Greenwashing: What it is and How to Spot it in the Beauty Industry

Many consumers are trying to be more eco-conscious these days, which includes buying organic beauty products that are good for the environment and good for your skin. We heavily rely on brands to be transparent about what they put in their products so we know if we can trust them.

But what if companies break that trust? Greenwashing, also known as “clean washing” and “green sheen,” is not a new trend but it’s one to be aware of. Read on to learn what it is and how to spot it so you don’t get misled.


What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic used to manipulate eco - conscious consumers giving the impression that a product is clean or eco-friendly to convince them to purchase, even though the product isn't.

A common example of greenwashing in the beauty industry is when a box uses green leaves as part of the packaging design. Even though it’s not necessarily organic or uses green products, its packaging leads consumers to believe it’s eco-friendly or organic.


How Brands Deceptively Use Greenwashing

One of the major pain points in the beauty industry is that its use of ingredients in formulations is heavily unregulated, and brands can make claims or use descriptions that they don’t have to prove. For example, even if only 1% of a product’s ingredient list is “organic” and the rest has parabens, pesticides, and other synthetics, it can still claim it’s organic on the bottle, packaging, or in marketing based on the 1%.

But not all elements of eco-beauty are about ingredients, either. Consumers want to buy products that are responsibly sourced, not tested on animals, and have waste - free packaging. Read on to learn some of the ways brands may use greenwashing deceptively.


One Greenwashed Product Line

Companies can lead you to believe their products are “green” in many ways. One example of this is when large companies, like those found in your average drugstore, often have several skincare products within their brand, but then include an alternative "green", "clean", or "organic" line to cater to those consumers that resonate with this type of product. 

This poses a few problems. By making a separate green line, they’re acknowledging their other products aren’t eco-friendly, yet aren’t changing their formulas. The “green” products are also usually sold at a higher price point than the other skincare, making it more difficult for certain socio-economic levels to access their so-called “sustainable beauty.”


Use of Key Words in Marketing

Another popular greenwashing tool is the use of marketing terms like "organic" or "paraben - free" that may not align with the brand or hold weight to the actual formulation of their products. That's why it's incredibly important to become an informed consumer and do your due diligence when choosing and trusting a brand. Some of these marketing terms may include: 

  • Organic
  • Paraben-free
  • Plant-based
  • Chemical-free
  • Extracts
  • Gentle
  • Green
  • Pure
  • Sensitive
  • Sulfate-free
  • Naturally fragranced
  • Dermatologist recommended

If you do come across these terms, be sure to vet the brand, what they stand for, and what types of ingredients are used in the products to help you make a decision on whether or not the brand is trustworthy. 


Green Packaging

Companies often package their “organic” or "green" products differently than other products. Their packaging often uses lots of green colors, matte finishes, or incorporates plant and flower designs. At a quick glance, this can lead the average consumer to believe these products are organic when they’re not.


Highlighting Key Ingredients

Another common tactic is to highlight certain key ingredients that may be naturally derived or organic, while the rest of the formulation may not be the same quality. 

For instance, a product may state it's "made with" a certain ingredient or "100%" of a certain ingredient. This is another way of highlighting key ingredients without disclosing the quality of the entire formulation. 

Oftentimes, highlighting just one ingredient is also a way to make you believe the product is mostly made of that ingredient. In truth, many times that “organic” ingredient is far down the ingredient list, meaning its percentage in the product is very low.

An alternative to this may involve a brand claiming that their shampoo is “paraben-free” on the bottle, which leads consumers to believe the whole ingredient formulation must be good. Simply stating that a product is "free" of certain ingredients, sometimes doesn't mean that the whole formulation list is high quality. 

Always check the ingredient labels to avoid being greenwashed in this way. Some ingredients to avoid are:

  • PEGs
  • Triclosan
  • Octinoxate
  • Parabens
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Sulfates
  • Phenoxyethanol


Hidden Trade - Offs

Some brands will try to convince you their products are "green" or "clean" by highlighting some eco-friendliness but ignoring the overall environmental impact of the product. In many cases, companies focus on a narrow set of characteristics that mislead the consumer into believing their product is green. But in doing so, they ignore more dangerous concerns.

For example, a company may use bamboo viscose makeup remover pads. They’re softer on the skin and don’t use very much water. The pads are also reusable, so they reduce waste. While that sounds good, producing bamboo viscose requires the use of toxic chemicals, which cause air pollution.


Advertising Tactics

Advertising plays such a prevalent role in marketing that we forget how misleading it can be. Commercials and ads can show people making organic beauty choices, which include using their products. When their products aren’t actually organic or eco-friendly as they say they are, it misleads consumers into thinking they’re purchasing something environmentally safe when it’s not.


Making an Honest Effort to be Green

Despite the greenwashing trend, you can still find companies that back up their clean beauty claims. If you’re committed to using clean or green beauty, it’ll require a little research on your part. But it’s worth it.

One thing you can do is check for the COSMOS certification. The Soil Association works closely with COSMOS to ensure a product is at least 95% organic, ensures production for vulnerable plants, and is cruelty-free. There’s also a separate COSMOS Natural seal, which means the product isn’t organic but is still eco-friendly.

These certifications give a brand and / or product extra support and typically are ran through additional processing and testing to ensure it meets high quality control standards set by the certifying agency. Some brands may label their products with "not tested on animals", "cruelty - free", or "vegan" but if they do not contain the official certification label, double - check the brand to see if there's any additional information about their product formulations and  processes. 

Some legitimate certifying agencies include: 


    Bellavana Beauty Takes Action

    We define clean beauty by these standards:

    • High-quality formulation standards
    • Ethical & moral business practices
    • Serving a higher purpose
    • Ingredient transparency
    • Environmental sustainability

    We are always cruelty-free, make an effort to avoid animal derived ingredients, and are currently on a mission to become Leaping Bunny Certified. We strive to use sustainable, eco - friendly packaging while encouraging our community to rethink, reuse, and recycle their packaging. We stand behind our formulations and brand ethos through prioritizing our three core values: global unity, individual health, and economic sustainability. For more information on our sustainability goals, visit here.


    What You Can Do

    Many brands will use greenwashing to attempt to manipulate you into buying their product. Don’t fall for it. Conduct your own research, and invest in brands you can trust. Overall, the goal should be to purchase fewer products that actually work rather than buying many products. You can shop our clean beauty products here.



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