How Do You Define ‘Clean’?


When brands talk about “clean” products, they may be referencing those that are free from formaldehyde, parabens, and/or other ingredients that can be harmful to both human and planetary health. Or, it might be a whole lot of hogwash. To be clean – excuse us, clear – every product has some impact on the environment. In other words, no product is entirely “clean.” Here’s our hot take: there’s no such thing as a “clean” product.

Is it regulated? Nope. 

Does Finch use it? No… unless we’re talking about products that help you scrub away dirt and grime. 

Want a memory trick? Wash your hands of “clean” products – they can be dirty!

Is ‘Clean’ Regulated?

Nope. Let’s take a walk down Why Street. It’s pretty clear – “clean” products are trendy right now. Heck, who would want a cosmetic or personal care product that isn’t clean? But when we get down to it, “clean” means a whole lot of nothing when it’s not backed by hard evidence, certifications, and some handy, dandy science. 

Sustainability key words like “clean” and “green” are on an upward trend. Enter: LOHAS customers. These are the folks like us that are living lifestyles of health and sustainability – i.e., those that don’t want the sustainability yuckies in the products they use and consume. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) released a study in 2010, explaining that this customer segment makes up roughly 25% of US shoppers, and more than $290 billion in sales… and this has continued to grow over the past decade. So, brands are throwing themselves at the opportunity to secure those sweet, sweet LOHAS dollars… the question is, are they actually creating “clean” products?

There unfortunately isn’t a lot of regulatory oversight of slapping these products with misleading labels. The FDA passed the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938 – but many ingredients, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and parabens, aren’t covered by FDA regulatory practices, even if we know that they can be harmful to human and planetary health. Personal care products are overseen by the Personal Care Products Council, a self-regulating body that accepts a whole lot of moolahlahs from the cosmetics industry. Smells fishy, huh. 

So, when it comes to “clean,” check for certifications like the Leaping Bunny certification to make sure the ingredients in your products, and practices used to make it, are up to your sustainability standards. 

How Does Finch Use The Term ‘Clean’?

Sike! We don’t. Like we’ve said, “clean” doesn’t mean anything. It’s effectively another form of greenwashing. Greenwashing is the practice of exaggerating, or downright lying about, the environmental impact of products or services. Greenwashing makes it difficult to separate fluffy eco-jargon from the labels with meaning. 

At Finch, we’re against policies or practices that aren’t rooted in fact or evidence, so we won’t just call a product “clean.” Instead, we’ll explain the ingredients (or lack thereof) that make the product more or less sustainable. And we’ll give you the facts to back it up.

What Should You Do If A Product Says It is “Clean”?

Dig a little deeper. Sometimes a product may state that it’s “clean,” and it might only contain ingredients that are certified organic, free from preservatives, and proven to be a safer alternative for both human use and planetary health. Or, it may state that it’s “clean” because they have observed the “clean” trend, and know it’s what consumers want to hear… even if they’re not doing the work to make it true. So, take a look through their ingredients list – and use our Wise Guides or our browser extension. We have all the sustainability knowledge to help you make more educated decisions, while also avoiding the green-clean-greenwashing machine.

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