WTF does Clean, Green, and Natural Even Mean
Written by Blair Lauren Brown
Many brands these days touts how green their products are, how clean their ingredients are, and/or that they’re all-natural. But what does that even mean? Many articles try to cover the overlap or lack thereof in 2 of these 3 categories but what is missing from the dialogue - is solid coverage of all 3. So, let’s take it there and even one step further and explore how it relates to one specific ingredient de jour - CBD.
Below, we're going to explore the details most commonly adopted in each category, weaving in and out of what it is, what it is not, and why it is important…
Buckle up - Here we go :)
What does clean really mean?
Clean Products are defined as products that are formulated without any known or suspected toxins.
It's important to note that this term is not regulated by the FDA, meaning companies can use at their leisure. Universally this is about the health of our bodies, and currently as it is defined by companies who claim “clean” ingredients. While some of these brands truly do have beautiful products with no toxins or bad shit really, some of those companies go so far as to proclaim "clean" as ethically sourced and environmentally friendly [ONLY].
And that's where it starts to get muddy. But we have only just scratched the surface.
Clean ingredients can be either natural or synthesized in a lab, the focus being that they're all either shown to be safe to use or there's no evidence to suggest that they are unsafe for human use. Ultimately this means the skin and body can successfully receive the ingredients without disruption to the system.
Exploring that one step further, one would assume toxic always equals bad, but remember, the sun’s rays have been linked to skin cancer, yet it's essential in the body’s ability to create vitamin d. So clearly, in the proper doses *some toxins*, are considered essential.
But with so many naturally occurring toxins, do we really want more in our skincare and beauty products? Definitely not. So, is it Important for us to have access to clean products? Absolutely! Is the world clear on what clean is? Not so much! Will it serve you to buy clean? Yes, but either do your research and read ingredient lists, or find a trusted source.
What does green really mean?
Green, generally speaking, is the overarching term that refers to ecologically considerate products which in and of itself is an incredibly relative concept. And again, one that is not regulated by the FDA.
"Green" can be as far-reaching as to only refer to something that is 100% post-consumer recycled and only sold locally to reduce emissions or even sold nationally but have a carbon offset program. Or, alternatively, so companies may proclaim, "green” because they sell one product with a single source “renewable” resource such as palm free coconut oil.
The concept is broad and it goes as far as recycled materials and/or using less packaging the list goes on.
Green can be clean, in that it is not toxic for our bodies or the planet because they are naturally derived, extracted, and wild-harvested - but that might be the farthest-reaching of a brand’s grasp, and in terms of a scalable product business, almost 100% chance that is unachievable. (Note: If you can show me otherwise, please do! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.) My general rule of thumb is - if you are living in your local community and the brand is doing enough to support the maker and you trust them - Go for it! I completely support it.
It’s just complicated. The concept is beautiful and the potential to be made with sustainable and renewable resources is big - and important! But sadly do to a lot of missteps in consumer culture, it may soon be imperative. The overarching term green has come to imply that products protect the planet’s resources - the reef and it’s living coral structure, the forest and trees, etc.
Microplastics were eliminated from skincare products in 2017 [that's not that long ago] in large part by a multitude of NGOs - one being 5 Gyres, that was on the front lines of this conversation after surveying the gyres of plastic in the middle of our oceans for years. I had the pleasure of working with them right before this legislation, and I got to see first hand the impact of these microplastics on our environment. Horrifying to say the least. So avoid the polluting P's.
What are the polluting P's?
Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polymethyl methacrylate. These are microplastics. When they sit in your formulas, that then get shipped from production to warehousing to shelves in hot and cold variant temperatures, they:
1. Leech into the formulation that you then expose yourself to - like a face scrub.
2. They get washed down the drain only be consumed by sea creatures like fish, that you then turn around and consume - thus consuming those plastics for yourself or further up the food chain and so on.
What does natural really mean?
Natural means not made in a lab and containing no synthetic additions. It does not however discuss or indicate extraction method, which can include pressing, CO2, alcohol, and other chemicals. So, what are the extraction methods of these ingredients, and the impacts of those?
Natural iImplies GMO-free - but that is not defined or regulated. For some, it suggests that it is plant-based - but there are many natural ingredients that are not plant-based, for instance, Silica, or other mineral clays, salts, and more. Natural does not make clear the sourcing practices of the natural materials - were the minerals mined with consideration for the removal from the earth, and whether it was scalable without having a negative impact on the surrounding areas land, people or animal populations. Clearly - natural leaves a lot to be desired.
Let's Talk CBD
And now - let’s add CBD to this already complicated landscape…
Hemp-derived CBD is the CBD that comes in whole-plant and isolate form. Let’s start with (in this case) the more straightforward - and work our way to the more complex...
What does Clean, Green, and Natural mean for CBD?
Is CBD Natural?
We know it ticks the box because of Epiodialex - an FDA approved medication for severe epilepsy.
Is CBD Green?
Cannabis is a bio-accumulator and is used to remediate toxins in the soil. So the hemp which is the origin of the CBD could be doing great things for the soil. But, just saying, do you want that CBD in your system if the hemp crop was used to eliminate toxins from a former leech field? Not I.
But Green in the sense that hemp is breaking up the soil in a formerly uninhabitable landscape turned wasteland by water overuse, sure, I’m in. So - to know if it is really green, we must understand why they are claiming it is green and how it is being used [i.e.: smoking, skincare, etc.] - something that according to current labeling rules and regulations is essentially impossible to understand.
Is CBD Clean?
Well, let’s go back to the bioaccumulation piece... Is it tested to see if it has collected anything in the growing process that could make it toxic? That can be determined by the COA’s - Certificate of Authenticity, which is largely “demanded” by the industry to validate the integrity of the CBD companies these days. [And something Poplar absolutely demands]
The COA unveils some details - but not all. Because CBD is only regulated as a high THC cannabis-derived byproduct. It is not regulated by anyone to be organic - let alone clean, green, or natural which is why it is so important to have a trusted source.
Side Note Re COAs: All ingredients going into proper formulations made in a regulated facility require COAs. As the end consumer we have not been trained to ask for the COAs or even what that is except for in cannabis products. And with so much emphasis on active cannabis, there is little consideration for other actives, or COAs on those ingredients for that matter.
With most the focus on the whole-plant and only that, we should take a step back and focus on the whole product.
So while clean, green and natural are beautiful words, in the end, do these 3 words even mean anything? And are the three categories better served when exclusive, or are they better when complimenting each other?
For now, in my opinion, the answer is up to each brand and each consumer…
It’s on the brands to be transparent - so that consumers can make educated choices. And for consumers to make educated choices. You have to have the time to do the research and know the resources to search - A luxury that most people don’t have. So, I have made it my business to do the research for you. And Poplar has made the promise to make it easier to then shop for what is the best. Poplar and I are trying to simplify this process of making the selection of products that reach your criteria.
Now - believe you me, I am not telling you all of this to paralyze you. I absolutely agree that many ingredients are better served by being natural, especially as it relates to cannabis plants. I can not say, however, that is always the case. Hemp CBD isolates, for instance, might be more destructive when collected and extracted naturally than it is energy-intensive in a lab creation. I don’t know. Time will tell. Stick with us through the journey.
For more musings on best buying practices, check out my book coming out in August here.