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The Next Wave of Clean Living: From Skincare to Clothing

Clean beauty started with skincare in 2009 when cult-favorite beauty brand Pacifica went mainstream with 100% vegan and cruelty-free products. Rose-Marie Swift came after with RMS beauty, an all-natural skincare and cosmetics line that set a new standard for organic ingredients in beauty products. 

In the short time since then, clean beauty has become the norm, and not just for high-end brands. Clean products are starting to show up in drug store aisles, too, with affordable options at stores like Target, making clean, accessible everywhere. 

More recently makeup has come around to skincare benefits, raising the bar for clean cosmetics by blending the two. 

Clean products matter because our skin absorbs them. 

Skincare is designed to penetrate the dermis, or the upper layer. That’s why it works, not just sitting on your skin but absorbing into it. Many skincare products even use penetration enhancers for more effective absorption. 

But our skin doesn’t just take in the product’s benefits. It soaks up the harmful chemicals, too, many molecularly scaled to enter the lymphatic system and bloodstream. The smaller the molecules, the deeper it goes. Potentially harmful toxins common in skincare have been linked to organ and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer. 

And that’s just what we know so far. 

Clean beauty is good branding because women made it so. 

Companies are scrambling to brand themselves “clean'' because consumers demand better practices. Whether or not those same companies are actually removing harmful chemicals from their products is less clear. That’s why educating ourselves about ingredients is essential. 

Common chemicals in non-clean skincare, some banned or restricted in the E.U. and other countries, are still widely used in the United States and around the world. 

Clean beauty hasn’t been around long, but it’s made a huge impact, putting pressure on major brands to keep up with higher standards for safe, clean, chemical-free products. It seems that the rise in clean beauty is account of consumers getting fed up with increasingly sensitive skin from synthetics in products. It’s easier than ever to access clean beauty and to educate ourselves about which ingredients to avoid and which ones to seek out. 

But we’re still waiting for brand language regulation to catch up. 

Until it does, companies can call themselves clean without it meaning much. 

The best way to know what your skin is taking in is to check for ingredients yourself, something companies are required to include at length on labels. Another is to find companies that you can trust regarding clean ingredients and other aspects of materials.

As we start to recognize common ingredients in products, the same names are suddenly everywhere, including chemical imprints on clothing labels. It doesn’t take much research to learn how many harmful chemicals there are in the fabrics we wear, and our skin absorbs whatever chemicals it’s exposed to, even the ones in our clothes.

Consumer awareness around clean skincare has reshaped the beauty industry, but it’s just getting started when it comes to clothes. 

There are around 8000 synthetic chemicals are common in clothing production including… 

  • Chlorine bleach used to whiten fibers and treat denim; 

  • Formaldehyde which is applied to make fabric wrinkle-free; and 

  • Volatile organic compounds used in the fabric printing. 

And that’s just to name three. Most of the chemicals on the list are carcinogenic and can lead to serious health issues like respiratory disease and hormone disruption.

According to a 2020 survey conducted by Vibrant Body Company, 60 percent of consumers were not aware that the United States has significantly fewer textile regulations than countries with comparable economies. The US allows approximately 1000 harmful chemicals into the production of clothing, especially intimate wear! 

The good news is 95% of consumers are aware that chemicals can be absorbed through skin exposure.  

How can you shop differently? Clean clothing doesn’t come from the laundry room, but from companies using organic fabrics untreated by pesticides, metals, toxic dyes, and other harmful chemicals. Find them. 

As we learn more about the impacts of synthetics on our skin, hypoallergenic fabrics made without chemicals causing skin irritation and allergic reaction are becoming more fashionable, too. High-end labels like Gucci are designing lines of sustainable, ethically-sourced, chemical-free clothing, and while their prices aren’t accessible, they’re paving the way for the mainstream. 

The impact of a movement from conventional to clean clothing could be profound.

Outer layers are most visible, but that doesn’t mean they matter most. Clean fashion is about prioritizing the first layers first, the fabric that touches our skin where it’s most vulnerable. 

Like clean skincare companies before them, clean clothing brands are fast becoming customer favorites, and consumer demand will reshape fashion the same way it did beauty. 

It all starts with the first layer, but it won’t stop there.