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From the brain of the Cruelty-Free Copywriter

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“Clean Beauty” Ingredients That Just Might Scare You

The clean beauty movement has been all about removing toxic and harmful ingredients from cosmetic products. The goal is to reduce the negative impact on human health, the planet, and animals. There's a laundry list of ingredients no one can pronounce that have now been replaced with plant-based and plant-derived ingredients that are “cleaner”, more sustainable, and ethical.

However, not every ingredient you see on a clean beauty bottle is actually clean, sustainable, or ethical. Even though there are several clean beauty ingredients that haven’t been shown to have harmful effects in clinical trials, there are some that may make you question how clean a product is. On top of that, products that may be plant-based and vegan, may still have environmental and animal costs so great, they can't be considered "clean" at all.

Here are 6 “clean beauty” ingredients that just might scare you.


What exactly is “fragrance”? The short answer is that it’s a hodgepodge of thousands of ingredients and not all of which are truly safe or harm-free for human health. The mysterious “fragrance” that ends up in most hair and skin care products has been linked to dermatitis and other allergic reactions. But wait, are all fragrances created equal? No, clearly some mixes can be more or less toxic than others, however, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) treats all products with “fragrance” the same. As part of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FLPA) of 1966, all cosmetic companies must disclose their ingredient lists but that doesn't pertain to “fragrance”. Thus, this simple and beautiful-smelling ingredient may actually be exposing us to more toxins than we might know.


Parabens are a controversial ingredient that some clean beauty brands embrace while others shy away from. You may have noticed an increase in “no paraben” labels on beauty products and that’s because some parabens have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues as well as allergies and endocrine disorders. So, why are parabens in clean beauty products, anyway? Because they’re an awesome perseverative that helps keep mold, fungi, and other harmful elements from degrading cosmetic formulas. With that said, parabens may have a use by keeping our favorite products shelf-stable but they may also be harmful to our health in the long run.


Oh, beeswax. Regarded as a wonderful natural moisturizer in skin care products, the harvesting of beeswax comes at a cruel cost. Unfortunately, beeswax isn’t vegan or cruelty-free. Beeswax is produced by bees consuming the honey they produced and outputting beeswax as a byproduct. The process often involves cutting off the wings of the queen bee so she cannot leave the colony or having her forcibly inseminated so she can produce more bees to make the wax. A lot of the time, she and other bees are killed by way of rough handling and neglectful practices. The result is a stolen byproduct that people enjoy using in cosmetic products that literally destroys the lives of bees. Due to the cruel practices in the production of beeswax, I think it’s an ingredient worth avoiding.

Palm oil

Palm oil is a popular skincare and beauty ingredient that cost dozens of animals their habitat. Palm oil is a plant-based oil harvested from the kernels of the oil palm. Malaysia and Indonesia are the two biggest exporters of palm oil. But what’s the cost of having silky smooth palm oil-based lipstick? 90 different species of animals, like orangutans, pigs, and even crocodiles, lose the vital habitat that they need to survive. Is the price of beauty worth the loss of animal life? I think not and that should scare anyone from supporting this ingredient in cosmetic products.


Lanolin is a potent moisturizer that’s derived from the sebum excreted under the wool coats of sheep. There’s a debate about whether lanolin could ever be cruelty-free depending on how the sheep are treated. At Cruelty-Free Copywriter, I believe there is no ethical lanolin. As long as an animal is being caged, domesticated, and used for wool and other products to be used by humans, it’s forced slavery and there is no ethical way to harvest it. Lanolin requires animals to be used for human needs without consent or freedom and that in it and of itself, should make anyone shiver and think twice about having it in their beauty routine.

Goat’s Milk

Regarded as an excellent cleansing ingredient for sensitive and troubled skin, goat's milk is sourced by forcibly milking goats and using this milk product in lotions, cleansers, soaps, and creams. But, can goat’s milk be cruelty-free? Some will say it depends on how the animals are treated. However, as mentioned in the case of lanolin, anytime an animal is enslaved, held captive, and used solely for human consumption with no opportunity to exist freely without the need to serve humankind with its body or products, it’s not cruelty-free. Goat’s milk and all of its animal welfare issues should scare any conscious clean beauty consumer.

Talk cruelty-free to me

Did you love how well I articulated cruelty-free clean beauty ingredients in this article? Think I can do the same for your brand? Well, you’re right. I can write for days about the environmental, animal welfare, and health benefits of clean beauty. From product detail pages, and launch copy, to blogs and emails. Check out my packages page to see what I can do for your cruelty-free brand. And if you’re ready to see the face behind Cruelty-Free Copywriter, book a discovery call.


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