Greenwashing is a practice that is being increasingly used in the cosmetics and body care industry, as we the consumer push for and expect the beauty products we buy to be safe and toxic free.
These consumer demands however seem to be encouraging company’s to use emotive words like “organic” ”natural” and “pure” on their labels without taking into account the actual ingredients of their product.
Basically, greenwashing is a PR industry tool to lead us to believe that the products we are buying are safe to be used on our hair, skin and even in our bodies, when they are quite simply not!
So when the contents are far from “organic” and “natural” are we the consumer being duped into believing that we’re buying safe and non-toxic products, when the reality is far from that truth?
Greenwashing not only threatens consumer health due to the harm that the chemicals contained in some products can do, it equally damages the confidence in and trust for true natural organic products.
On average a woman wears nearly 515 chemicals a day and consumes 4 pounds of lipstick over a lifetime
For example this fact alone is a very good reason to make sure your beauty products do not contain lead!
Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association has highlighted the amount of harmful chemicals found in beauty products labeled as “organic” and “natural”.
The Soil Association has called on the health and beauty companies to use this wording accurately or remove it from their advertising. The association standards state that to use the word “organic” a product should contain 95% organic ingredients excluding water.
Even the Advertising Standards Authority states that for a product to be labeled “organic” the contents should be made up of a high proportion of organic ingredients otherwise it is misleading.
As the regulation for the cosmetic and body care industry is non-existent the result is that wording such as “Natural” ”Pure” and “Hypoallergenic” are used freely and are often unverified, making the word “Natural” meaningless as these products could contain toxic ingredients making them unsafe.
If a food product has “Organic” on the label it means that 95% of the ingredients are organic and 5% of the ingredients are regulated.
The EU laws regarding labeling are strict for food products but there are no EU rules for the strict labeling of beauty or personal care products.
The regulation for the beauty industry uses the industries own private standards, any testing done is by the company, but in most cases it is not the final product that is tested but the individual ingredients and that means nothing when it can be the combination of constituents that lead to an unsafe product.
“The Womans Environmental Network UK” is a group that have been researching and campaigning for legislation for the regulation of the beauty industry and the banning of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
From this has come a pledge, the ‘Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products’ and 175 companies have signed this campaign which means that any company who has signed up will ensure their products will be free of any chemicals that have links to the causes of cancers, birth defects or mutations and will meet EU standards.
Ultimately we the public, are protected by the consumer protection regulations but this does not stop the using of unsafe ingredients!
For starters our bloodstream is contaminated by anything we put on our skin and hair! And the risk for children is much greater as their bodies process everything at a faster rate and as they are still developing the effects of these chemicals can last a lifetime.
Unsafe ingredients contained in skin care products are common in the marketplace, including children’s products and sometimes the labelling can be confusing for the buyer who believes it to be safe.
So as an example when a product is labelled “unscented” this can be misleading as some ingredients have scents, so additional chemicals are added to make them unscented. For sensitive skins these products can cause a bad reaction.
As mentioned above, when cosmetic or body care products are labeled “natural” or “organic” it does not have the same guarantee as with food products, so some skin care products can contain synthetic fragrances, parabens, dyes or preservatives and these ingredients have been linked to skin irritations, cancers and can have neurotoxic effects.
Unfortunately there are companies that knowingly use unsafe and harsh chemicals found in antifreeze, paint, oven and floor cleaner in their beauty and body care products, labelling them as “pure” “natural” or” organic” and greenwashing them to cover the unhealthy ingredients.
Many big cosmetic companies use synthetic ingredients in their colours and fragrance as well as using petrochemicals and preservatives, the amount of botanic ingredients used is tiny but this allows the labeling to include the wording “natural” and “pure”.
There are currently 100,000 synthetic chemicals registered in the US that are being found in everyday cosmetics and less that ten per cent have been tested for human use and their side effects.
Albeit the amounts used in a product can be small but it is the accumulation effect that is a concern, a woman uses on average 12-20 products daily and it can be when the chemicals in these products are mixed, they become unsafe.
