Greenwashing. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem as companies realize consumers are looking for safe, organic products, manufactured and packaged in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. The companies cash in by looking “green” without really changing anything. They present an image of caring about product safety and the environment, while caring only about the bottom line. A company can claim a product is organic with as little as 1% organic ingredients in it. The ugly truth is marketing, public relations and advertisers are jumping on the greenwashing band wagon when it comes to the cosmetics and beauty industry.
Imagine you were a cereal company and used a honey bee in your logo. Everyone is concerned about honey bees and the collapse of so many colonies, so you decide to capitalize on that and create an ad campaign to make it look like you are doing something to benefit the bees, without changing any of the practices your company is involved in that are damaging the bee’s environment. That’s greenwashing.
How do you avoid being “greenwashed” when it comes to health and beauty products? It isn’t easy today, when terms like organic, biodegradable, natural, non-toxic, pure, eco-friendly, fragrance-free and botanical are totally unregulated for use in beauty and personal care products.
Products can claim to be non-toxic, yet not be required to list all the ingredients. Of the 100,000 synthetic chemicals found in everyday cosmetics, less than 10% have been tested for safety. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) has not been amended significantly since it was enacted more than 75 years ago, and provides virtually no power to ensure consumer safety.
Ingredients are not tested for the accumulation effect of consumers using 12-20 products daily, creating the possibility of “synergistic toxicity.” An example of this would be a small dose of mercury might kill 1 in 100 rats, and aluminum might do the same. But if the rats are exposed to both substances, 100% may die. Since skin is more sponge than barrier, and 60% of what is applied to the skin ends up in the bloodstream and possibly stored in organs and fat, way more testing needs to happen.
How to avoid being Greenwashed
- Look for transparency in labeling. There shouldn’t be vague items listed like “fragrance” or “parfum,” or claims of being “free” of a particular ingredient.
- Look for 3rd party certification like USDA Organic or the Soil Association, and beware of seals that just “look” like 3rd party certification. Neal’s Yard Remedies products are certified organic by the Soil Association, the UK’s leading organic certification body.
- Read the list of ingredients. They should indicate whether an ingredient is certified organic, and be listed in order from most to least.
- Check ingredients for toxicity on the Think Dirty App or by going to EWG.org. This bar code scanner for your phone lets you know if a cosmetic or personal care product has potentially toxic ingredients.
- Don’t be mislead by pretty labeling. Visuals and graphics of trees, herbs, bees and flowers are designed to make you think products are safe, organic and environmentally friendly.
If we educate ourselves and vote with our wallets, companies will realize consumers cannot be fooled into buying their “greenwashed” goods.
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