How to spot faux "clean" beauty products

How to spot faux "clean" beauty products

No one likes a copycat. Sure, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to clean beauty, we're of the mindset that we should accept no imitations. Especially when those imitations are full of dirty, harmful ingredients!

I've noticed that as awareness of clean beauty grows and people become more attuned to ingredient safety, there are a whole lot of "faux" clean beauty products cropping up in unexpected places - like my local TJ Maxx, where I happened upon today's faux find.

This really bothers me, because it preys on people who are in the process of cleaning up their beauty and want to make good choices for their health, but may still be learning the ins and outs of ingredient safety and what to look for when shopping for clean products. Advertisers go for a certain "look" to trick people into thinking they're buying a clean product when they're actually not. They use clean beauty buzzwords and are careful to make the aesthetics of their packaging resemble popular clean brands. Essentially, they're taking a product with dirty, harmful ingredients and putting a pretty, "clean and green" bow on it in an attempt to sell it. This is greenwashing at its sneakiest. That is just NOT cool with us. 

If there's one thing we want you to remember, it's that you can't rely on the front of a box or bottle to tell you if a product is clean. The only way to know what you're getting ready to put onto your skin (and absorb directly into your bloodstream) is to read the ingredients. And if going through an ingredient list on your own feels too overwhelming and time consuming (and I get it, some of them are L-O-N-G), remember you can use quick reference tools like the Think Dirty App or EWG's Healthy Living app to do the decoding work for you. If you encounter a product that's not in these databases yet, Think Dirty has a feature that allows you to quickly and easily submit it for review so it can be added soon.

The ingredient list on today's imitation clean beauty find is anything but skin friendly. I'm comparing it to our clean beauty fave, Herbivore's Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Mist, since it's pretty clear that's the type of look and product they were going for. Let's take a side-by-side look at our ingredient lists, shall we?

On the left is our trusty clean beauty fave, Herbivore. It has 9 ingredients. All of them, even the preservative agent (radish root ferment) are natural. (Otherwise it wouldn't be on our shelves.)

Now for the faux clean beauty find on the right: The ingredient list starts out looking pretty great. Water, coconut water, glycerin, aloe leaf juice, witch hazel distillate, rose flower water far so good. Why not stop there, throw in some natural preservatives and call it a day? Unfortunately, these makers decided to also add the following dirty ingredients to their coconut water concoction:

PEG-12. Here's a great synopsis on PEGs, or polyethylene glycol from our friends at

"PEGs are typically followed by a number correlating to how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise, in the form of say PEG-4 or PEG-100; the lower the number, the more easily the compound is absorbed into the skin.

While PEGs can be mild irritants, they're less than desirable primarily because they help traffic funky chemicals across your epidermis, including a slug of impurities they're often contaminated with. According to a report in the International Journal of Toxicology by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, pollutants found in various PEG compounds include ethylene oxide (used to manufacture mustard gas), 1,4-dioxane, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and heavy metals (lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, arsenic)." For more in depth info on PEGs, see: Beyond Parabens: 7 Common Cosmetics Ingredients You Need to Avoid 

Dimethicone. That last tidbit above about PEGs helping traffic other nasty ingredients through the dermis and into the bloodstream is especially unsettling given the next ingredient on this list: dimethicone. 

Besides being linked to organ system toxicity and ecotoxicology on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List, dimethicone is also not a helpful element to add to skincare for those of us who tend to be oily or acne prone. Read more about the skin problems associated with dimethicone from Be Well Blog's informative post, The Truth Behind the Cosmetics Ingredient, Dimethicone. 

Polysorbate 20 - While this synthetic compound is generally regarded as safe by the FDA (though that's not a very comforting phrase), there are major contamination concerns with how it's produced - Skin Deep marks it as a possible carrier of known carcinogens 1,4 dioxane and ethylene oxide. Yikes.

Ethylhexylglycerine - While this lengthy compound is generally ranked low on the health risk spectrum, it has been linked to eye irritation and potential toxicity by the European Union. Probably not something you want to be spraying onto your face, you know, where your eyes are.

Phenoxyethanol - This compound has restricted use in cosmetics in Japan and the European Union due to potential toxicity concerns. 

Disodium EDTA - This is another low-risk compound when looked at on its own, but it's also a penetration enhancer (like PEGs), and has raised some concerns from environmental groups about the rate at which it's being released into the atmosphere and its environmental impact through the production of so many products containing it.

Fragrance - To top it all off, this word is one of our number one no-nos when it comes to truly clean beauty ingredients - a "fragrance" mystery cocktail that could be comprised of any number of thousands of unsafe ingredients, all for the sake of smelling pretty. (If you missed our detailed breakdown of what the word "fragrance" means in the world of cosmetics, check out this post for more info on why we're not keen on seeing this word on our ingredient labels!)

When it comes to finding clean and green beauty, never judge a book by its cover - and never judge a bottle of beauty spray by its pretty packaging or alluring title. Be on the lookout for sneaky imitation clean beauty, and make sure you're getting the real deal by checking those ingredient lists. Your skin will thank you!

Have you spotted a product or line that you suspect is masquerading as faux clean beauty? Take a snapshot and send it to me at - I'd love to do some sleuthing for you. You may just see it show up here on the blog!

Have you ever been excited to try what you thought was a clean beauty hero, only to find out later it was a faux beauty zero? It's happened to the best of us - I'd love to hear your story!