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EXCLUSIVE: Clean at Sephora Expands, Triples List of Banned Ingredients

The retailer's clean beauty initiative counts more than 3,000 products from 68 brands.

Sephora’s Clean at Sephora program is expanding and getting more stringent, WWD has learned.

The LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned retailer launched the program, which aims to help shoppers navigate its assortment and identify “clean” beauty products, last year in the U.S. and Canada. At the time, the requirements for a product to achieve the Clean at Sephora seal were that it be formulated without 13 specific ingredients including SLS, SLES, parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates and mineral oils — all common ingredients consumers are becoming increasingly wary of in personal-care and beauty products. In the summer of 2018, some 2,000 products from 61 brands made the Clean at Sephora cut.

At the end of July, Sephora will introduce regulations designed to tighten the program’s standards. The most significant change is the tripling of its “free-from” ingredient list, to include about 45 ingredients that Clean at Sephora products are required to be formulated without. The updated list includes ingredients such as undisclosed synthetic fragrances, aluminum salts, animal oils, musks and fats, carbon black, talc, toulene, oxybenzone, retinyl palmate, butylated hydroxyanisole, nanoparticles as defined by European Union guidelines, certain types of styrene and phenoxyethanol above a 1 percent concentration.

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Ingredients on the Clean at Sephora “free-from” list need not be officially considered toxic at levels used in beauty products, said Cindy Deily, vice president of skin-care merchandising for the retailer, who oversees the Clean program. Rather, the retailer is most interested in identifying ingredients that are of concern to consumers, no matter if they are proven toxic or not. Many ingredients on the updated list are those that have made headlines within the past year. For instance, Follain, the Boston-based clean beauty retailer, caused a stir last year when it announced it was banning phenoxyethanol, a preservative alternative for parabens commonly used by clean beauty brands. Phenoxyethanol is now on Clean at Sephora’s “free-from” list. Animal-derived ingredients such as musks, fats and oils are also being banned this year at Sephora, at the same time as interest in vegan and cruelty-free beauty brands is on the rise. Last year, The NPD Group tracked a 20 percent rise in vegan and cruelty-free brands carried by retailers.

“The whole program is evolving to be more robust, comprehensive and sophisticated,” said Deily of the updates made to Clean at Sephora. “We knew [when we launched] that the program would have to be evolved — we take input from different sources, like our beauty advisers, brand founders, third-party labs, the EWG and with LVMH. We’re watching everything and we’re aware we may need to make further updates.”

Sephora is adding to its “free-from” list at the same time as the EU is cracking down on “free-from” claims. On July 1, certain “free-from” claims on cosmetics products may be banned should member states wish to, including “free-from parabens” and “free-from perfumes.”

Despite the differences in regulatory and labeling standards, Deily said Sephora is looking into whether the Clean at Sephora program could work outside of North America. “We’re having discussions about whether it makes sense for other parts of the world.”

The number of products designated “Clean at Sephora” has skyrocketed since the 2018 launch. The assortment now ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 products across 68 brands in skin care, makeup, fragrance and hair. New brands in the program include First Aid Beauty, Flora + Bast, Glow Recipe, Lord Jones, Lululemon, Primera and Saint Jane.

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