How many people actually pick up a product based on labels and looks without actually reading the ingredients? To my surprise, many.
As the demand grows for natural or eco-friendly options, “natural” labelling is popping up everywhere. Moisturizer companies are just one sector of the bunch who’ve started greenwashing their products.
What is Greenwashing?
According to Perry Romanowski, president of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and co-founder of The Beauty Brains, greenwashing happens when companies “take a standard product, dress up the packaging, add some drops of extract and change the name to something natural,” he says. “And that still goes on today, albeit in a more sophisticated way (1).”
Perry says that the term “natural” is as natural as the company’s marketing plan wants it to be. When natural beauty trends started catching on in the early 1990s, companies would re-brand their products as “natural” by making it green and putting flowers on the bottle. Did it work? You bet.
A lot of companies also slap the word “organic” onto their labels, even if they don’t have certification. Rose-Marie Swift, founder of cult “green” beauty brand RMS Beauty notes that “since the cosmetic industry is self-regulated, it leaves tons of room for scrupulous business owners to pad their pockets on this trendy, ‘organic’ bandwagon…basically anyone can write the word on their label until they get busted, which could take years. And, only until someone reports it will there be red flags (2).”
The organic certification process is run by the Department of Agriculture, which if you take a quick peek at their website, you’ll notice no information about cosmetics. Why? Because there is no legal division of the USDA for the certification of cosmetics.
Many moisturizer companies (and other beauty brands) also create the illusion of being green by focusing on a specific ingredient like coconut oil, rose water, or some other natural compound. That way, they draw in the consumer, while they remain unaware that their natural ingredient is drowned in a pool of twenty other chemicals.
How To Tell What Products Are Okay To Use?
Whether a brand says organic, natural, eco-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free or biodegradable, the first thing you want to do when checking out a product is look at the ingredient list. Ask yourself what your values are when it comes to chemicals in products – do you care? If so, only choose ingredients you know won’t harm you.
What most people don’t realize is that the products they put on their skin often contain chemicals that have the ability to enter the bloodstream.
This includes ingredients like:
– Formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15
– Diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), monoethanolamine (MEA)
– Diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea
– Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate
– Propylene glycol and PEG’s
– PVP/VA copolymer
And even if you’re okay with the product touching your skin (which, I highly recommend you re-consider), you should ask yourself whether the ingredients in the product you’re using could harm the environment. A lot of the products we use wash down the sink at some point in time and pollute our water – something that affects the entire ecosystem.
8 Moisturizer Companies That Claim To be Natural (But Aren’t)
So with all of the above information in mind, here are some moisturizer companies you should steer clear of if you’re not down with their claims of being “natural.” If you want some awesome moisturizer, put jojoba oil, rose hip seed oil, apricot kernel seed oil and almond oil on your skin – these are natural oils that will moisturize, tighten and tone the skin.
While the tagline for Aveeno is “Active Naturals,” it is far from anything natural at all. If you take a look at the ingredients, you’ll find some very unnatural sounding words. If you take a look at their products, they adorn them with foliage to give the sense of a natural product.
Let’s take Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer for example. They hook in the consumer by using “key ingredients” like feverfew extract. But what people don’t notice is that they also use chemicals like isohexadecane, a synthetic petrochemical, which is suspected of being an environmental toxin by Environment Canada.
The ingredient list goes on to list things like fragrance, parabens, and disodium EDTA, among other hard-to-pronounce chemicals. Not quite so “natural,” right?
The more basic Aveeno daily moisturizing lotion is marketed as a soothing oatmeal blend. Of course, with the active ingredient dimethicone and other ingredients like petrolatum, benzyl alcohol, and isopropyl palmitate.
Dimethicone I advise against, as it creates a plastic-like barrier on the surface of the skin, and prevents the skin from performing its normal activities. Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly, used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin – also classified by the European Union as a carcinogen. Benzyl alcohol has been associated with contact allergies and isopropyl palmitate is known is cause acne, blackheads, whiteheads and clogged pores.
Take home story? Don’t buy Aveeno.
While Aveda’s business practices are more eco-friendly than most, the marketing of their products as “organic” and “pure” is, in fact, not very true. In fact, many of their products contain not very eco-friendly chemicals like parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, artificial fragrance, petrochemicals and other questionable ingredients.
Aveda states that “what you put on your body should be as healthy and natural as what you put in it.” I agree – but Aveda doesn’t follow through with their statements. Are they really being as transparent as they put themselves out to be?
