How To Recognize Companies that Greenwash
I am writing this blog in response to the many questions I have been receiving in regards to my blog post Warning: Common Endocrine Disruptors Lurking in Your Skin Care Products and my YouTube video Natural vs. Organic vs. Synthetic posted on my YouTube channel.
How do you know if a product is really natural or organic and safe to use? How to recognize companies that greenwash?
There are a few things you can watch out for when shopping around for personal care products. First, take a look at the packaging. Words such as natural or organic are not regulated by the FDA or Health Canada. Look for organic certification logos such as the USDA or ACO. Second, do not get swayed by pretty packaging or enticing advertising words. Advertising is a million dollar industry. Many companies mislead you with their hype of being green or natural and organic. Be careful of products sold by companies that greenwash. Remember to check the label!
For those of you that watched my YouTube video on Natural vs. Organic. Vs. Synthetic, these words can often be confusing. Some of the most harmful ingredients found in products are naturally occurring. Many ingredients found in nature can be made synthetically in a lab, but that does not make them harmful. The question you need to be asking is the ingredient safe for me to use?
How to Read a Label?
When reading a label, ingredients are always listed from the highest percentage or concentration to the lowest percentage or concentration. This means the ingredients listed at the top of the label have the highest percentage or concentration within the product.
During this blog post, you will be shown 3 different products guilty of greenwashing. I have used all 3 products at some point in my life. The first product can be purchased at Walmart or a drug store. The second product is a very popular brand from a department store. The third product is considered an upscale product or higher end brand that can be purchased online. I will not be disclosing the name of the products or companies as I am not here to bash companies but simply educate you on how to spot companies that greenwash. You have the right to choose what you put on and in your body. Now you will have an idea of what to look for the next time you are out shopping for personal care products.
Product #1 – Common Drug Store Brand Shampoo
Companies that greenwash often use misleading advertising by putting the word natural or naturals or organic on the front of the bottle. This drug store brand shampoo has the word naturals just below the product name with a picture of green leaves giving you the illusion that the shampoo is natural or naturally derived. The shampoo also claims to contain aloe vera and avocado with lower sulfates. There are no certification logos on the packaging.
One of the things I want everyone to take away from this blog is reading labels is extremely important. You do not need a chemistry degree to figure out if a product is natural and organic or guilty of greenwashing.
Product #1 - Label
Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Fragrance (Parfum), Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Sodium Chloride, Polyquaternium-10, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, PPG-9, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.
The majority of the shampoo is water. Most shampoos are 70% water. The second ingredient is sodium laureth sulfate (SLS or SLES). This is very deceiving since the product claims to have lower sulfates. Sulfates are used as a detergent and to make products bubble and foam. They break down your skin's moisture barrier, leading to dry skin and premature aging. Sodium Lauryl or Laureth Sulfate is used in engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soap. It is often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1, 4-dioxane (carcinogens). Sulfates can harm your nervous system, contain corrosive properties, cause long-term permeation of the body’s tissues, and be a developmental toxicant. They are bad for the environment often polluting groundwater.
The next several ingredients (cocamidopropyl betaine, lauryl glucoside, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, and sodium lauroamphoacetate) listed on the label are synthetic petrochemical toxic surfactants which are often contaminated with 1, 4-dioxane. This makes these ingredients ethoxylated ingredients (contaminants linked to cancer).
The word fragrance (parfum) listed on a label represents a complex mixture of dozens to hundreds of chemicals and petroleum-based substances. Many of the ingredients have never been tested for toxicity and are not required by the FDA or Health Canada to be disclosed to the consumer. These substances can cause migraines, asthma, allergies, skin irritation, and immune system toxicants.
Almost half way down the label we finally see the aloe vera extract and avocado oil which represent about 2% of the entire product. These are the only natural ingredients found in the shampoo.
Polyquaternium-10 is a quaternary ammonium compound which is a known irritant, endocrine disruptor, and toxic to aquatic life.
Tetrasodim EDTA is a chelating agent made from formaldehyde (known carcinogen) and sodium cyanide (made from the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide). Chelating agents bind with metals to make lotions more stable and soaps lather better without the interference of metal ions. This ingredient is also a penetration enhancer. It breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, making it easier for other potentially harmful ingredients in the formula to sink deeper into your tissues and perhaps even into your bloodstream.
