Greenwashing: What You Need to Know

We love sharing with people about the benefits of clean beauty and giving guidance on how to choose cleaner products. The more aware we are of what's going onto our skin, the more control we take over our health and well-being. But sometimes, on the journey to cleaner beauty, we're tripped up by an increasingly common enemy: greenwashing. Have you heard of it? 

Greenwashing occurs when a company intentionally markets a product they know to be toxic and synthetic as natural and safe. This is often done through the use of pretty pictures, natural buzzwords, and sneaky labeling. This topic gets us fired up, because greenwashing preys on people who genuinely want to make better choices for their health and the earth, and who think they are doing so when they purchase these products - when in reality, they're exposing themselves to harm.

 Here are some of our best tips to help you outsmart greenwashing companies on your next shopping trip:

1. Be familiar with a company’s ingredient history. 
If a company has a longstanding history of using questionable and unsafe ingredients in almost all of its classic formulations, be wary of new products making more “natural” claims. Lots of times companies will keep their basic toxic formulations the same, but throw in a couple of “buzzword” ingredients that are trending in the healthy living community (think things like coconut oil or avocado oil) and advertise these additions prominently on the front of the label. Adding some good things in doesn’t help if you’re not taking the bad things out.
2. Never make decisions based on the front of the package alone.
A common tactic of companies practicing greenwashing is to put a pretty picture of a wholesome looking fruit or plant on the front of the bottle and highlight the benefits of this ingredient, hoping to draw your attention away from the questionable ingredient list on the back of the bottle.  There’s nothing wrong with a company creating attractive packaging that highlights the natural elements of their product - unless it’s done in a disingenuous attempt to make the consumer think they’re getting something “healthy”, when really they’re getting a mix of harmful chemicals with a couple natural ingredients thrown in.
3. Just because one major toxin is conspicuously absent doesn’t mean a product is safe.
Let me explain what I mean: the jar of moisturizer that sparked the inspiration for this post, my mom’s “Coconut Oil Moisturizing Cream,” proudly boasted on the label “No Parabens.” And indeed, it had no parabens. But it still ranked a scary score of 9 (out of 10) on the toxicity scale in the Think Dirty App.

Don’t get me wrong - it’s a great thing that people are speaking out against the dangers of pervasive toxins in the beauty industry, like parabens, and that companies are actually hearing the message and taking steps to change. This is a good start, and this is the direction we want to keep moving in. But singling out the removal of one or two nasty ingredients and slapping “No Parabens” on the label of a product doesn’t magically make it safe. We have to continue to send the message to companies that we want a holistic approach to clean products - we don’t just want “No Parabens,” we want no dirty ingredients period

4. There’s no substitute for reading the ingredient list.
As always, when it comes to protecting yourself from toxins, the first and best line of defense should always be reading the label. When I’m doing in-depth research on a product, I like to sit the bottle next to my laptop and just Google or enter into EWG each ingredient, down the line, to get extensive information on each one. As I’ve done this over and over, some words become more familiar and recognizable, and I’ve started to be able to assess the safety of a product much more quickly and easily. 

Researching your products can be really eye-opening, even if you only choose to do one or two. I encourage everyone to pick their favorite, most-used product after reading this and give this little exercise a try. But, I also know that trying to use this process with everything you own would be too overwhelming and time consuming for most people (unless you’re a total researching nerd like myself.) Thankfully, there are some shortcuts to help you navigate when you don’t have the time or opportunity to do your own thorough research:

5. Use research tools to help you.
We love apps like Think Dirty and EWG Healthy Living. They allow you to either scan the barcode of a product or type in the name and provide instant results on the breakdown of each ingredient and its available safety data. Since both apps are relatively new, you may sometimes come across products that haven’t been added to the database yet. You can quickly and easily submit them yourself (just send a picture of the front and back and the name of the product) to help contribute to making this information easily accessible for everyone. Dozens of products are being added each day!

Beauties, I hope this information doesn’t feel overwhelming or restricting. I remember when I first started learning what ingredients to avoid, I initially felt like everything was scary and nothing was safe. And it’s true that many of the most popular mass-manufactured brands in the makeup, skincare and hair care world continue to crank out products filled with sneaky toxic offenders. But rest assured, there are so many awesome companies in existence (and new ones emerging every day) who prioritize the health and well-being of their clients and take great pride in creating clean, safe products that can be enjoyed by everyone without fear. We are proud to stock brands like this in our online shop and our brick and mortar store.

If you’re wondering where to go from here to look for brands you can trust, I highly recommend both of the apps we mentioned above (Think Dirty and EWG Healthy Living). Both have functions that provide clean recommendations if you’re seeking to replace a product you no longer want to use. You can also check out the Dirty Thirty list to use as a quick frame of reference if you want to familiarize yourself with some major offenders to avoid on your next shopping trip. And as always, feel free to email us with any and all questions you have related to clean and green beauty. 

Have you ever purchased something you thought was "natural," only to find out later it was anything but? It’s happened to the best of us. Tell us about your experience!

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