Brands greenwashing their not natural cosmetics

By Antje Verluen

It’s time to get accustomed with the different ways how greenwashing is done.

After reading about greenwashing in our previous blog post, you might want to see some examples of brands that are guilty of greenwashing their products. You might be shocked. Or not. We’ll share a few examples here, but we’re very curious to know if you’ve come across any greenwashed products yourself? Share them in the comments below this post.

Greenwashed products very likely…

Highlight the only ‘natural’ ingredient (while ignoring a sea of chemicals)

This must be the most practiced way of greenwashing: presenting a product as if it revolves around one ‘natural’ ingredient, while never mentioning the possibly harmful chemicals that one ‘natural’ ingredient drowns in. Apart from that it’s worth noting that even the ‘natural’ ingredient is usually a chemical: the key here is to look for toxic, harmful or questionable chemicals.

Kiehl’s is a brand that’s fond of this method. Their ‘Ultra Facial Cream’ is ‘formulated with nature-powered ingredients: Squalane, Glacial Glycoprotein Extract and Imperata Cylindrica’. These are ‘extracted from remote locations’ that are valuable for skin ‘since these plants survive in harsh locations’. While it’s worth mentioning that most plants can survive in harsh locations, it will definitely not help your skin survive in harsh environments once it’s rubbed with these extracts. From the review on BeautyPedia: ‘It also doesn’t help that these miracle plants are present in such tiny amounts and the jar packaging won’t keep any of the antioxidants stable’.

Furthermore, this specific Kiehl’s jar is packed with potentially harmful chemicals (see full list on their website) and their products are tested on animals.

Rely on their brand name

Founded in 1978, The Body Shop has a great history: they were one of the first companies to successfully take a stand against animal testing and they supported fair trade wherever possible. This history helps The Body Shop in being seen as an established eco-friendly brand. And while their product lines increased awareness about these issues with a large audience, they don’t always do good for their consumers and environments nowadays.

Research has shown that The Body Shop products contains problematic fragrance chemicals and fragrant oils. Their Tea Tree Skin Clearing Lotion for example contains a fragrant ingredient that is known to kill skin cells, besides irritate sensitive skin. Once the synthetic fragrances are exposed to the environment, they can cause long term damage to aquatic wildlife. Another brand relying heavily on their ‘natural’ association while scenting heavily: LUSH cosmetics.

Have great environment friendly packaging

Packaging is important. But it shouldn’t take the spotlight from the product itself. Origins is a great example. Their focus on packaging makes you wish they put some of that energy into mindfully formulating their products. But this is sadly not the case. They did, however, put a lot of thought into the names of their products: ‘Plantscription anti-aging power serum’. Quite clever, until you read an expert review: ‘Plantscription anti-aging power serum ends up having much greater potential to be powerfully irritating rather than being able to make good on it’s claims of lifting and firming skin. The high risk of irritation comes from the numerous fragrant oils, such as lavender, geranium, bergamot and many others. A disappointing concoction.’

I might add: ‘Great eco friendly packaging though.’

Makes irrelevant claims

This has become increasingly more common for companies dying to surf the green wave: phrases as Paraben free on products. As the organic market grows, more non-organic brands want to jump on the bandwagon and show that they’re green and made an effort. They might do that by adding irrelevant claims such as these, while the EU banned the most questionable parabens have been banned from personal care products since 2014.

Confuses ‘natural’ with ‘always good for you’

Take this one for example: Yes to grapefruit correct & repair even tone moisturizer . Not only focuses this product on the grapefruit so they don’t have to mention the downsides (low SPF), grapefruit (and the other citrus extracts that are used) actually irritate the skin. How about that for greenwashing. Not only is the natural ingredient many companies focus on explicitly not-natural (and is therefore reinforced by an added fragrant, creating the illusion of that ‘natural’ ingredient), the benefits are imagined at best, and harmful at worst.

Another example is Garnier’s ‘Miracle anti-fatique night cream’. The night cream is ‘infused with lavender essential oil’, which most people associate with calming effects, quiet time, relaxation. Perfect for a night cream. If lavender essential oil wouldn’t also be a pro-oxident that irritates and damages skin. Components of lavender oil (specifically linalool) can be cytotoxic, which can result in cell death when applied topically. A miracle cream no doubt.  

Heck greenwashed products

As we mentioned, it’s difficult to spot greenwashing in the ill-regulated cosmetics industry. Here are a few tips to recognize and avoid them, so the future can truly be green:



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