Beware of Greenwashing: Natural Beauty Products Flooding the Market

natural products

A study released by Mintel last week showed that the number of beauty products labeled ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are at an all-time high, up 23% from 2007.  This is great news for anyone who’s been frustrated in the past by the lack of ethical, healthy, natural options.  While there are several reliable brands that have been around for years – like Burt’s Bees and Kiss My Face – there are those occasions when you find that you just don’t like the scent, texture or color of a product and wish you had more to choose from.

Unfortunately, I’ve definitely noticed a huge increase in the number of products labeled or marketed as ‘natural’, that have long lists of ingredients including things like irritants, synthetic fragrance, animal-based substances and even carcinogens.  That’s bound to be a downside to the boom in natural cosmetics and personal care products, so we’ve got to be on the lookout for companies who don’t give a second thought to greenwashing their products so they can make a buck off the natural/organic market.

At least some companies are being honest and backing up their claims, though. From Brandweek:

“What we saw a lot of in 2007 was products that said ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ but when you turned it over, you couldn’t pronounce any of the ingredients . . . Now there is a level of natural, organic and ethical philosophies behind these products,” said Mintel senior beauty analyst Taya Tomasello. She added that manufacturers try to convey these philosophies through either environment-friendly packaging or organic certifications on product labels.

Consumers are wising up to greenwashing, luckily, and in the future getting away with false claims won’t be nearly as easy as it has been in the past. Some companies, like The Body Shop, are making big commitments that other brands will have to compete against, like making 80% of its products preservative-free by 2010 and using 100% recycled PET bottles by the end of this year.

All in all it’s a good time for anyone who cares about what’s in the products we put in and on our bodies, where they came from and who made them. Companies are slowly realizing that they won’t be able to get away with poisoning us and the environment much longer.

Check what’s in your fave products at super-searchable Cosmetics Safety Database
Find truly natural products at these awesome natural beauty supply stores: Beautorium, FutureNatural, and Kaia House.

About Stephanie Rogers
Stephanie Rogers is a fashion- and beauty-obsessed freelance writer with an abiding love for kale and organic wine, living in Asheville, North Carolina.


  1. Hi. Thanks so much for the post. It is getting to be so hard to tell the good from the bad. I love the Cosmetics Safety Database…it is so helpful…living in Australia al ot of products are not listed there but I just type in the key ingredients and can get a sense of whether it is the good stuff or not. The website Gorgeously Green has a cheat sheet you can download with a list of the worst offending ingredients you can take shopping with you.
    Will check out those websites.

  2. When I first switched over to natural/organic/healthy products, I bought a few “kiss my face” products because I heard it was a reliable brand that does not include questionable ingredients. However, I was shocked to find parabens in the products I bought (moisture shave, body wash)!

    It is hard enough to deal with green washing, but how does an allegedly well respected brand get away with this?

  3. Alba uses parabens, too. I knew kiss my face used them also, although I am not sure if they are re-working their formulas.I have heard there is some debate about parabens now, although from what I had always heard they were not good. I try to avoid big commercial brands, generally.

  4. Unfortunately it’s true that you can’t even necessarily trust that brands that have some truly safe, natural products will ensure that every product they release is also safe and natural. Always check the ingredients before buying!

  5. You also need to beware of rebranding. Recently the high fructose corn syrup folks managed to convince the FDA to approve their chemical soup as just sugar, so now where it once read high fructose corn syrup, like on SoBe drinks, it just reads sugar. So make sure it reads cane sugar. It’s just big powerful food megacorps buying law makers.

  6. Good point, RemyC. I’m going to look further into that.

  7. Really?? Shocking. If you have any more info on this, please post!

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  13. Hi, I just wanted to mention Aveda – the products have been in recyclable PET bottles for years and years. the ingredients are sustainably sourced with partnerships with different indigenous groups around the world. the products are also 100% wind-power made in the USA! the products have always been between 95 -98% organic, also – but don’t label them as such because of greenwashing from other companies. the makeup is all natural with no carbine etc and just about all the products are vegan/animal free and they have never conducted animal testing.

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  15. I have definitely noticed the greenwashing over the past few years. All of a sudden every brand has got an eco line or a product with natural or organic in the name. What I have seen recently are ingredients with chemical sounding names that have asterisks that denote that they are naturally derived.

  16. Thanks for this post. I think having an awareness of greenwashing is the first step. Before I started paying closer attention, I was probably suckered by so many false claims. I found a great article on decoding and understanding greenwashing. I suggest you check it out, too.

  17. I wanted to comment about Aveda….Just today I made the mistake of purchasing makeup from there because Eco Chick said it was good for our skin and I assumed free of carcinogens and such. When I got home I realized the concealer and foundation I bought has parabens in them! I am extremely disappointed and frustrated….

  18. I know, it’s really difficult to sort through all the poser brands, and as several people pointed out, the “trusted” brands who include things like parabens and petroleum-derived substances in some of their products. When in doubt about ingredients, I turn to Whole Foods’ Standard of Premium Body Care Products. It’s a good alphabetical listing of substances that are suspected to be carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, or otherwise bad for your health. Also, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a list of companies who have pledged not to use harmful substances in their products.

  19. Unfortunately, even the mainstream “green brands” such as Kiss My Face, Aveda, Burt’s Bees, and others still contain ingredients that are not considered safe in personal care products. Read the labels! Parabens, synthetic fragrance (which can include phthalates and dioxins) and other ingredients are routinely found in these trusted brands. Even Tom’s of Maine’s toothpastes contain sodium laurel sulfate, which has been shown to cause microscopic damage to gum tissue and increase the incidence of mouth ulcers and gum disease.

    There is an incredible amount of deceptive advertising out there, perpetuated by the cosmetics industry. Companies claim their products are “green”, “natural”, and even “organic”, despite the fact that they include toxic chemicals in their formulations. You can’t rely on shopping in Whole Foods as a guide to safe products either, as most of their personal care products contain potentially harmful chemical ingredients as well.

    My recommendation is to check every product against the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. This is the only way to ensure product safety. There are also some reputable web retailers that screen their products for safety as well.

    There are also so many “dud” products in the natural personal care product market. For example, I have tried just about every natural deodorant and shampoo available, in the search for one that is effective. You find products that are smelly, unpleasant, goopy, or just plain ineffective. How do you find the ones that work?

    Check out a fantastic resource, a website called Hibiscus Naturals. They screen their products through the Cosmetic Safety Database, and test each product for usability and effectiveness. They carry products from environmentally responsible companies that are committed to product safety. They may be brand names or products you haven’t heard of–yet. They are sure to become more popular as the public becomes more savvy about the “greenwashing” in mainstream personal care products.

  20. I agree with Cindee.

    Unfortunately it’s our responsibility to check the ingredients, because companies are allowed to say their product is natural/organic when it’s not.

    In the US there is no law about it, so basically they say and do whatever they want, because there is no consequence.

    So this Kiss my “Ass” and other brands are just trying to mislead us with their claims.

    If you want to buy a product, just do a research about its ingredients, or look for the logos (like USD certified organics, etc).

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