DMDM Hydantoin is a formaldehyde donating preservative (cancer causing). PPG-9 (polypropylene glycol) is a quaternary ammonium salt. There is insufficient data available to support the safety of this ingredient.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) are used in combination (in a dilute form) as a biocide to deter the growth of bacteria and other organisms. In concentrated form, the chemical is so strong that it can burn human tissue. Some studies conclude they are toxic, but are not officially classified as known or probable carcinogens.
Two recent laboratory studies on rat brain cells found that MIT is highly toxic to cultured neurons. The scientists disclosed these toxic effects have not been reported previously. The consequences of chronic human exposure to MIT need to be evaluated due to its widespread use.
This is the one of the worst kinds of greenwashing!!! There is nothing natural about this product except the 2% containing the aloe vera extract and avocado oil.
Product #2 – Department Store Brand Facial Lotion
This parent company owns several popular brands. My mom used this product for over a decade and claimed every time she would wash her face the product would leave an oily coating in the sink. You will see why in a minute.
Companies that greenwash often make their natural/organic and/or safe to use and/or green claims on their website vs. on the packaging. This parent company states on their website this brand delivers superior beauty performance, safely and sustainably. The products combine creativity, innovation and science with high-quality ingredients.
Product #2 - Label
Water, Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Oil, Urea, Lanolin Alcohol, Triethanolamine, Hordeum Vulgare (Barley) Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seedcake, Propylene Glycol Dicaprate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Trisodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 33.
Mineral oil and petrolatum are petroleum-based ingredients. They are used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin. These ingredients can clog pores and create a build-up of toxins. They are known carcinogens, endocrine disrupters & skin irritators.
This parent company/brand is not vegan. This means the glycerin listed on the label is mostly likely animal glycerin which is an animal by-product. Have you ever heard of rendering plants? Slaughtered animals, euthanized pets and roadkill are dumped into giant grinders at rendering plants. This gruesome mix is ground and steam-cooked, the lighter, fatty material floating to the top gets refined for use in products such as cosmetics, lubricants, soaps, candles and waxes. Who knows where these animals have been and if they were carrying a disease?
Propylene glycol is a common cosmetic moisturizer and carrier for fragrance oils. It has been linked to kidney and liver problems, dermatitis, damages cell membranes and skin irritator. Propylene glycol is found in antifreeze, brake fluid, paint, and airplane de-icer.
Butylene Glycol is another petroleum by-product. Tetrasodium EDTA is a chelating agent that is made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide.
Phenoxyethanol is a toxic preservative. It is made from carcinogenic benzene and ethylene oxide, and has been linked as a reproductive toxin and allergen.
Yellow 6, yellow 5 and red 33 are coal tar dyes. These dyes are a mixture of many chemicals derived from petroleum. They are recognized as a human carcinogen (cancer causing). These dyes can be contaminated with low levels of heavy metals.
The only thing natural, safe and sustainable about this facial lotion are the few botanicals they put in the product which make up less than 5% of the lotion. I certainly would not consider their ingredients ‘high-quality.’
Product #3 – High End Skin Care Product
This is another example of companies that greenwash on their website vs. on the packaging. This company claims to be green and states the products are safe and pure, earth friendly, and naturally inspired. They use beneficial botanical ingredients from nature with the principles of green chemistry.
Product #3 - Label
Aqua/Water/Eau, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Polysorbate 40, Polyacrylate-13, Butylene Glycol, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Extract, Fagus Sylvatica Bud Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Lavandula Stoechas Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Leaf Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Hypericum Perforatum Extract, Nasturtium Officinale Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, Trifolium Pratense (Clover) Flower Extract, Betula Alba Leaf Extract, Laminaria Digitata Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Hippophae Rhamnoides Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinyl Palmitate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Thioctic Acid, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Glycerin, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Sodium Hydroxide, Dimethiconol, Carbomer, Polyisobutene, Polysorbate 20, Polyamino Sugar Condensate, Urea, Panthenol, Lecithin, Salicylic Acid, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Sodium Pca, Stearamine, Silica, Tetrasodium Edta, Lactic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Limonene, Iron Oxides (Ci 77491), Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891).
