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How to Successfully Transition Into a Clean Beauty Routine, Step by Step

Choosing to upend your beauty routine can be intimidating, but here's how to get started on your clean beauty journey.

Written by
Brightly Staff

We've had a lot of time to think this past year. About the way we live and work, about how we're fueling our body and mind, and about the products we use every day. Especially when it comes to our beauty routine.

If you've been wanting to kickstart a clean beauty routine but aren't sure how to go about it, we're here to arm you with the tools you need to feel consciously empowered. So, continue on below and learn exactly how to transition your beauty routine in favor of a more ethical tomorrow.

First Thing's First: What Is Clean Beauty?

You've heard the words "clean beauty" over and over again—but what does that mean, exactly?

The term can be confusing, because different brands and retailers define it in different ways. While there's no solid definition, skincare experts tend to agree of its prime qualities: Beauty products that contain non-toxic ingredients that are either natural (like plant-based ingredients) and those that are safely made in labs.

If a product is truly "clean," it won't contain ingredients like parabens, formaldehyde, synthetic fragrances, phthalates, and oxybenzone, among many others. Essentially, any ingredient that has either been proven to—or is suspected to—do harm.

How to Transition Into a Clean Beauty Routine

1. Sort and Purge  

When it comes to adopting a clean beauty routine, the first step in defining this process is to go through a purging of sorts, both mentally and physically. Essentially, you must set aside some time to "Marie Kondo" your beauty and skincare inventory.

First, check the expiration dates on all your questionable beauty products. This includes haircare, skincare, nail care, makeup, and more. Next, if any products are expired, safely dispose of the contents, and if possible, recycle the containers. Then, take some time to assess your current goals. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Have my values evolved since I purchased this product?
2. Do the ingredients align with my current values and ethics?
3. Do I understand the ingredient list?
4. How often do I use this product?

Once you are able to answer these questions, you will have an easier time deciding whether to keep or purge a product.

Pro Tip: If you have unopened, unexpired beauty items that no longer serve you, consider donating them to a shelter with folks in need. Don’t let your products go to waste!  

2. Do Your Research

Once you’ve cleansed your home of the beauty products that no longer feel beneficial to your lifestyle, it’s time to do some homework. Read articles from trusted media outlets and peruse brand backstories from greener beauty company websites. Be a sponge, and soak up as much information as possible!

As you conduct your research for your new clean beauty routine, make it a priority to learn about an unfamiliar brand’s values. Ask yourself:

1. Does this company source and define organic and vegan materials that you can pronounce and understand?
2. Is there a visible pledge surrounding animal cruelty-free practices and testing?
3. Is the company committed to upcycling and utilizing sustainable packaging as a waste-reduction tactic?
4. Are there official certifications to support all of these claims?

If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, you can rest assured this company falls in line with current clean beauty standards.

3. Shop Mindfully and Identify Clean Beauty Labels

For all of us self-care enthusiasts out there, the products we purchase and use should always matter. Shopping mindfully is a critical part of the eco-conscious beauty process, and this comes before enjoying a deep-conditioning hair masque, a therapeutic bath ritual, or even a relaxing massage.

In fact, reading labels is more important than ever before. On your hunt for transparency and beauty brands you can trust (we love EWG's Skin Deep resource), make sure you understand which ingredients to recognize as toxic—to both your body and the environment.

Some major red-flag ingredients include:

  • Parabens, which are commonly used as preservatives, and can lead to hormonal imbalances.  
  • Sulfates, cleansing agents that can irritate the skin and eyes.
  • Phthalates, while not always listed on labels, can lead to fluctuations in sex hormone levels and other reproductive consequences.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG), which can impact your skin’s natural moisture production.
  • Propylene glycol (PG) and butylene glycol, which can weaken cellular and protein structures.
  • Mineral oil, which can clog the pores and trap toxins underneath the skin, leading to acne.
  • Triclosan, an antibacterial agent made of synthetic material that can hurt thyroid functioning and degrade into dioxin, a major pollutant linked to long-term health conditions like cancer.
  • DMDM Hydantoin and Urea (Imidazolidinyl), preservatives and known allergens that commonly release formaldehyde, which can lead to a range of health issues, from sleeplessness to joint pain.

4. Make Slow, Sustainable Changes

Yes, this is a lot to take in—especially if you're just starting your journey into a healthier and cleaner beauty routine.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small. Even baby steps and daily goals can lead to long-term sustainability. In addition, this transition is a financial investment. Not everyone can afford to purge all their beauty products in favor of an entirely new lineup.

Instead, begin by drafting a timeline. Commit to replenishing unfavorable items once they run out (this also helps with the zero-waste initiative). Do your research ahead of time. Make a wish list. You’ll get there, one day at a time. Some of our top recommendations to start with? Brands like Activist Skincare (we love the Botanical Cleansing Oil), ILIA (like this Volumizing Mascara), and Mango People (try the Multi-Stick).

Remember, there’s no wrong way to work toward accumulating eco-friendly self-care products. The voyage begins with eco-conscious living, identifying a problem, and modifying your shopping behavior. Then, you can work toward developing feasible solutions that can help your beauty purchases and practices ladder up to your sustainable life goals.