Many of us, place an implicit assumption of what’s written on the label and those buzzwords mean something. This isn’t always the case. Greenwashing is when a brand or company makes efforts claiming to be “green” and “natural” through advertising and marketing – like TV ads and packaging – rather than actually implementing practices that minimize environmental impact or have better ingredients for you.
The most common greenwashing buzzwords we see are:
- Parabens free. Parabens is a hotly debated topic and the jury is out, to whether it causes cancer or not. With the media attention & negative public perception, brands have been scrambling to remove parabens from their formulations. Great right!? Well usually not, preservatives are necessary (you can read more here) so it gets replaced with other preservatives that can be much, much worse for you such as isothiazolinones, formaldehyde releasers(link to formaldehyde article) & phenoxyethanol.
- Natural. You can’t plant a tree in the wild and grow a tube of facewash on a branch. All ingredients have to be processed in some way and because of that, there is no legal definition of what ‘natural’ really is. The concept of a natural product is a subjective one based on the brand’s philosophy on what is natural & is as natural as the company’s marketing plan wants it to be.
- Organic. We often confuse organic skincare products into thinking it’s full of beneficial ingredients, which is super better for the environment & free from “chemicals”. Unless it is certified by a reputable 3rd party such as The Soil Association or COSMOS, that bottle of super expensive skincare you are holding could contain only a small amount of actual organic ingredients!
Even when the iconic organic icon is earned, we believe that it has no “chemicals” in it. It doesn’t, while many synthetic fertilizers & pesticides are avoided, plenty of synthetic compounds are approved for use on organic produce, including copper compounds, hydrogen peroxide, ethylene, soaps, and pyrethrins. And while many associate organic with more sustainable agricultural practices, organic crops often require more land and resources to produce—enough to make switching the world to organic agriculture pretty much unfeasible.
- Made with × ingredient. Argan Oil, Coffee Seed Extract, Vitamin E, Shea butter…. There are thousands of beneficial natural ingredients available to skincare manufacturers, with each individual ingredient containing dozens, if not hundreds of valuable compounds such as phytochemicals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, polyphenols and much more. Each one of those compounds can have a dramatic effect on your skin, whether it could be preventing skin cancer, reducing spots, smoothing your complexion, preventing skin irritation to even removing wrinkles.
These effects haven’t gone unnoticed.As consumers we want more of these beneficial natural ingredients in our skincare but very often, only a few drops of an extract or botanical ingredient is added in, with the bulk of the formulation – the first 4-6 ingredients, made up of fillers & inert ingredients.
All whilst it’s the ‘hero’ ingredient that is advertised, even though it won’t actually have any effect, because even if it does have benefits, it’s not used at efficacious levels. (you can read more here on how to read ingredient labels). It just lets the brands tell you a fake story.
- Recyclable / Biodegradable / Bioplastics. Plastics are a huge concern for the environment, as we have explained in our article here. At the same time, plastic is a highly versatile material, used in anything, from spaceships to skincare. With the growing concern of the role plastic is playing in the harm of various ecosystems in the world, there is a growing pressure to create more sustainable packaging.
Whilst there may be a recycling logo, due to the various processes in recycling plastics, mixed plastics, those denoted with a “7”, are not collected from households for recycling due to its inability to be recycled. Unlike our skincare range which is conveniently packaged in fully recyclable packaging, quite a lot of the skincare packaging can not be recycled.
Bioplastics or plastics made from renewable resources such as sugar cane, corn and maize are thought as a way forward. Actions that seem to help the planet in obvious ways have major drawbacks and unfortunately, environmental issues are never quite so simple. Growing crops to make bioplastics comes with the usual environmental impacts of intensive agriculture, including greenhouse emissions from the petroleum needed to fuel farm machinery, and water pollution caused by runoff from land where fertilizers are used in industrial quantities. In some cases, these indirect impacts from “growing” bioplastics are greater than if we simply made plastics from petroleum in the first place. Not to mention land that could be used to grow food for the world is being used to “grow plastic” instead.
Biodegradable plastics are the answer…right? Errm no. There is a world of difference between biodegradable and compostable. Biodegradable plastics do not readily degrade in anaerobic conditions, such as those found in landfills whilst at the same time can have issues with being recycled. A bit of a double whammy there!
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