The Dangers of Greenwashing in the Beauty & Makeup Industry

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The beauty, makeup and cosmetics industry is notorious for its use of harmful chemicals and toxins. The FDA does not require companies to disclose all the ingredients in their products, so it's up to consumers to do some research before they buy.

But even if a product doesn't have any known toxic ingredients, that doesn't mean it's safe for your skin, or that it’s been made in an ethical or environmentally friendly way.

Today we're going over the dangers of greenwashing in the beauty industry and how you can avoid buying into these false claims.

Greenwashing vs. Green Marketing

Greenwashing is a term that describes companies or manufacturers who try to trick consumers into believing they are environmentally friendly when in fact they are not.

Our Greenwashing Guide explains the practice in much more detail.

Green marketing is a vow that businesses have been taking to create sustainable processes within their company and their product.

Not all businesses that are involved in green marketing are actually disinterested in helping the environment, but the strategy to appear green rather than being green can often work in their favor.

Beauty brands exploit green trends, where customers are more conscious of their environmental impact. The problem with the vocabulary they are using is that they’re often empty or baseless claims, and sometimes completely untrue.

Reef Safe or Not? The Murky World of the Beauty Industry

One recent example is that of Banana Boat. The well known sunscreen brand has recently been under fire for falsely advertising its products as “friendly for reefs.”

But the reality is that, although there are genuine reef safe sunscreens available, Banana Boat is not one of them. Allegedly, the contents of Banana Boat’s sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that are known to damage and kill coral reefs.

Banana Boat is a prime example of greenwashing in the beauty industry. A product that was marketed to be better for the environment yet actually does the opposite of what it claims. In this case, it resulted in a class-action lawsuit being filed against the company.

The reality is companies are marketing their products with unregulated descriptions. Companies such as Banana Boat are deceiving their consumers and causing consequences for the health of humans and the environment.

A majority of companies have become increasingly interested in the relationship between eco-friendly marketed products and the consumer. In the act of greenwashing, companies will label products with buzzwords such as “eco-friendly,” or “natural.”

“Natural” is an umbrella term for industries, allowing trace amounts of arsenic, cyanide, and asbestos in makeup and also in skin care products. There are studies connecting these ingredients to diseases based on exposure levels and usage.

Greenprint’s Business of Sustainability survey shows that 77 percent of Americans are worried about the environmental consequences of products they purchase and 75 percent of millennials are willing to spend more for a sustainable product.

There is a community of consumers who care for the environment and are willing to spend a few extra dollars to feel like they’re contributing to a more sustainable planet.

What Does Greenwashing Look Like & How Can I Avoid It?

Greenwashed products have adapted a certain look to embody a “natural” feel for shoppers. To make products feel more organic, imagery such as birds, trees, and flowers are used for the packaging.

This all sounds great for big businesses but without genuine motives and a product to show for it, makeup and skin care consumers are suffering and many don’t even know it.

It’s promising that companies are feeling the societal pressure to make natural products, though they are not all being completely transparent about what’s in their products.

According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration, “[the] law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.” Cosmetic brands mislead consumers mainly because of their labels, and it’s essential to become aware of what these brands are selling you.

Below are a list of unregulated terms that you should be aware of when shopping for cosmetics:

  • Biodegradable
  • Green
  • Eco-friendly
  • Paraben-free
  • All Natural
  • Cruelty-free
  • Non-Toxic
  • Sustainable
  • Organic

None of the words above are regulated by the government, and like the term “natural,” they operate as umbrella terms. This allows businesses to use them freely in the cosmetic industry.

While it seems like they care about the well-being of their consumers, it’s often a part of their marketing campaign. It’s an indication that bigger corporations may not be thinking about your health as much as they think of their financial gains. If consumers are not fully informed, they won’t be able to make an informed decision.

What Chemicals Should I Watch For?

When buying cosmetic products, look at the ingredients online. If you’re not sure about what an ingredient is, you should find out why it’s used in the product and how it could potentially affect you.

To help you feel more confident in your decision, make note of these ingredients:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Talc
  • Parabens
  • Siloxanes
  • Oxybenzone

Formaldehyde exposure is a carcinogen that can cause skin irritation and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat along with increasing the risk of nasal cancer.

Parabens are a group of chemicals that are used to preserve cosmetics. The combination of parabens that are used most are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. The use of parabens have been linked to cases of early puberty in girls, various cancers, and is known to disrupt the endocrine system.

Like parabens, siloxanes are known to cause endocrine disruption as well. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can cause male breast growth, acne development, and cancer.

These chemicals can be found in sunscreen, lip balms, eyelash glue, skin care products, and makeup. Most of these ingredients create long-lasting effects and improve makeup consistency but at the cost of the consumer's health. Each chemical that is added to a product may have a negative impact on your body.

In a store filled with deceiving products, get to know some of these organic beauty brands that make you feel good and are actually good for you:

  • 100% Pure
  • Vapour Beauty
  • Ilia
  • W3ll People

Whether it’s changing your hormones or affecting your respiratory health, opting for a certified clean product would be the best solution.

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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