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A beauty chemist reveals what *really* goes into making clean beauty products


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While perusing the beauty aisle, you’ll notice more clean alternatives popping up next to the traditional mainstays. But as you’re faced with the decision of which products to add to your cart, you can’t help but wonder (Carrie Bradshaw style) whether the clean versions really deliver all the oomph you’re looking for.

Mallory Honest Beauty
Mallory McMahon is a senior cosmetic chemist at Honest Beauty®.

To boost your clean-beauty savvy, we enlisted senior cosmetic chemist Mallory McMahon—who’s leading the charge of developing beauty boosters formulated with best-in-class ingredients at Honest Beauty®—to shed some light on why making the clean beauty transition doesn’t mean sacrificing results.

“As a leader in clean-product development at Honest Beauty®, it’s my role to break down the barriers and preconceived notions of clean beauty,” she says. “Clean and effective are not mutually exclusive, and I’d like to show that.”

Scroll down for a behind-the-scenes look at clean beauty essentials are made.


Honest Beauty

What does clean beauty even mean?

With so many definitions and buzzwords floating around the clean-beauty sector, it’s hard to get your facts straight. At Honest Beauty®, clean beauty is simple. Everything revolves around minimalist lists of safe-for-skin ingredients, and the goal is always minimizing the risk of a negative reaction.

“We strive to create formulas in which every ingredient serves a purpose,” McMahon says.

Beauty enthusiasts can rest easy knowing that every carefully selected ingredient in an Honest Beauty® cleanser or eyeshadow palette has received a thoughtful stamp of approval from its toxicologist.

We aim to use as many natural or naturally derived ingredients, however, if the natural ingredient poses any health risks, we will choose the synthetic alternative,” McMahon says.


How they cook up the recipes

One of the biggest misconceptions about formulating clean beauty products is that it’s as easy as substituting coconut milk for dairy in your vegan cupcake recipe—but it’s quite the opposite. When it comes to blushes and lipstick, you can’t rely on one-to-one substitutions and get the high-performance results you want. “The whole recipe needs to change,” McMahon says.

That fact doesn’t bar it from being common practice in the industry. “They simply swap out or remove the ‘bad’ ingredients which, for cupcakes and beauty products, leaves the consumer starkly aware that something is missing in texture or performance,” she says. 

The Honest Beauty® team requires internal and/or external safety testing demonstrating that they can harness innovative ingredients in a safe and effective way before adding them to their formulas. That generally means months (or years) of heads-down research and testing. In other words, when you can get your hands on an Honest Beauty® Lip Crayon or all-purpose Magic Balm you know it meets some pretty high standards.


What gets left out (and what that means for your complexion)

Curious what ends up on the cutting room floor? The experts are constantly monitoring their list of no-no ingredients, banned for reasons including safety data, environmental impact, and consumer perception.

Sometimes banning an ingredient is simple. When it comes to ingredients that pose serious health risks, it’s an instantaneous buh-bye (parabens, you don’t get a rose). But other times, it’s not so black and white.

“We don’t want consumers worrying about the what-ifs.”

With ingredients like PEG (polyethylene glycol) compounds used in skin care as binding or thickening agents, there’s a little more gray area to consider. “As a chemist, I understand the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ PEGs, but the consumer doesn’t necessarily know that, so why risk it?,” she says. “We don’t want consumers worrying about the what-ifs.”

The bottom line is you can rest (ahem, shop) assured knowing all the research on results has been done for you, and you can add those clean versions to your cart.

In partnership with Honest Beauty®

Photos: Honest Beauty®

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