Conventional personal care products

Are You Being Cleanwashed by Big Beauty?

Are You Being Cleanwashed by Big Beauty?

Conventional personal care products

Cleanwashing is the new greenwashing, and words like natural, non-toxic, organic, and clean don’t always mean what you think they mean.

Just because they put a leaf on the packaging doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Have you heard of greenwashing? It’s when a company markets their products and practices as “green” and “environmentally friendly” when they really aren’t. Even worse, companies may do this to distract from—and cover up—the fact that their ingredients, packaging, and/or practices actually harm the environment. This term was coined decades ago, and we’re starting to see similar tactics popping up in the clean beauty space. Brands are trying to capitalize on the clean beauty movement by calling their products with words like clean, non-toxic, and natural or by putting a leaf on the package, but when you take a closer look at the label, you’ll find some nasty ingredients that certainly don’t live up to our Follain standards. This has inspired us to coin a new term: cleanwashing. Keep reading to learn what it means and how to avoid being cleanwashed yourself.


First, let’s start with the word “clean.” There is no government- or third party-certified definition stating what qualifies as “clean” beauty and skincare. The same goes for words like natural, non-toxic, and green. Some brands even use the phrase “chemical-free” as if that’s an indicator of safety, but remember: not all chemicals are bad. Even water is a chemical! Organic is the one term that must meet a defined standard issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which states a product must be made with at least 95% organically grown ingredients to earn the label of organic. Organic isn’t necessarily a good standard for beauty though, because organic ingredients on their own don’t ensure a product’s performance, experience, or even safety.

Because there’s no universal standard, it’s up to the companies to determine their own definition of clean. As you’d expect, some companies have better intentions than others. Customer demand for cleaner products is stronger than ever right now, which is awesome! But it also means there are plenty of brands labeling their products as clean, natural, or non-toxic with little evidence to support those claims. Of the companies that do make their standards public, some are so vague that you’re left with more questions than answers.


The lack of regulation leads to a lot of confusion, and I knew firsthand from my blog just how much research it takes to figure out what’s safe and what isn’t. I used this research to inform my own definition of clean beauty, and when I founded Follain, it was important for me to translate my beliefs into transparent, well-defined company standards. Here’s what clean means to us:

Clean beauty prioritizes human and environmental health, featuring nutrient-dense ingredients as much as possible, and safe synthetics where they are absolutely necessary for preservation or performance.

Follain has a long, evolving, publically accessible list of unsafe synthetic ingredients that are banned from our portfolio. We work with scientists and doctors to update this list regularly, but clean beauty is really about so much more than the absence of unsafe ingredients. It’s about feeding your skin with real vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that will truly work better than their toxic counterparts, resulting in healthier, stronger skin.

Because of the abundance of real, nutrient-dense ingredients, clean beauty provides an overwhelmingly pleasing experience: one that smells and feels like you’re doing something great for your health and wellbeing.

This definition is rooted in years of research and activism, and it will continue to evolve as we learn new information from our in-house Health Advisory Board, comprised entirely of passionate experts in the fields of dermatology, green chemistry, ingredient sourcing, and more. We rely on the expertise of our Health Advisory Board to keep us ahead of the curve when it comes to ongoing developments in the industry. We’re not perfect, but I can say with certainty that we’re ahead of the pack in terms of safety for humans and the planet.


Next time you’re doing some beauty shopping, be on the lookout for these terms:

  • Clean
  • Non-toxic
  • Organic
  • Natural
  • Active
  • Handmade
  • Safe
  • Plant-based

Some of the products you’ll find labeled as such are better than their conventional alternatives, but others just aren’t! To avoid be cleanwashed, you need to first determine your own standards for clean. While you never have to worry about cleanwashing with any of the products we carry at Follain, when it comes to other brands and retailers, I encourage you to take a closer look at whether their standards meet your own. If you do some research and find any of the following points to be true, you’ve probably caught cleanwashing in action:

      1. The company claims to be clean, green, non-toxic, etc., but won’t reveal their standards
      2. They reveal their standards, but they’re vague or hard to follow
      3. There is no person or team to hold accountable for the company’s standards


Once you start understanding ingredients, it becomes even easier to weed out the cleanwashers. When the front of a product label has words like organic or natural, turn it around to see if the ingredients live up to the claim. Many brands will use an asterisk to indicate organic and/or natural ingredients.

If you don’t recognize something in a product’s Ingredient List (IL), look it up and decide for yourself if it’s something you want to put on your body. You can also search products with EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database or the Think Dirty app for information like potential ingredient concerns and safety.


Now that you know what to look for, I hope you feel empowered to choose companies you can trust and in turn feel good about supporting. If we don’t meet your standards, please continue communicating with us about how we can improve. We’re committed to maintaining the highest, most transparent standards possible, and for that you can hold me personally accountable!

Tara Foley | October 12, 2018

Read it Next