How Can You Tell if a Product is Clean?


How often do you look at the ingredients in your food? 

Before you buy yourself, or your child, a snack, you probably consider the labels on the package. How much sugar is in this product? Does it contain food dyes or artificial ingredients that you’re not comfortable ingesting? Are you allergic to any of its components?

Now, how often do you look at the ingredients in your cosmetics, fragrances, and body care products?

The things that you put on your body are just as important as the things that you put in your body. Your skin is your largest organ, so soaps, lotions, cosmetics, fragrance, and other bath products that don’t adhere to high standards can have negative effects on your body once they absorb into your skin.

The idea of “clean beauty” has become widespread over the last few years, but the category isn’t well-defined. It’s difficult to know whether a product is truly clean, or if its marketing is just too convincing.

Today, we’re walking you through our clean beauty primer, the quick access guide that you can reference at any point to tell whether or not a product is clean. You ready? Let’s do this.

What is clean beauty?

Let’s start with a simple definition. Goop, one of the frontrunners in the clean beauty space, defines products that fit into this category as, “a non-toxic product that is made without a long, ever-evolving list of ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, to cancer, to plain-old skin irritation. To name just a few: parabens, phthalates, PEGs, ethanolamines, chemical sunscreens, synthetic fragrance, BHT, BHA.”

At this time, this is the best, most comprehensive definition of clean beauty available. Many mainstream stores, including Sephora (Clean at Sephora) and Target (Target Clean), have recently started labeling products with indicators of cleanliness. Target has even gone so far as to label items outside of cosmetics including household cleaners, baby care, and pet foods and treats.

Because there is no clear regulation around cosmetics in the United States, there is no one right way to define clean beauty. However, for the sake of this discussion (and for the sake of our health), we prefer to go with the most detailed, all-encompassing explanation. Thanks, Goop!


How can you tell if a product is clean?

So, the definition we referenced above is pretty detailed, and, honestly, pretty intimidating. When it comes to clean beauty there is so much to consider: known harmful ingredients, potential allergens, untested components, the word “fragrance” which companies can use to hide so many mysterious ingredients in the label. 

The worst part: it’s up to us as consumers to figure it all out.

The United States government doesn’t currently regulate cosmetics marketing around the phrase “clean beauty”. Basically any company who has an interest in appearing consumer-focused or trendy can latch on to this concept and plaster it over their packaging without a second thought.

To tell if a product is clean, we need to be active, educated consumers. But, where do we begin?

Look for well-known toxic ingredients

Start with the ingredient list of the product that you’re considering. Many clean beauty products have a short ingredient list, so be wary of something that sounds simple but is packed full of ingredients.

Then, put on your readers and search for well-known toxic ingredients among the list. Are parabens or phthalates present? Some cosmetics contain formaldehyde, a chemical used in the embalming process in funeral homes. Do you really want that on your face, body, or your child’s skin? Other ingredients to look for include: Oxybenzone, SLES , retinyl palmitate, hydroquinone, triclosan, triclocarban, BHA or BHT. This is an incomplete list.

Check available resources

Maybe your memory isn’t great, or maybe you’re looking for a simpler solution than a compulsory ingredient check when it comes to cosmetics shopping. Two tips for you there. 1) Shop at Dune, where we are committed to providing a complete clean beauty experience - no ingredient check required, or 2) use one of the handy dandy resources on the internet to make this process a breeze.

Our two favorite resources for checking if a product is clean are EWG Skin Deep and GoodGuide.

EWG Skin Deep is an online database of over 75,000 products and 2,242 brands that provides you with information on potential hazards related to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, and other high concerns that should be evaluated before purchasing a product. You can simply visit to check the product that you’re thinking of buying.

GoodGuide is another online resource that allows you to check on products that you’re thinking of buying or are already using. This site has its own app, so information is always at your fingertips - much appreciated as someone who is either always carrying a bag or holding a toddler’s hand! GoodGuide breaks down concerns for each product, the ingredients that stand out as unclean, and (bonus!) offers up some alternatives if you’re feeling a bit unsettled by the product at hand.

What is the difference between natural products and clean products?

There is some confusion surrounding the difference between natural products and clean products. These phrases are used almost interchangeable in marketing, but they don’t necessarily correlate or indicate the other. 

A natural product could be unclean and a clean product could use unnatural ingredients.

Natural products only use ingredients that are derived from the Earth, either plants, minerals, or fragrances that can be found in nature. Nothing about a natural products is created in a lab.

Clean products are created without the use of harmful ingredients, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t using chemicals or components that are created by scientists. A product can still be clean, even when it uses well-known non-toxic ingredients like salicylic acid or retinol found in skincare.

It is our belief that it is not necessary to use all natural ingredients in order to get a product that is enjoyable and effective - as long as those ingredients are known to be non-toxic. So long as the research is there to back up the harmlessness of an ingredient, we are open to products that are not entirely natural.

We, like you, just want to know that we are using something that won’t harm us, that won’t disrupt our hormones or the development of our children, that won’t have an adverse effect on our health down the line. We just want to know that we are using something that works.


Our favorite clean brands

At Dune, we are determined to give you a comprehensive clean beauty experience, and we are always adding more stockists to fill gaps in your cosmetics collection. Today in the shop, you can find some of our favorite clean beauty brands gracing the shelves. Here are the products you should be looking for: 

Wiley Body

Wiley is an all natural, multi-purpose skincare brand made for tiny humans - so says Vanessa Wade, the founder and CEO! Right now the brand offers one product, their iconic Body Bubble, made to cleanse the skin and hair of your little ones (or yourself!) without tearing or causing you any worry. Vanessa is an incredibly talented maker, and we are proud to stock Wiley in our store. 

The Sunday Standard

The Sunday Standard is a plant-based, non-toxic, cruelty free skincare brand based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The founder and maker, Emma, created the company after struggling with acne herself. She realized that she was utilizing a lot of products with harsh chemicals that could actually prove to be hurting her acne more than helping. After becoming accredited, she started The Sunday Standard to create “a new standard in clean beauty”. The Sunday Standard’s products fly off of our shelves consistently, and for good reason - this stuff works. Our favorite product is the Fruit Enzyme & Vitamin C Resurfacing Mask.

Under Aurora

Under Aurora creates botanical perfumes and plant-based skincare, the perfect products to round out your clean beauty lineup. The company uses 100% pure, high grade essential oils in their products, and they take it a step further with their packaging which is eco-friendly and BPA- and phthalate-free. All of their products are cruelty-free and most are vegan, proving that you can have a luxurious body and skincare experience without giving in to practices that don’t align with your values. Our favorite Under Aurora product is the Coconut Oil Spray!


Skylar is our resident clean fragrance brand, blending stunning scents with non-toxic ingredients. Skylar perfumes are formulated without parabens, phthalates, or allergens, making them one of the few fragrance brands on the market that you can feel good about spritzing. Skylar’s founder, Cat Chen, originally worked for The Honest Company, and realized that there was a hole in the market when it came to fragrance. We couldn’t be more thrilled to stock Skylar on Dune’s shelves, especially our favorite scent: Meadow!

Determining whether or not a product is clean doesn’t have to be difficult. While the conversation surrounding this concept is still murky, and product marketing would have you believe that anything can be clean, you’ve already taken the first step in educating yourself on this topic. Continue to seek out new research, new information, and new products. We’re happy to be with you on this clean beauty journey.