Take the Aveda Control Paste, for example. The ingredients are as follows:
Aqueous (Water\Aqua\Eau) Extracts\Extraits Aqueux:Linum Usitatissimum (Flax Seed) Seed Extract, Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow) Root Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract , Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride , PEG-25 Hydrogenated Castor Oil , Tribehenin , Hydrogenated Castor Oil , Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil , PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides , Glycerin , Cetearyl Alcohol , Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate , Caprylyl Glycol , Hydroxypropyl Guar , Bixa Orellana Seed Extract , Polysorbate 80 , Maltodextrin , Sodium Gluconate , Fragrance (Parfum) , Limonene , Linalool , Geraniol , Citronellol , Eugenol , Amyl Cinnamal , Benzyl Benzoate , Citral , Benzyl Salicylate , Farnesol , Coumarin , Hydroxycitronellal , Sorbic Acid , Potassium Sorbate , Phenoxyethanol , Chlorphenesin , Mica , Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891) , Annatto (CI 75120) <ILN42338>
One look at the ingredients confirms that this product should definitely be avoided at all costs. It contains ingredients that are known allergens, and others that cause endocrine disruption and immunotoxicity.
While JASON claims their products to be made of “all-natural” and “organic” ingredients, their statements couldn’t be more false. I remember using JASON back when I was a teenager, because I assumed that their products were okay to use, and that the ingredient list didn’t matter. While I’ve done stupider things as a teenager, I’m glad I got out of the JASON grind soon enough.
JASON’s Soothing 70% Aloe Vera Hand & Body Lotion contains two certified organic ingredients (aloe leaf juice) and sunflower seed oil. This is among the majority of chemical ingredients like dimethicone (can lead to impurities in the skin by blocking the skin from performing its natural activities), potassium sorbate (preservative), fragrance (lung & skin irritant), limonene (skin irritant) and more.
I’m sorry, but for what JASON stands for, I don’t see how they can willingly place these chemicals in their products. We can do better than this!
Kiehl’s ranks high on the brands people think are most eco-friendly. Their packaging misleads consumers by believing their products are pure, eco-friendly and organic. This is far from true, however, as Kiehl’s creams, serums and other chemical concoctions are full of unnatural ingredients.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, for example, contains phenoxyethanol, a preservative that is a skin irritant and neurotoxin. The next two ingredients are cancer-causing parabens, and then chlorphenesin, a neurotoxin that is restricted in Japan. The product also contains disodium EDTA (a harsh chemical), triethanolamine, which causes organ problems, and sodium hydroxide, which has been shown to destroy healthy cells in just one hour (3).
Kiehl’s is not cruelty-free, either, meaning animals have to suffer so that people can have nice looking hair and soft skin. That’s a no-go in my books.
5. The Body Shop
I remember shopping at the Body Shop all the time, as I was under the impression that their products were natural. This was before I learned the handy tip of turning the product over and actually reading the ingredients. While the Body Shop stands against animal testing and uses Fair Trade ingredients in some of their products, their ingredients aren’t pretty.
Like most big cosmetic companies, the Body Shop’s products (including their moisturizers), contain petrochemicals, synthetic colors, fragrances and preservatives. Of course, these ingredients outweigh the the small percentage of botanically-based ingredients they add to their products. They also irradiate certain products (4) to kill microbes, and irradiation is generated from dangerous, non-renewable uranium, which cannot be disposed of safely.
6. Kiss My Face
Kiss My Face uses the slogan “Obsessively Organic.” But how organic and natural are their products, really? Well, not so much. Their cleansers contain olefin sulfonate (a pure petrochemical) and cocamidopropyl betaine. Their moisturizers contain ingredients like trisodium EDTA (a chelating agent made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanine) and 1,2-hexanediol (and) caprylyl glycol (a preservative that can irritate the skin).
While Kiss My Face is phthalate-free, SLS-free, and cruelty-free, I still wouldn’t trust their products on my skin.
Lush does a great job at greenwashing their products. As Nicole Dunst writes in her greenwashing alert on Lush, “some of the ingredients they consistently use in their products have consistently been advised against by such respectable organizations as the Environmental Working Group and the American Cancer Society (5).”
These ingredients include things like sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol, parfum (aka. fragrance) and cocamide DEA. In fact, their fragrance is so strong, you can literally smell their products down the street if you walk by their shop (seriously, go try it sometime).
Synthetic scents have been linked to things like cancer, rashes, dermatitis, autism, ADHD, migraines, allergies, asthma, sinusitis, and reproductive toxicity. Doesn’t sound so natural, does it?