Some ingredients used in one type of product can be harmless but when used in another type of product and mixed with other chemicals, negative reactions and side effects can happen.
Disclosure of ingredients by skin care companies is not required and therefore many do not reveal them, so as a consumer you need to know what you are putting on your skin and if it could cause harm.
For example phenoxyethanol contained in a wash off cleanser is not as harmful as when it is used in a toner or serum.
As a cleanser it is washed off, the serum and toner however remain on the skin and is absorbed into the blood stream where damage could be caused over a prolonged period of time.
Petrochemicals like mineral oil, paraffin or petrolatum which are used in face cream emollients or as coal tar for scalp treatment shampoos could be contaminated by impurities that can cause cancer.
So avoid Coal tar and paraffin wax when checking ingredients.
Penetration enhancers like Disodium EDTA help force ingredients into the skin and are contained in most skin care products but they also increase the absorption of other potential harmful chemicals contained in the skin product. These enhancers are hormone disruptors.
It’s important to note that a good moisturizer should not need any penetration enhancers, it should absorb naturally as the body can recognize what it needs and takes it in.
Phthalates – found in artificial fragrances are a hormone disruptor and have been linked to infertility, feminsation of baby boys, sperm damage and birth defects.
Glycerin – make sure it is vegetable glycerin otherwise it could be a petrochemical by-product.
Parabens are used to preserve and used in skin care to prevent bacteria, mold and yeast growth. They can also interfere with estrogen production in the body so are seen as a carcinogenic.
By inhibiting the growth of bacteria in the skin care product, this also kills the natural bacteria on our skin and in the gut allowing the increase of bad bacteria in the body.
Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben and Heptylparaben are also good to look out for as these all belong to the same preservative family.
It was recently reported that the antimicrobial agent Triclosan can also disrupt gut bacteria and this is found in many toothpastes, shampoos and deodorants.
Diethanolamine and Trithanolamine (DEA & TEA) Used as foaming agents and emulsifiers the biggest issue with these are when they mix with Nitrites they form carcinogenic compounds.
Sadly cosmetic companies are not forced to label nitrites so you really have no way of knowing if the product you are buying contains them. This is a good reason to purchase your products from companies you can trust, such as the ones listed in the next section.
Nanoparticles Sold as the next big green revolution they are yet to be tested but it is thought that they can possibly burrow in red blood cells so best to be avoided until properly researched!
Other ingredients to look out for and avoid are…
Lead, Mercury, Placenta (yep, you heard that right!), Sodium lauryl sulphate, Urea and Talc.
These harmful ingredients listed above are also found in nail polish remover, makeup and facial moisturisers.
Do not despair though, there are companies out there not greenwashing and who sell safe skin care, hair products and makeup just make sure that the claim made on the packaging is true and the product is paraben and toxic free.
By refusing to purchase the “greenwashed” products companies who make sell them will have to take a look at their ingredients!
Here’s a list of companies who are not greenwashing….
60% of any of the topical products we put onto our skins is absorbed, the ingredients contained in these products could be harmful to our health as our skin is more of a sponge than a barrier. Thats why you should always look to buy 100% natural soap, shampoo and other products you apply to your skin or body.
The chemicals contained in our beauty products are seen as safe by cosmetic companies and the FDA as the amounts contained in the products are small, but over time what is the build up doing to our bodies?
Best advise is to look in the health shops and on-line for toxin free products.
The beauty industry, including hair-care, makeup, skin care and fragrance sales is worth over three hundred billions pounds a year so sadly that’s three hundred billion reasons for “greenwashing”
Why not try and make your own natural beauty products, that way you’ll know exactly what you are putting on your skin. If you like the sound of that, check out our article ’11 easy to make DIY Beauty Products’ for ideas and recipes.
Or if you are worried by the amount of times you come into contact with nasty chemicals, why not try to make some homemade natural & organic cleaning products from our mammoth article…
And make sure you let us know below about non toxic products and brands you love…..
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