certainly not alone in choosing a product specifically because of these words that make you feel confident about a brand or formula. But the reality is that these terms are often just another way for beauty companies to greenwash their products and ethics.
Beauty brands of all sizes use these phrases and expect consumers to take them as fact. Yet, these terms are unenforceable, misleading and could even be hiding an ineffective formula or unethical ingredient sourcing. Here are 5 of the most common terms and what to bear in mind when you see them.
P.S—Keep in mind that these are all marketing terms, meaning they aren’t regulated and don’t have any legal definition in the beauty industry.
The dictionary definition of clean is “hygienic,” so really, “clean” can mean just about anything, whether it’s that the actual products are hygienically formulated or that the company’s manufacturing methods and ingredient harvesting processes are. But let’s be real: shouldn’t all consumer products be hygienic at all levels? In other words, clean is a term that means so much it means nothing—unless the company defines it specifically for you. Make sure you get clarity on that definition because oftentimes, big brands often use “clean” to cover up their not-so-clean formulas or avoid taking accountability for their ingredients (for example: they can say “clean” means their formulas simply lack, say, parabens, but what about the rest of the ingredients list?). And if one product is “clean,” is another “dirty”? This term just doesn’t make sense on a beauty label!
It goes without saying that all beauty products should be safe, too. Why would you use a beauty product if it wasn’t safe? “Safe” beauty is just a new marketing term (especially thanks to COVID-19), but it doesn’t hold much weight in the beauty industry.
So what exactly are brands communicating with the word “safe”? Safe could simply mean the ingredients in the product haven’t been proven to harm skin, but this is a big claim for companies—they can’t guarantee that, especially for consumers who have sensitive skin. Safe could even be a term used to describe a company’s packaging process to ensure products are cleaned before shipping to reduce the potential spread of COVID germs, meaning this buzzword has nothing to do with the actual formula itself.
Technically, all formulas should be safe since cosmetics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so saying a product is safe doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe or healthy for you—and it doesn’t mean other products are dangerous, either. 
While the term “clean” usually encompasses a product’s formula, green is a term typically used to describe the environmental impact of the product, such as minimizing the use of harmful chemicals. However, the term “green” can also cover company ethics, sustainability practices and eco-friendly packaging. This term is one of the most popularly used to make consumers feel good about purchasing a product (especially given the rising concern of consumers in general), but if you see “green” on a label, you as the consumer should demand transparency for every step, from sourcing to bottling to shelving—and that includes transparency for ongoing efforts to address areas of improvement (i.e. imperfections, as nobody is going to be perfect, and there are always ways to get better).
Beauty companies like to villainize the word “chemical,” but the truth is that everything is a chemical—from your body to the food you eat to the water you drink. So labeling something as “chemical-free” not only isn’t technically true, but is confusing and misleading.
Just by being in existence, a beauty product contains some chemicals. The question is whether or not these chemicals are going to benefit your skin and the environment, and that’s an absolutely valid question for you to have, and one the company should be able to help you answer by being transparent about their formula. Always look for the full ingredients list—and if the Latin words are confusing, ask for the INCI (a.k.a. plain English) version.
The term “non-toxic” literally means that a substance isn’t poisonous—so that’s good, right? But this term also implies that beauty ingredients from other brands that don’t use “non-toxic” on their labels can be dangerous.
All beauty products should ideally be non-toxic, which doesn’t give this word the weight it deserves to be on a label. While the product may not contain any strictly toxic ingredients such as formaldehyde, that doesn’t automatically qualify its other ingredients as safe or beneficial.
“Non-toxic” can also be used to scare consumers into purchasing that product because, after all, why would you purchase a product that wasn’t non-toxic? But in the end, remember that this is just a buzzword with no regulation!
Ultimately, the power is in your hands—and your biggest tool? Knowledge. Before you trust a company, take the time to ask them “how?”; as in, how are your formulas green, or non-toxic, or clean, etc.? Check out the full ingredients list and if you want to get deeper than that, find out where and how their ingredients were harvested. LUXE Botanics takes pride in highlighting and celebrating these details of the natural botanicals used in our product formulations, and we’re proud we don’t need to hide behind buzzwords! Got any questions about them? Ask away! We’re here for you.
The LUXE Botanics Team