Greenwashing: How to Stop Buying Beauty Junk


Once upon a time you had to trawl the shelves of health and specialist shops to find the best organic skin care and makeup that is free from chemical nasties. But now, especially with the internet, organic products are more accessible to the general public. You’ll even see organic, green beauty, and natural beauty products stocked in your local supermarkets.

However, the problem is that the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are not regulated and the issue of whether a product is organic is complex. Some of the natural ingredients may be organic, but can it be true of the final product?

The boom in healthy living has been the goose that lays the golden egg for the organic beauty industry, and unfortunately it has been exploited by unscrupulous businesses – some organic products have been found to have only single digit percentages of organic ingredients – yes, really. This is known as greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

You will be familiar with the term whitewashing. It’s when negative information is glossed over, given spin and made more digestible for the consumer. Greenwashing is similar, only it is when a business makes misleading claims about its environmental credentials. Have a look in your supermarket’s beauty product aisle and see the words that the big brands use to market their products:

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  • Natural

  • Pure

  • Nature-identical (this is just crazy talk)

  • Botanical

  • Chemical-free

  • Dermatologist recommended

  • Earth-friendly

  • Extracts

  • Gentle

  • Green

  • Herbal

  • Mineral

  • Natural essence or fragrance

  • Oil-free

Similarly, if brands refer to just one ingredient to market their product, and it features way down the ingredient list, this is another red flag. They may also try to trigger a sale by saying ‘with vegan ingredients’ when the reality that only one or two can be classified as vegan and not the whole product. Also take note of the colours that are used in the branding – green and lots of it being the obvious!

Look for certifications such as ECOCERT or Soil Association, and other trusted third parties who can verify the product’s authenticity. The Soil Association have a campaign called Come Clean About Beauty and have created a league table of brands that have misled the consumers.

So how can you avoid greenwashing and avoid buying beauty junk?

Read the label

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Yes, it seems obvious, but the label will give you a big indication of whether the product has been greenwashed. Ingredients are listed in order of the percentage that they are in the product – starting off with the most prevalent. Typically, the first five listed make up to 80% of the content. Whereabouts are the natural ingredients? If they are in the lower half of the label, chances are high that this is a case of greenwashing. Click here to see ingredients that you should avoid.

The price

Organic and natural skincare products should cost more. Why? Because the ingredients are cultivated without the use of herbicides and insecticides and are farmed less intensively. What this means is that the raw materials are produced in less quantity but are higher quality and so more effective. If the product you are looking at is at a great price, question how it can be – if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is. You know the saying – buy cheap buy twice.

Purchase from trusted brands

Not all organic brands will be certified by the Soil Association or other third parties, but that does not mean that they are not organic. The organic certification process is arduous and costs money, so the smaller brands may not feel that it is currently something they can pursue. However, with a little research you can identify brands that are transparent with their motivations and their company’s ethos. Check out their websites to learn more about their real mission – do they practice what they preach?

It is a minefield buying organic and natural skincare products, but now that you are aware of greenwashing, you’ll be alert to the companies that use this unethical practice!

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