As the wellness trend has expanded and intermingled with the beauty and cosmetics industry, the term concept of “clean” beauty has increasingly risen to prominence. What exactly that term means can vary. For some firms it means they don’t test on animals, with other firms it means they don’t use certain common chemical preservatives or ingredients like PCBs, for others it means their products are entirely vegan and only produced from ingredients that are ethically and sustainably sourced — or it may mean some combination of all of those things.
And in some cases, Beauty Heroes Founder Jeannie Jarnot said, it means literally nothing at all other than the firm wanted to put something on the label that played into the rising clean beauty trend.
“I have seen a trend toward cleaner beauty, which is encouraging, but with that, I have also seen an unprecedented level of misleading marketing and greenwashing,” she said. “Consumers have begun to care more about sustainability and excessive packaging, but there is also the sweeping success of trendy and not-at-all sustainable celebrity-backed brands. The bottom line is that there are more options than ever before, making the space even more confusing for the customer.”
Consumers may want to go clean and green with their beauty products, she noted, but actually being able to do that often requires some experience and education to separate the real deal in terms of products from what is merely marketing materials.
To counter that problem, she founded Beauty Heroes, a combination subscription box and online beauty shop focused on curating up the real deal in terms of cleaner, more sustainable products and making it clear to customers why these firms live up to their labeling. When Beauty Heroes entered the market, beauty boxes with “taster” sized offerings of products were a popular stream of startups inspired by Birchbox. Some went the distance, while most did not, for the very good reason that, according to Jarnot, to move a customer past the initial novelty of smaller-sized offerings on subscription, as novelty wears off as is supplanted by the next new thing, a brand has to offer an additional value proposition that keeps the prospect of returning sticky.
For Beauty Heroes that extra element breaks down into two basic arenas. The first is stringency — if a firm wants to be in the business of specializing in clean products then the standards around what does and does not qualify as such have to be pretty high.
“First and foremost, all products that we curate for Beauty Heroes meet very stringent ingredient standards,” she told Pacific Sun. “We hold the most stringent vetting standard in beauty and look at the ingredients for their potential harm to the human body and the environment. We don’t support products that contain any synthetic or ‘natural’ fragrances, silicones, Microplastics, ethoxylated ingredients, and the list goes on.”
But having stringent standards is only half the battle, because of course no one ever advertises lax standards and minimal oversight. For customers to appreciate the standards, they actually have to know about them, and see them reflected clearly in the products offered for purchase.
“I founded the company to tell stories about brands that were creating products that are exceptionally clean. In an industry where there is a lot of redundancy, I curate what inspires me — and products that bring value to our lives,” she said.
And it is a value in an industry that data says is lacking, and in some cases dangerously so. A group of dermatologists writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology noted that just because something is “clean” doesn’t mean it is any better for you, and in some cases might actually be worse.
“We wanted to shed light on the fact that the ‘clean beauty’ movement is more of a business model and marketing tool that plays on the trend of people wanting to use natural rather than synthetic products right now,” said Bruce Brod of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, co-author of the JAMA editorial.
Clean beauty isn’t a bad thing — and some products are quite fine, Brod noted in a Washington Post interview — but the solution isn’t simply focusing on a category of solution that often relies on “arbitrary” distinctions around what is natural or clean.
“Instead, we need to take a more balanced approach when choosing which products to use,” Brod said.