There are so many ways you can get “healthwashed” and “greenwashed” in today’s society. I found this great article on Greenwala.ca and thought I would share it with you. These tips apply to cosmetics and hygiene products; cleaning products and food products.
When you know a few simple tools – they can take you a long ways…
During this recession one of the few industries that have continued to do well is the organic and natural product industry. More and more companies are trying to cash in on this success by marketing their product as natural and/or organic. Unfortunately, most of these claims don’t hold up. It is marketing hype and outright manipulation.
So, as a consumer, how do you know if a company’s claims are valid or if they are greenwashing? Greenwashing isn’t about whether a product is “green enough.” It’s about making environmental or health claims that don’t hold up, trying to make a product appear to be more environmentally responsible or healthier than it really is. It’s about ethics.
To help you decipher claims in your personal care products, here are a few things to look for that can help determine if a product is greenwashing or not:
1. Organic claims without certification – one of the biggest areas of greenwashing is making organic claims without being certified. If there is no certification you have no way of knowing if they are really doing what they say they are doing or if the ingredients really are organic. There are also a lot of companies that add a few organic ingredients to a bunch of chemicals, slapping the word “organic” on their label and hoping consumers won’t notice. TheOrganic Consumers Association has a boycott of “fake” organic brands and a “buy-cott” of ethical organic brands.
2. “Aqueous infusion of” – You’ll see this when the company has added a few drops of essential oil or botanical extracts to water, essentially making a tea. This is done to bump up the percentage of organic ingredients and hide more dangerous ingredients lower in the ingredient list. By law ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight with the first 5 ingredients generally accounting for 95% of the product. Adding botanicals to water and counting it as one ingredient isn’t allowed in true, certified organic products as water is not calculated in the organic calculation. You’ll often see this on products that say 70% organic (or other percentage) without a certification. It’s an artificial inflation or the organic content and is intentionally misleading. They are trying to push the synthetic chemicals down to the bottom of the list so it seems like there is less of it or so you will miss it all together. This tactic is a big red flag that the company is intentionally misleading consumers into thinking their product is safer & more natural than it really is.
3. “Derived From” a natural substance – This is a big one. Companies try to tell you that because the ingredient was derived from a natural substance, it is safe and/or natural. Unfortunately, this often isn’t true. It isn’t the source of the ingredient that determines an ingredient’s safey, it’s the chemical process it goes through. Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate derived from coconut is no more safe than when it’s derived from petroleum. The only claim they can accurately make is that it comes from a renewable resource. However, the process it goes through to create SLS still results in an unsafe ingredient. Another way companies make this claim is by listing the synthetic chemical then putting (coconut)…or whatever the source is…behind it. Don’t fall for it.
4. “Chemical Free” – This is not technically greenwashing, but still something to be aware of. It is technically impossible to be chemical free. Everything is a chemical, even water. More accurate terms would be “free of synthetic chemicals” or “toxin free.” This is often understood to be short hand for “free of synthetic chemicals” or “toxin free.” Many reputable companies do use this term, but so do many greenwashers. Consider it a red flag, and a sign you should look closer at the rest of the company’s marketing claims to see if they are valid.
5. Listing ingredient by trade name rather than INCI name – companies are required to use the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) name, but many manufacturers will use trade names, or on rare occasions make up names in order to confuse the consumer. This is technically illegal, but there isn’t enough enforcement of the law so companies get away with it.
6. Claiming to be natural – There is no legal definition of the term “natural.” Part of the problem with this claim is different people have different definitions of what it means to be natural. The industry means anything from carbon. That’s EVERYTHING, including petroleum-based ingredients. However, this isn’t what most consumers think when they define natural. Consumers generally take natural to mean derived from nature, not artificial. The term “natural” when it comes to personal care products is totally meaningless. Herbal Essences makes claims of being natural but if you look at their ingredients it’s loaded with synthetic chemicals.
7. “Free from” – Not everyone would consider this greenwashing as technically they aren’t making untrue claims. However, these claims are often used to distract from other harmful ingredients in the product. Always read the ingredients list to see what the product actually does have. Don’t be seduced just by the list of things they don’t have.
8. Fake Certification Labels – Some companies create their own logo intentionally made to look like it’s a 3rd-party certification when it is really their own. You’ll often, but not always, see this with an organic percentage listed or with a cruelty-free claim.
9. Misleading Terms – When you see terms like “botanically-based,” “contains natural ingredients,” “pure,” “earth-friendly” etc. These are methods of distracting the consumer’s attention away from the synthetic chemicals and getting you to focus on a few
As I’ve said before, the only real way to know that your favorite product is safe and it’s claims are valid is to by certified organic products. When that isn’t possible, use these tips to help you evaluate products and you can be pretty sure, even if a product isn’t as green as you’d like, at least it isn’t claiming to be anything other than what it is and they have integrity.
Here’s to your health.
For more information, contact: Dr Holly at email@example.com
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