In recent times, many industries have seen a surge in demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly products and services. The beauty industry is no different. Natural and eco-friendly beauty is no longer a niche market, it has entered the mainstream and looks like it’s here to stay. However, there is one downside to this, and it’s called greenwashing. This is a term used to describe when a company or brand make environmental claims about their company that are unsubstantiated and largely false. This is used in their marketing strategies to cater to the growing market of sustainable and eco-conscious consumers.
Is this legal?
Unfortunately, yes. Greenwashing is allowed to take place because the beauty industry is largely unregulated. Buzzwords such as natural, organic and cruelty-free have no legal definition, which is where things become problematic. It means that these words are open to the interpretation of the brand/company and can be used in their branding/marketing without any evidence needed. Products with as little as 1% of natural ingredients can be marketed as natural because the companies know they will not be held accountable for not substantiating their claims.
This is an issue as consumers are essentially being deceived and lose sight of which brands are authentic. This in turn discredits the work that some brands are putting in in order to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.
How can you avoid it?
First and foremost, you need to do your own research on natural beauty ingredients. Legally, companies must list every single ingredient used to make it, so this is where you can catch them out. Clean and natural beauty products will often have a much shorter list of ingredients. Be wary of chemical names that end in ‘paraben’ and ‘sulphate’, these are heavily used in drugstore products that market themselves as natural, when they are anything but!
Utilise directories that provide lists of brands that are environmentally friendly/ethical, as they basically do the hard work for you! For example, Ethical Elephant is a resource that lists lots of cruelty free and eco-friendly brands and is a great place to start. Resources like this really help consumers to navigate through the hundreds of greenwashing companies out there.
Always look out for certifications. Knowing which ones to look for is a sure-fire way to see which brands are authentic. Some top credited certifications are the Organic Soil Associations certification, COSMOS organic/natural, PETA Beauty Without Bunnies programme and the Leaping Bunny certification. These are but a few examples, resources like Ethical Elephant also offer guidance on which certifications to look out for and examples of inauthentic ones that brands have been using.
And lastly, search for evidence! It’s a good idea to head over to their website and look for evidence that supports their claims. If they are putting in the work with regards to sustainability, they will be flaunting it. If it’s missing, this could be an indicator that they are greenwashing and a sign to potentially avoid until they can provide the evidence.
As you can probably tell, greenwashing is quite an issue in the beauty industry and many other industries alike. Until definitions adopt some legality and the industry becomes regulated, greenwashing will still be present. It is important that consumers become informed of the methods companies are using to greenwash as this is a great way to start actively avoiding it. As well as this, we should be holding brands accountable and demanding much needed transparency from them.