With clean beauty entering the cultural zeitgeist more and more, many of us are becoming more mindful about the ways we shop. It’s no secret that consumers—especially Millennials and Gen Z’ers—are willing to pay more for products that are marketed as ethical or sustainable. Companies know this, and sometimes take extra steps to show how purportedly eco-friendly and “clean” their products and practices are—but how do we know that these companies are truly trustworthy?
When companies are misleading about their so-called green practices, it’s called “greenwashing”—and it’s ugly business. In recent years, it's come to light that companies we’ve believed were doing good things for the planet have come under scrutiny, shaking eco-minded consumers to the core.
For example, last year Amazon was involved in a $1.5 million dollar settlement for unlawfully marketing plastic products as “biodegradable” and “compostable.” Though this was a particularly egregious example, other instances of greenwashing that are more commonplace are also much more subtle, which is why consumers need to pay extra close attention to the ways beauty products are marketed. Here are four things to watch out for to avoid being greenwashed.
1. Be aware of “natural” labels
The word “natural” is by far the worst offender when it comes to greenwashing. This pesky term pops up just about everywhere, making shoppers think that what they’re buying is free from harmful ingredients. Sure, “natural” products sound like they’re right up our alley! The word makes a product sound safe to put on our bodies while also being good for the planet. But the truth is that anyone can tack the word onto their product packaging, regardless of what ingredients are inside. This is perfectly legal in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no oversight over beauty products, giving marketers free rein to interpret “natural” however they want. If you care about what ingredients might be lurking in your beauty products, your best bet is to ignore this word altogether and check the full ingredients list for additives that you’re not comfortable with or that are unsafe.
2. Look a little deeper into organic claims
Just like “natural,” the term “organic” printed on skincare or cosmetics is also unregulated and is basically meaningless. A corporation can put this word on its packaging or in advertisements even if just one minuscule ingredient in the product is organic. An exception to this is when the product is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Certified products are allowed to have the “USDA Organic” logo on them, meaning that nearly all of the ingredients in the product truly were grown and processed without pesticides, GMOs, synthetic preservatives, or radiation. At Kinder Beauty, we’re proud to have included products with this certification in some of our subscription boxes.
3. Question rustic package design and nature images on your products
As if phony terminology wasn’t misleading enough, many companies want so desperately to appeal to environmentally conscious Kinder beauties like yourselves that they’ll do their best to make their products appear sustainable through clever package design. Some of the brands notorious for greenwashing like to use beige and green colors for their packaging and show images of nature in their advertising, even though most of their ingredients are far from being natural. Some companies even use textured packaging materials to give their product a more earthy feel—all to dupe customers into thinking they’re sustainable. (They didn’t really think we’d fall for that, did they?)
4. Be informed about animal testing claims and what they mean
We can't talk about greenwashing without mentioning animal testing. Some corporations choose to sell in China, where animal testing is required by law. These companies are participating in animal testing, but they get away with calling their products “cruelty-free” because, much like the “natural” and “organic” labels mentioned earlier, there’s no legal regulation surrounding the term; brands can use it whether or not they test on animals. Even when asked directly, these companies will still claim they don’t test on animals by using loopholes and strategic language. Sure, the corporation’s employees aren’t testing their ingredients on animals themselves, but they’re still paying for someone else to do these cruel tests for them in a lab! The only way to know whether a company is truly cruelty-free is by searching a trusted database like Beauty Without Bunnies, Leaping Bunny, or Cruelty-Free Kitty. You can also buy from any brand that Kinder Beauty has partnered with and know that no animals were harmed in cruel tests.
Whether you’re concerned about the ingredients in your beauty products or not, greenwashing is always wrong because it’s dishonest. Companies should never profit from consumers’ desire to be healthier and kinder to animals and the planet. At Kinder Beauty, we take extra steps to ensure all of the products we include in our boxes are 100-percent cruelty-free, vegan, and from trustworthy brands. We also refuse to accept any products that contain ingredients that we feel are unsafe. If you’re interested in clean beauty and want to try out new makeup and skincare products, choose a plan now! Our boxes also make a perfect gift.
Kim Johnson is a writer and social media strategist with 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector working for animal protection organizations.