Supporting conscious cosmetics brands is one of the best things you can do for your health and the planet. It's a journey you embark on for life, constantly learning and improving what you do and buy as a result. As more and more brands jump on the green cosmetics bandwagon however, some of that good intent has diluted.
The truth is, not all 'green cosmetics' are entirely equal. Some brands on the market look like conscious cosmetics, describing themselves as "natural" or "organic", but conceal hidden chemicals. Others lack certification and guarantees, meaning as a consumer it's hard to tell how green your products really are despite natural ingredients. This constant greenwashing makes shopping for conscious products incredibly difficult and can be pretty off-putting. Luckily there are a few things to watch out for to make sure you're getting the real deal every time.
What is 'greenwashing'?
'Greenwashing' describes what happens when some companies spend longer claiming to be green than they do actually implementing conscious change. You've probably seen it before - a popular haircare brand releases a shampoo 'derived from natural ingredients' and goes hell for leather promoting it. The problem is, one partially green cosmetic product doesn't make up for the scores of others the brand produces with no natural components. The phrase 'derived from natural ingredients' also offers no guarantee that the shampoo doesn't contain chemicals too, all in all resulting in some pretty misleading messaging. Selling 'green' as an idea works wonderfully for marketers, but not all that well for consumers or the planet.
How to tell if a product is greenwashed
There are a few easy ways to tell if a green-looking brand is a little less than meets the eye. Some take a bit of digging to find, but once you know what to watch for it'll become second shopping-nature in no time!
Is the advertising misleading in any way?
In New Zealand it's illegal for advertising and packaging to lie outright - remember the Ribena Vitamin C fiasco? However, this doesn't mean product advertising always tells us the full story. Greenwashed products often over-hype their own environmental/health benefits and sometimes conveniently leave out important, ugly truths. Don't be fooled by innocent looking packaging or natural images, search for solid claims backed by fact. If you're still unsure, give the brand a quick Google - if they care about conscious consumerism, the info you need should be readily available.
Does their ingredients list stack up?
Flipping a product over and scanning its ingredients list is probably the quickest, easiest way to uncover what its all about. As a rule of thumb, any ingredient you can't easily pronounce calls for a little more research. Even if 'green' cosmetics contain a few genuinely natural components they're often bulked up with a lot of synthetic fillers. Common chemical ingredients to watch out for are sulphates, phenoxyethanol, toluene, pthalates and synthetic fragrances. We've got a longer list of nasties here to make double sure greenwashed cosmetics never catch you out again.
Can you see any certification?
Conscious cosmetics brands know that caring for the environment and consumer health is something to shout about. If a brand is proudly vegan, eco-friendly or organic they will have some kind of certification that's easy to see. Certified Organic products undergo rigorous examination to prove every point in their supply chain is natural and chemical free. Cruelty-free and Certified Vegan products are similar, proving they harm no animals at all in exchange for certification. Essentially, if a brand is truly 'green' it will shout it out loud and proud with the credentials to prove it - simple as that!
Being a conscious consumer is important, and boycotting greenwashed products is vital for a safer, sustainable world. Keep checkpoints like these in mind when you shop. It's a way to vote with your wallet and influence the kind of green cosmetics you want to see more of.