5 Greenwashed Myths of the Beauty Industry (And How Not to Fall For Them)

A great post from TreeHugger

1. If it’s "natural," it must be green

washing face "Natural" and "all-natural" may lead us to surmise that a product is as pure as the driven snow (or as pristine as a virgin rainforest), but because they’re not regulated labeling terms, marketers are free to bandy them around with alacrity and, more important, without fear of reprisal. Plus, much like their kissing cousins "nature-inspired," "naturally derived," and "based on natural," they’re also vague, misleading, and essentially meaningless.

Tacking "Naturals" at the end of a company’s name, branding one’s packaging with earthy tones and botanical allusions, and peppering advertising copy with exotic fruit and vegetable extracts are other strategies used to lull us into a false sense of security. The point of this PR legerdemain? You’ll be too distracted to notice the disconnect between the laboriously crafted fantasy and the sordid reality.

2. It contains organic or fair-trade ingredients—totally eco, no?

It’s true that we’re judged by the company we keep, but tossing a couple of organic or fair-trade ingredients into the mix, commendable as that might be, does not an unsullied concoction make—yes, even if you bold said ingredients and strategically craft your marketing campaign around them. When methylparaben and PEG-100 stearate are bumping uglies with organic cocoa butter and fair-trade mango extract, you have a tainted product on your hands.

3. It has no parabens. We’re home-free, right?

Not so fast. While these ubiquitous, hormone-mimicking preservatives are chief among the Big Bads of skincare ingredients, in terms of the attention they’ve received and the controversy they’ve generated, they’re not the be-all and end-all. Be wary of companies that use the exclusion of parabens, usually followed closely by phthalates, as a smokescreen for letting other toxic nasties slide by.

4. It has someone’s seal of approval, so we’re good

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program isn’t the only sheriff in town, even if the Food and Drug Administration is strictly hands-off when it comes to regulating the use of "organic" in cosmetics, bodycare, and personal care products. (Confused? You and us both.) The proliferation of certifications and labels over the past few years has made what was already a sticky quagmire of "who said what" even more unnavigable, with standards like OASIS, Whole Foods’ Premium Body Care, and Sephora’s Naturally Gorgeous either contributing to or muddying up the conversation, depending on whom you ask.

Third-party verification is a wonderful thing, but many of these "internal ratings" are tantamount to saying that your own standards of awesomeness have summarily judged you to be TEH AWESOME. (And Terri Bly at Feelgood Style notes that Sephora is selling a load of crock anyway.) As TerraChoice so eloquently put it, thou shalt not worship false labels.

5. Babies and kids use it, that makes it safe

Think again, kemosabe. Just because a skincare product is geared toward the pint-size, doesn’t mean it’s been tested for safety. With no standards in place to protect them—and despite their increased vulnerability—our children are exposed to some of the muckiest ingredients chemistry hath wrought, including known carcinogens like 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. Even a trusted, supposedly child-friendly institution like Johnson’s, maker of the iconic No More Tears shampoo, regularly hits the highest score on the Environmental Working Group’s hazard scale. Won’t someone think of the children?

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