How many times have you heard that clean beauty products shouldn’t contain chemicals, or that words you can’t pronounce shouldn’t be in your skincare? True or false?
This is the second post in a 4-part series about what “clean beauty” means to Acta Beauty. I've shared that we create products to protect your skin barrier and make your skincare routine a delightful way to spend a few minutes every morning and night.
I want to tell you about how sustainability fits into Acta Beauty’s product line.
Selecting the right ingredients is more than saying we don't want to use chemicals—after all, water is a chemical, and we know we feel our best when we're drinking enough water every day, right? In that way, nothing is truly "chemical-free."
It's also not as easy as saying we won't use any ingredient that you can’t pronounce—Sorbitan Oleate Decylglucoside Crosspolymer is a big name to say, but it's a fantastic ingredient and it's all plant-based!
When a cosmetic chemist like myself designs a formula, there are literally thousands of ingredients to choose from. Beyond the basic principles of clean beauty, how do we decide what to include or exclude?
The environmental impact of our skincare choices is a pivotal consideration. We carefully select ingredients with biodegradability and safe use levels in mind. This allows all of us to minimize our ecological footprint and contribute to a healthier planet through smart ingredient choices.
Ethical Sourcing Is Essential
Ethical ingredient sourcing is a cornerstone of clean beauty. We’re committed to sourcing our ingredients responsibly, ensuring that they support sustainable practices. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an organization we trust to guide our decisions. The RSPO plays a pivotal role in ensuring that palm oil, a ubiquitous ingredient in beauty products, is sourced responsibly, and they certify raw materials that are made with palm oil grown and harvested according to their standards.
RSPO certification guarantees that palm oil is derived from sustainably managed plantations, emphasizing environmental conservation, ethical labor practices, and wildlife protection. Acta Beauty chooses ingredients that have been certified by the RSPO as sustainably sourced.
This next topic is one of the grey areas in the clean beauty world. When you think about the concept of “greenwashing”, where brands refer to themselves as natural or clean but are actually using ingredients that contain carcinogenic ingredients, you’ll want to immediately think about what we’re going to talk about here.
Let’s talk about how Acta Beauty views ingredients such as PEGs, Polysorbates, and others that contain known toxins, and if they have a place in our skincare formulas.
For consumers who wish to avoid ethoxylated ingredients, it’s important to read ingredient lists carefully. Acta Beauty does not use ingredients that have been ethoxylated such as PEGs (polyethylene glycol) or Polysorbates. One quick way to check for the presence of ethoxylated ingredients on a label is to look for an ingredient that ends in -eth-a number, such as Ceteareth-25, or that has the word “PEG” in it. PEGs and Polysorbates are used in cleansers and moisturizers and can be present as the main ingredients, aside from water.
One of the reasons you may wish to avoid using products that contain PEGs or Polysorbates is to limit the amount of 1,4 dioxane that gets into the global water supply. 1,4 dioxane is a known carcinogen and by-product of the PEG manufacturing process. Ingredient suppliers are responsible for proving that their raw materials contain 1,4 dioxane at a low level (we're talking parts per million), and formulators should ensure the final cosmetic product doesn't contain an excessive amount of 1,4 dioxane. Even with this system in place, tiny amounts of 1,4 dioxane are washed down the drain every day and enter the public water supply. From there, the chemical bonds tightly with water, the water becomes very difficult to purify, and the toxic 1,4 dioxane comes back to us in the form of our drinking water.
When it comes to using ethoxylated ingredients, Acta Beauty would consider one exception, which happens to be in line with leading “clean beauty” standards, and this is the use of phenoxyethanol, a highly effective broad-spectrum preservative. We currently do not use phenoxyethanol in any formulas, but if we had a challenging formula to preserve that could not be addressed using hurdle technology, and if the current nature-identical preservatives we use weren't effective, we would consider employing it at low levels.
Why make an exception for one ingredient (Phenoxyethanol), and not others such as PEGs and Polysorbates? There are two reasons for this. First, the amount of Phenoxyethanol used in a formula is very small compared to the potential amount of PEGs and Polysorbates. Therefore, the amount of possible 1,4, dioxane contamination is significantly lower. Second, there are many plant-based, non-toxic alternatives to PEG and Polysorbate ingredients when they’re used as cleansers or emulsifiers. It’s easy to swap these ingredients for others with a higher ecological safety profile. When it comes to preserving a formula, however, the most important factor to consider is the safety of the consumer when using the product. If a product isn’t properly preserved, the consumer is exposed to unnecessary risks. Proper preservation is the most important thing to consider when creating a formula. If Phenoxyethanol is the best option for preservation, then it makes sense to use it.
Acta Beauty does not use PEGs and Polysorbates in our product line. If you’re concerned about these ingredients in your products, check the ingredient list and look for the nomenclature that gives it away.
Transparency is important to us, and we want you to feel confident that all of Acta Beauty’s products are made with sustainable ingredients and are safe for use by you and every other consumer.
In my next post of this series, I’ll share with you the ways we incorporate ingredients that protect and nourish your skin barrier.
Series: What "clean" means to Acta Beauty