Don’t be Deceived by the “Greenwashers” in Skin Care

Success will always bring out the imitators.

And, the huge successes enjoyed by innovative skin care lines (mostly indie companies) have caught the attention of the big established brands. They’ve come to realize that a rapidly growing number want natural products in all aspects of their lives.

But consumers also want to buy from companies who are good custodians of the environment and the world. In skin care, indies have naturally adopted conscientious practices as an integral part of their core identity. Their real dedication is hard to replicate by the big brands.

But, the sad truth is, rather than create the kinds of formulations or adopt the business practices that consumers really want – many companies turn to “greenwashing” their non-green products and practices.

Picture of clothing line with three illustrations of words "bio", "green" and "eco" in green

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing ploy that conveys a false impression, misleading information, or unsubstantiated claims to take advantage of the popularity of green values and naturally derived products. Consumers are led to believe a company or their products are environmentally friendly, better for our bodies, or better for the greater world.

The term “green washing” was coined in pop culture during the 1980’s, when there was a popular push towards purchasing natural and organic products. Today greenwashing can also include hyping “green” business practices.

The reason many established companies co-opt green and natural values for their regular product lines is simple. The marketplace (you) places high value on natural, green products made by companies that show they care for more than their bottom line.

But, rather than reformulating, or following the best practices of the products they imitate, established brands add a smidgen of ingredients or highlight processes that just qualify them to claim they are “natural” or “green.”

How do I tell the fake from real green values?

Many companies are jumping on the “green values” bandwagon. But, if you pay attention, some of their deceptive practices become obvious. For example, you may now find the same generic skin lotion that’s been on the shelf for decades repackaged and stamped with graphics that say “made with organic green tea.” You and I both know that it is the same formula with maybe a smidgen of green tea added. Not enough to make a difference to your skin but enough to claim the market advantages of borrowed glory. I have seen many commonly used products in the drug store, newly repackaged in earthy tones with a picture of a leaf, in an attempt to "look green and organic".  

And there are many other misleading terms that may surprise you.

Greenwashing by any other name – would still be deceptive

These four terms are at the heart of the green values movement. But, here are some tips to find sneaky or ambiguous use:

1. Organic

According to the FDA,

“The term ‘organic’ is not defined in either of these laws or the regulations that FDA enforces under their authority.”

Simply put, this means the term “made with organic” must contain 70% organic product or products. The other 30%? They could be non-organic or worse. Petroleum-based ingredients (PEGS), synthetic colors, fragrances or a million other harsh ingredients may fill out the formulation. The worst part? These sit alongside small Indie brands like ours that take the time and investment to source green, organic, and expensive ingredients-that are 90-100% organic. Yet there is no law to call out the companies that try to fool you.

Picture of various chemical free and natural skin care products on top of herbs

2. Chemical Free

Ok...we’re stepping back to your high school science class for this dirty little secret:

Everything, and I repeat, everything, is made from chemicals.

The water we drink is H2O— a chemical. You are made up of many different chemicals. We breathe in chemicals. Nothing, including skin care products, are “chemical free.” But, we hear a lot of fear mongering language on websites that would have us believe that all chemicals are bad.

Instead, of “chemical free” focus on synthetics. The most harmful ingredients are open for interpretation, but include synthetic colors, perfumes, overuse of essential oils, and harsh preservatives.  Synthetic is not always bad. There are even times when synthetic is better, if it is manufactured with good ingredients, and possibly helps impact animals, the environment or other global issues.

3. Preservative-Free

Preservatives are probably the most misunderstood ingredients and so we will go into some detail. The addition of a preservative is necessary to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. The lack of or wrong preservatives can cause serious health concerns. In skin care, harsh preservatives like parabens, formaldehydes and toluene-based ingredients like BHT may produce negative results. Many countries, with stricter regulations than the USA, have outright banned them.

A well constructed preservative system is essential for water-based products (including aloe, hydrosols, juices, or water-soluble extracts). If you don’t see a preservative listed—that’s a red flag. It is important to know that using water-based products not preserved properly –has a risk of serious illness or death.

Products that contain only oil or butters (like shea butter) do not need a preservative. Without water, bacteria cannot survive. Many people love using these anhydrous (without water) products such as one of my favorites— Marula Oil.

However, most of us benefit from using blended products, like face creams. These require the right natural preservatives such as sodium levulinate, or sodium anisate, or acids like caprylhydroxamic acid. I noticed that as I aged, my skin began to need more than just oil. When I hit my 40’s, I added creams and serums because water-based formulas use powerful anti-aging ingredients like peptides for wrinkles and skin firming, probiotics to feed the skin, and vitamins that brighten.  

A preservative system may involve 2-5 different types of ingredients, some addressing bacteria, and others, like potassium sorbate, which protect against mold and yeast.

*A tip for maintaining freshness for any product is to choose airless containers. They keep bacteria out of the product container. Another tip? For regular containers, use clean hands.

4. Cruelty Free

What exactly does this moniker mean? Many companies say that they are cruelty free but you need to pay attention to small details. Cruelty free is not necessarily vegan. And yet, a company can be vegan and not ask for certifications to assure the use of cruelty free ingredients. And another company can be cruelty free but have formulations that contain animal products. Dizzy yet?

If this matters to you (and it matters to us!) look for a stamp of certification. Two of the leading certifications are PETA, and Leaping Bunny. Both do research and certify that a company sources their ingredients from others with the same certification. Ayr Skin Care was vetted by PETA. It was a long process but we are proud to say we are certified cruelty free.  We chose PETA over the Leaping Bunny because they are also vegan, which means no animal by products or ingredients like honey, beeswax or lanolin.

And as a final note, there are also cruel sourcing practices that affect people around the world. Mica, for example, is used by many natural skin care companies for coloring soaps and beauty products. Mica comes from some of the poorest regions in the world and because of the economics are often mined by underage children. True cruelty free sourcing takes cultural and economic realities into account and does not exploit. It’s not a certification yet, but we hope it will be soon.**

**Look for more on this topic coming soon! And, read our blog on why we buy fair trade.

Picture of a lady and a bunny standing on hind legs on a blog about greenwashing in skin care

What you can do to defeat greenwashing!

  • Purchase from companies that are transparent and source with honesty and integrity for their formulations and products – like Ayr Skin Care!
  • Look for certifications. If you see “organic” on the label, look at the list of ingredients. The first are most plentiful, so if the organic ingredient is near the bottom of the list the product contains a very small amount— usually under 1%.
  • Read ingredient lists and look up those not known.
  • Avoid impulse buying or giving in to what might be false hype when shopping. Instead, jot down the product and company name, and do a little digging.

I hope this insight into the beauty world has helped, rather than scare! Knowledge is power. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to ask questions. Continue to follow our blog for more information on safe shopping, information on ingredients, and skin care tips.

Bye for now!

Kirsten xx

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