Clean beauty decoded: Going beyond the buzz to what it really means to be clean and why it matters

Clean beauty decoded: Going beyond the buzz to what it really means to be clean and why it matters

At Ellis Day Skin Science, it’s no secret that we are big proponents of clean beauty—providing clean, high-quality, sustainable products with science-backed, skin-native ingredients is the core principle on which our company is built. However, despite the fact that it is one of the fastest-growing beauty trends on the market today, there is no agreed-upon definition for what the ‘clean’ in ‘clean beauty’ actually means. This can be both confusing and frustrating to consumers, who just want the best and safest products for their skin. And so today, on National Clean Beauty Day, we want to take a moment to clear up the confusion and debunk some of the most common clean beauty myths. 

The first important point to remember is that the clean beauty label is completely unregulated by the FDA or other regulatory bodies. This means that each company can decide what this term means to them. This also creates a ton more work for consumers, who have to track down and read the fine print describing what companies mean when they say a product is ‘clean’. For those who have done this, you know that this fine print can be hard to find, full of unfamiliar ingredients and/or jargon, and very long....and many companies touting ‘clean’ beauty products don’t even provide the fine print to read! Faced with these daunting obstacles, it can be tempting to trust the clean label and hope that products described as clean are what they claim to be. However, when shopping for clean beauty, it does pay to do your research to ensure that you are choosing the safest products. 

Fortunately, there are some common trends to be aware of, as well as some red flags to watch out for and avoid. At the very minimum, if a product is described as clean, it should be free of certain ingredients that are proven to be, or strongly suspected of being, harmful to your body or the environment. For example, most ‘clean’ brands/products are formulated without any ingredients that can affect and interfere with hormone signaling. These are known as endocrine disrupters and include parabens, phthalates, butylated hydroxyanisole/hydroxytoluene (BHA/BHT), oxybenzone, and triclosans. Beyond these, however, there are a lot of ingredients that are ‘suspected’ endocrine disrupters, meaning there is some evidence they can have this activity based on limited laboratory experiments. So brands/companies with more stringent clean requirements will also avoid ingredients such as benzyl salicylate, resorcinol, and other chemical sunscreens (e.g., ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, and homosalate).

Others ingredients typically excluded from clean skincare are carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), such as formaldehydes and formaldehyde-releasing agents, as well as toxic and/or sensitizing ingredients, including mineral oil, coal tar, hydroquinone, artificial fragrances, non-USP grade petrolatum and paraffin, and sulfates, e.g., sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). So if any of these ingredients show up on an ingredient list, you know that the product cannot be considered clean. It’s also important to note that just because something is described as ‘unscented’ that does NOT mean it doesn’t have artificial fragrance, so always check the label. 

And be on the lookout for products described as ‘natural’, as this term is also unregulated and there are plenty of natural compounds that are harmful (e.g., metals, such as mercury and aluminum, toxic plants, and certain essential oils). 

Beyond these criteria, a lot of brands and companies are taking clean beauty to the next level, by excluding an extensive array of ingredients that may be harmful, either to you or the environment. For example, Sephora launched their Clean at Sephora label in 2018 with 13 banned ingredients and now lists over 50 ingredients/ingredient classes that are prohibited or are allowed only at very low levels in products that meet their clean certification. Sales of clean beauty products currently make up 30% of sales at Sephora, and they recently announced they were tightening their standards even further, to exclude all petroleum-based ingredients. Credo Beauty, which carries only clean products, prohibits over 2700 specific ingredients! They also have strict requirements for safety, documentation, and testing of products. Other companies, such as Ulta and Dermstore, don’t have a clean certification, but allow you to filter for clean products using various criteria (e.g., ‘clean ingredients’), although it’s not always clear what these descriptors mean. 

At Ellis Day, we don’t think our customers should have to work so hard to find clean products, and we are proud to be one of the cleanest brands on the market today. All of our products are formulated with a minimal number of clean, vegan ingredients, so you can be assured that they are gentle, safe, and effective. We conform to the strictest clean beauty criteria, and both our Balancing Phage Serum and our Hydrating Phage Serum contain no known or suspected endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, artificial fragrances, or any other questionable ingredients. We also include only active ingredients that are skin-native, meaning they are a natural part of healthy skin. This includes our custom blend of C. acnes phages that target and kill breakout-causing bacteria and help to restore balance to your skin microbiome. For those with thirsty skin, our Hydrating Phage Serum also contains two forms of hyaluronic acid, an integral part of our skin matrix, which acts to plump and hydrate your skin.

Our skin forms the first line of defense against all manner of microbial and environmental assaults and is vitally important for our overall health and well-being. This is why taking care of our skin and choosing products with only the safest and cleanest ingredients is so critical. We believe, however, that clean doesn’t have to be confusing, so when choosing Ellis Day, you can rest assured that you will always get clean, safe, and effective products that are carefully crafted to help you achieve your best and healthiest skin possible! 

If you have any questions about clean beauty, Ellis Day, or how our phage-based, skin-native products can help to promote skin health, please email us at We’re happy to help!


Dr. Laura Marinelli is a skincare-obsessed scientist, who has spent her entire academic career researching phages and the microbes that live on our skin and make up our skin microbiome. She earned her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, completed her postdoctoral training at UCLA, and is now living her longtime dream of creating phage-based skincare products to improve skin health with Ellis Day. Laura has been a part of the Ellis Day team since 2017 and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, three kids, and two cats. 

About Ellis Day Skin Science

We believe that modern skincare must be grounded in true microbiome science. We believe the answers are in the wild, natural world, which includes the surface of your skin. 

At Ellis Day Skin Science, we pioneer clean phage-based products that target and kill bad bacteria associated with inflammation, damage, and aging, and enable good bacteria to flourish. By doing so, we aim to reset your microbiome for optimal skin health.

We use cutting-edge science to leverage nature, creating products that are just as kind and conscientious as they are effective, so that all can feel empowered with balanced, clear, radiant, and resilient skin.

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