Article was written by BFR's founder Leslie Munsell

What does it mean when brands use the claim Clean Beauty? Where there is no regulated list of banned ingredients eliminated from Clean Beauty, you could generally describe it as ingredients that don’t harm the body. Yet, there are many brands making Clean Beauty claims that are still using harmful ingredients because there is just no real regulation in the US. 

Did you know that there are just 11 cosmetic ingredients banned by the FDA in the United States? Comparatively, over 1,300 have been outlawed or restricted in the European Union.


It’s possible to find formaldehyde, a known carcinogen banned in EU-sold cosmetics, in US hair-straightening treatments and nail polish. Parabens and phthalates, preservatives found in skin and hair products are linked to reproductive problems, same with oxybenzone an ingredient found in chemical sun-screens. They are in common use in the US but banned in the EU. Coal tar dyes can be found in Americans’ eyeshadow, years after they were banned in the EU and Canada.

“Many Americans are unaware that they are absorbing untested and unsafe chemicals in their products,” said Alex Bergstein, a Connecticut state senator who put forward legislation for the US to use the same guidelines as the EU, which didn’t pass. Bergstein was previously the chair of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental health center.

“Generally, the EU has got it right. In the US we have a strong favoritism towards companies and manufacturers, to the extent that public health and the environment is being harmed. The pendulum has swung in an extreme way and it’s really going to take a general awakening by the public.”

"In the European Union, they take more of a precautionary approach, so if an ingredient is presumed to be hazardous, or thought to cause health harm, they'll restrict or prohibit it," says Nneka Leiba, Vice President of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group. "That's not America's approach. Here in the U.S., the laws haven't been updated since 1938."

Scott Gottlieb, the departing FDA commissioner, said cosmetics regulations are “outdated” and need to be overhauled to ensure public health.

“To be clear, there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety,” Gottlieb said. “This means that ultimately a cosmetic manufacturer can decide if they’d like to test their product for safety and register it with the FDA.” Meaning they can register products but aren’t required to.

Consumers must realize they have the power to become more knowledgeable and then more vocal in demanding change to protect their health. In the meantime, one safe step towards Clean Beauty can be made by buying products approved for sale in the EU by falling within their guidelines for restricted ingredients. At Beauty For Real, we are proud to say that all of our products are registered and sold in the EU. That is our commitment to Clean Beauty.

February 07, 2022 — Leslie munsell

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