What is ‘Greenwashing’?

As far back as 2008, the term ‘Greenwashing’ was recognised as a less-than-honest marketing tool, to convince consumers to buy into an idea, or products. With more consumers wanting to be eco-friendly, greenwashing has become a marketing ploy, particularly in the cosmetic and skincare industry. So, how do we identify greenwashing, and avoid being misled when buy cosmetics or skincare?

Greenwashing in skincare. Pretty images can be misleading

In 2008, Hoffman and Hoffman published a book called Green: Your Place in the New Energy Revolution.  In this book, they explore issues surrounding our ideas about renewable energy, and how they can be manipulated:

“Greenwashing is what happens when a hopeful public eager to behave responsibly about the environment is presented with “evidence” that makes an industry… seem friendly to the environment when, in fact, the industry… is not as wholly amicable as it…might be 4.”    

We are now even more concerned about our stewardship of the environment, and the health of our own, and our family’s health. Therefore, many of us are taking action to minimise any harmful effects arising from our modern living habits. So, we want to know how our food is grown (or raised), and how we can minimise waste. Importantly, we also want to know how to make appropriate choices when we shop.

It makes sense that we extend this concern to what we put on our skin, the largest organ of our body. Because of this, our concern is the extent of greenwashing in skincare products, especially those marketed as organic, when clearly, they are not!

According the Soil Association, “Greenwashing is rife in the health and beauty industry5.” 

The Soil Association recognises increasing concern about how we are being misled by the labelling of cosmetic and skincare products. So, they took action to work with an independent researcher, exploring the extent of greenwashing in the industry. They decided to investigate the ingredients used in a sample of health, and beauty products, that claimed to be organic, but were not independently certified.

To do this, they need a measure so comparisons can be made. The international Cosmetic Organic Standard (COSMOS)6  is the gold standard for organic cosmetics and skincare. By using COSMOS as the benchmark, the researchers can identify ingredients that are not permitted in a certified organic product. In addition, they can check if the products contains any of the “Terrible Ten” ingredients, because they are considered to be potentially most harmful to human health, and the environment.

Setting the scene with pink roses evokes the idea of a natural and organic product.. This could indicate greenwashing in skincare.

The “Terrible Ten”

As part of the Soil Association Campaign for Clarity – Come Clean About Beauty, findings from the report are published on their website. Furthermore,  there is a ‘name and shame’ list of products that contain any ingredients that are not permitted in a certified organic product. They also include those that contain any of the “Terrible Ten” ingredients5. These can be found below:

1. Ethyl hexylsalicylate
2. Homosalate
3. Imidazolidinyl urea
4. Octinoxate
5. Octocrylene
6. PEGs: PEG-7; PEG-12; PEG-40; PEG-200
7. Polyquaternium 7
8. Polysorbate 20
9. Red 17 artificial colour 26100
10. Retinyl palmitate

So, next time you are shopping for organic cosmetics or skincare, take a look at the ingredients. Above all, make your own mind up about what you are happy to accept in your skincare products. In this way, you can become a savvy consumer, and vote with your purse!

You can be assured that none of our products at Purely Skincare contain any of the ‘Terrible Ten’ ingredients, nor any ingredients that are not permitted under the stringent COSMOS standards.

Using attractive flowers with salts may indicate greenwashing in skincare.

As part of this campaign, the Soil Association carried out an independent consumer study and found that there is:

“…..a direct link between what is on the pack and what people say they think about a product. It is clear from the results of this survey that the use of the word organic on the label has a positive effect on what people think about the whole of the product – with most consumers saying they would assume an organic product was sustainably made and that they were doing the right thing for the environment by choosing it.”

This shows that we are strongly influenced by the information on the label, and can easily be misled by the claims. Unfortunately, there are currently no legal standards to which cosmetics, and skincare products must adhere to. This means that any manufacturer can use the terms ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ on the label. So, even if the product actually contains little organic or natural ingredients, they are not currently breaking any laws.

We promise that all our organic ingredients are certified by the Soil Association (COSMOS). Furthermore, we promise that our natural ingredients are truly natural, and are certified where they can be.

Follow the campaign on twitter #campaign4clarity