The top ingredients on the label besides water are cyclopentasiloxane, polymethyl methacrylate, acrylates/dimethicone copolymer, and polyacrylate-13 which are silicone derivatives. These ingredients have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, organ system toxicants and eco-toxic. These ingredients do not biodegrade.
Siloxanes are extremely harmful to the environment. They are toxic, persistent and have potential to bioaccumulate. This means that with every application some of this silicone-based compound stays within your body/organs.
Butylene Glycol is another petroleum by-product.
Dimethiconol is another silicone derivative. Manufacturers may think that it is a benefit to have a thin, rubber-like cover over your face all day. This does not sound healthy to me. What do you think?
Polyisobutene is a petroleum ingredient. Polysorbate 20 is an ethoxylated ingredient (linked to cancer). Tetrasodium EDTA is a chelating agent that is made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. Phenoxyethanol is a toxic preservative made from carcinogenic benzene and ethylene oxide. It is considered a reproductive toxin and allergen.
There may be 15 botanical extracts in the product but they comprise less than 10% of the entire product. The majority of the product is water, silicone derivatives and petroleum.
The Problem with Synthetic Polymers in Personal Care Products
Synthetic polymers are man-made polymers. They are typically derived from petroleum oil and more commonly known as plastic. Other examples of synthetic polymers are nylon, polyester, Teflon and epoxy. These polymers are usually not biodegradable and can last for hundreds of years in the environment.
Companies use synthetic polymers and petroleum-based ingredients because they have a number of uses and are cheap.
In 2008, researchers published a study showing that synthetic polymers are a very common and persistent pollutant in marine environments. Plastics are known to absorb pollutants creating unknown human health hazards. They accumulate in our landfills and natural habitats. Our current usage of plastics is not sustainable.
Product/company #3 is the worst of the three companies that greenwash. They may not have made any green claims on their packaging but they spend several pages on their website stating their products are safe, nontoxic and eco-friendly. The products are considered high end so consumers pay more for products that are unsafe, toxic and certainly not eco-friendly.
What does a natural and organic product label look like?
A Natural Organic Skin Care Product
The natural organic product label listed below falls into the same skin care category as product #3. This product has the USDA and ACO certification logos on the packaging.
Natural Organic Product Label
Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Organic Rosa Rubiginosa (Rosehip) Seed Oil, Organic Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Fruit Oil, Organic Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Organic Citrus Limonum (Lemon) Essential Oil, Organic Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Essential Oil, Daucus Carota (Carrot) CO2 Extract, Organic Rosa Damascena (Rose) Essential Oil, Organic Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Organic Calendula Officinalis (Marigold) Flower CO2 Extract. Geraniol, citonellol, limonene and citral are naturally occurring components of the organic essential oils in this product.
There is nothing synthetic about the ingredients listed on the above label. 100% natural and organic ingredients are used in this product. Rule of thumb: if the first 5 ingredients listed sound like a science experiment and hard to pronounce then the product is probably not living up to its claims.
Stop falling for products from companies that greenwash. Start purchasing products that have the USDA organic and ACO certification logos on their packaging. It does not matter if the product is considered high end, costs more, and/or has enticing advertising and packaging, toxic chemicals can be found everywhere. Read the labels!!
Now you know some common ingredients to watch out for the next time you are out shopping for personal care products.
The average woman uses approximately 120 ingredients a day. Even if these ingredients are below the threshold limit or considered safe by the FDA or Health Canada, if you are using 15 products that contain the same toxic ingredient, how much are you absorbing into your skin? Is it still considered below the threshold limit? Probably not!! If the ingredient is bioaccumulative, what are the long-term health effects? Remember what happened with bisphenol A (BPA). There are several studies now confirming the long-term effects of exposure to BPA.
What happens when you take a shower or wash your face? Where do these ingredients end up? What are the unknown human health hazards? Environmental hazards?
There are safer alternatives on the market. So the next time you are out shopping for personal care products, be aware of products sold by companies that greenwash.
Want to receive FREE certified organic skin care products that do not contain any harmful chemicals or common endocrine disruptors or hormone mimickers? Contact me today!
How to Recognize Companies that Greenwash - Examples Greenwashing
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