The Never List: Beautycounter’s Clean Approach to Beauty

Beauty TipsHealth & Beauty

The Never List: Beautycounter’s Clean Approach to Beauty

The cosmetic industry in the United States is valued at over $60 billion dollars, a number that reflects the constant role makeup plays in our day-to-day lives. Despite this widespread use, makeup is still wildly unregulated. In the US, only 30 ingredients are banned from personal-care products—meanwhile, the EU bans roughly 1,400. After learning about the lack of regulation in the industry, Gregg Renfrew, the founder and former CEO of Beautycounter, saw the gap in the market for clean, non-toxic beauty and skincare products.

Gregg Renfrew, former CEO and Founder of Beautycounter|Courtesy of CEW

Clean Ingredients

Starting in 2013, Renfrew created the “Never List” for her company to follow. The list consists of over 1,800 ingredients that pose potential threats to one’s health or safety. Because of the skin’s ability to absorb any chemical placed on it, toxic beauty products can quickly cause health problems. Make sure to check your favorite beauty items for some common harmful chemicals listed below.

  • Benzalkonium Chloride
    • What is it? A disinfectant
    • Where is it found? In sunscreens and moisturizers
    • What is its effect? Severe skin, eye, and respiratory inflammation
  • Butylated Hydroxy Anisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene
    • What is it? Synthetic antioxidants
    • Where is it found? In lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and more
    • What is its effect? A likely carcinogen and hormone disruptors
  • Ethanolamines (MEA/DEA/TEA)
    • What is it? Surfactants and pH adjuster
    • Where is it found? In hair dyes, mascara, fragrances, foundation, sunscreen, paint, pharmaceuticals
    • What is its effect? Allergies, hormone disruption, skin toxicity
  • Oxybenzone
    • What is it? A sunscreen agent and UV light absorber
    • Where is it found? In sunscreen and moisturizers
    • What is its effect? Irritation, sensitization and allergies
  • Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and more)
    • What is it? A classification of preservatives to prevent bacteria growth
    • Where is it found? In shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion and foundation
    • What is its effect? Endocrine disruptors
  • Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP and more)
    • What is it? A classification of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable
    • Where is it found? In synthetic fragrance, nail polish and hairspray
    • What is its effect? Endocrine disruptors which may cause birth defects
  • Synthetic Flavor or Fragrance
    • What is it? Any engineered scent or flavoring agent
    • Where is it found? In all types of cosmetics, including perfumes and lotions
    • What is its effect? Could be any combination of thousands of hormone disruptors and allergens
  • Tricolsan and Triclocarban
    • What is it? Antimicrobial presticides
    • Where is it found? In liquid soap, soap bars and toothpaste
    • What is its effect? Toxic to water systems and may impact human reproductive systems

On top of the Never List, Beautycounter follows their “Blueprint for Clean”, a set of twelve safety standards required to be followed at every step of the manufacturing process. This includes material sourcing, packaging, and distribution. The standards include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Safety Screening (the Never List, tests for trace contaminants, etc)
  • Ingredient Transparency
  • Responsibly-Sourced Raw Materials
  • Sustainable Packaging
  • Environmental Foot-printing
  • Supplier Code of Conduct
  • Exceeding Regulatory Standards


With the effects of climate change becoming more apparent, Beautycounter has made sustainability one of its core values. Packaging has always been a tricky subject in the cosmetic industry. The creation of eye-catching designs must be balanced with the prevention of cross-contamination and the preservation of the integrity of the product. There are three ways in which the company is approaching sustainability, 1) designing for circularity 2) reducing their footprint 3) choosing environmentally preferred materials.

“By 2025, 100% of our packaging will be recycled, recyclable, refillable, reused, or compostable.”

We’re Thinking Outside the Box. Beautycounter. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from

Designing for Circularity

Courtesy of Beautycounter

Circularity is meant to encourage consumers to reuse products multiple times, instead of sending them to a landfill after one use. Beautycounter has recently started this initiative with The Clean Deo, a refillable deoderant. With this product alone, the company was able to reduce “its water use, fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 47%

Reducing the Footprint

Courtesy of Beautycounter

Beautycounter has reduced what is included with each product. Items like plastic applicators and lid inserts have been removed from the package design. Additionally, the box the product comes in has been remodeled. For many products, the secondary packaging has been removed completely. The new shipping boxes are made with less cardboard and at least 30% recycled material. To encourage their consumers to recycle, Beautycounter has partnered with How2Recycle, a company that creates clear instructions on how to recycle or dispose of products.

Environmentally Preferred Materials

Courtesy of Beautycounter

Finally, Beautycounter has reevaluated the materials used for its packaging. Now equipped with its own Never List, materials that include BPA or phthalates, for example, are prohibited. The newest skin line, Countertime, was released in glass packaging. After intense research into energy, water contamination, and waste, glass was found to reduce “the line’s fossil fuel use by an estimated 35% and greenhouse gas footprint by an estimated 38%”. PCR plastic is another material often used. PCR plastic is made of recycled plastic items, such as bottles, that have been sorted and cleaned. This results in less plastic waste, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

While tackling an entire industry seems like a daunting task, Renfrew and Beautycounter have made much progress so far. The company has grown to an evaluation of $1 billion dollars, clearly a leader in sustainable, healthy and ethical beauty businesses. To have a larger impact, Beautycounter has been lobbying for legislative changes. While merely the first, Beautycounter has made a profound dent in the cosmetic industry, changing it for the better (and cleaner).

Featured image from InStyle

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