Before You Buy: How to Identify Greenwashing in the Beauty Industry









Walk down the beauty aisle at your local store or scroll through Instagram stories and you’ll most likely see shampoo and makeup labels like ‘natural’ or ‘organic.’ At first glance this can seem great, right?! Not so fast…

As clean beauty and non-toxic living is becoming more and more popular, so is greenwashing!

So just what is greenwashing and how does it affect your daily beauty choices?

Greenwashing in the beauty industry is…

Using ‘fluffy’ or unsubstantiated terms to market a product as clean, safe and effective, appealing to the consumers’ goodwill and emotions without proper ingredient disclosure or safety research.

In simple terms, greenwashing is fancy marketing that makes you feel that you are purchasing a good for you product, when that may not be the case at all!

Any company can call a product natural or clean but they are defining that term on their own conditions, because there is no standard or regulations!


Currently, we do not have regulation or clear definitions of terms like ‘natural,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ or even ‘organic’ when it comes to skincare and beauty items and products marketed as such often contain some of the worst offenders when it comes to ingredients. 

Just remember, fancy marketing and good branding doesn’t always mean a product is safe for you! Sadly, many companies are taking advantage of trends and using emotions to appeal to you!

Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon spending thousands of dollars marketing products as clean, green, natural or eco-friendly just to increase sales. But at what cost to you the consumer?


How can you combat greenwashing? 

  1. Always check the ingredients: Don’t trust labels or marketing terms. Look at the ingredient list. If a company does not clearly disclosed ALL the ingredients right away including fragrance ingredients (as this can literally be composed of thousands of ingredients all looped into a company’s trade secret), I would be weary. Especially with online retailers, there is a big trend now-a-days to highlight key ingredients and then make you click or scroll further to see the entire ingredient list. Hummm.
  2. Search for transparent brands: Even if a brand is not 100% clean, if they are transparent that is a big win in my books! Does the company disclose their ingredients, selection process, testing process or even give you behind the scenes peaks at their brand? Transparency is the first step towards eliminating greenwashing!


Here’s what 5 popular greenwashing terms actually mean…

1. Natural

‘Natural’ is the fastest growing segment in the beauty industry because who doesn’t want natural? At first glance, natural can seem best but there is NO regulation to what this term means. It can mean that all or just a slight percentage of the product comes from natural ingredients rather than synthetics. But if you dig further, natural ingredients aren’t always safer (something I go into depth in “Sourcing vs Safety—What makes a beauty product safe?”) because an ingredient’s source does NOT determine its safety. Poison ivy is natural, but I wouldn’t recommend rubbing it on your skin—while this may be an exaggeration, it’s exactly what’s happening with greenwashing and the term ‘natural.’ Other ingredients like clay or even lead are natural, but can contain high levels of heavy metals which aren’t safe for humans in any amount.

2. Dermatologist recommended

Yes a dermatologist may approve or recommend a product, but ask, were they paid to endorse this product? Did they do rigorous third party testing to determine the safety of the product? Most likely the answer is no. Dermatologist recommended items often are good for sensitive skin but that doesn’t mean that it has been carefully evaluated for endocrine disruption or effects on your health.

3. Organic

Currently the FDA has *no* definition for what organic means when it comes to beauty or cosmetics. Being organic doesn’t mean a product is any safer, as the FDA notes. A product may be marketed as “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” but that may only be a small percentage of the ingredients. If you see the USDA organic seal, it means that some of the ingredients in the product are organic and grown without chemicals, GMOs and pesticides, but brands may still include other harmful ingredients such as fragrances and preservatives that make the end result not safe for you! 

Does this mean that a company that is natural and organic is necessarily bad? NO, not at all, we just want to look further than just the marketing terms and look at the ingredients and process!

4. Not tested on animals/cruelty free

Let me be clear, not tested on animals/cruelty free is great—I personally don’t want my skincare products being tested on animals, but this doesn’t actually determine the safety of a product. Plenty of products labeled ‘not tested on animals’ use bad ingredients. Again, just an emotional marketing appeal.

Leaping Bunny is the gold standard when it comes to certification, but keep in mind this can be a long process not possible for many smaller brands making truly great products! 

5. Chemical free

Newsflash, not all chemicals are bad—water is a chemical and one I hope you are drinking each day! Again, adding the label ‘chemical-free’ can be misleading and create more confusion! Instead, look closely at the ingredients and how those ingredients affect you.

Yes, it’s a lot to navigate just to feel safe doing your morning makeup each day, right?! But thankfully there are good brands that are using safe ingredients, testing and being transparent with you the consumer!

This is why time and time again I choose Beautycounter skincare and makeup! Beautycounter is going above and beyond with third party testing, batch testing and transparency.

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