Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound.
The confusion lies in that unlike the food industry, terms like organic, Non-toxic, Chemical Free, hypoallergenic, and Natural are UNREGULATED. Food packaging can’t boast the word :organic” unless the product meets the government’s strict organic standards. But with personal care products, companies can, and often do, slap the word “organic” on products that are full of synthetic chemicals. And it is very difficult for a consumer to find out how much of the products ingredients are certified organic and who has certified them.
In Canada, the regulations by Health Canada can vary dramatically between different categories of products that may sit next to each other on the shelves. Is it a personal care item or an over-the-counter-drug or a cosmetic?
So here’s some help in understanding this marketing mayhem that is on our shelves:
The FDA hasn’t defined the term “green”. It is often used as a marketing tactic to entice health-conscious consumers and can be misleading.
“Natural” on a package means that the company understands the natural ingredients are important to you. Many “natural” ingredients are safer, but natural doesn’t always mean safe. In fact, a product labeled as “natural” can mean that there is at least one natural ingredient but it can also be saturated with harmful chemicals.
The word “organic” can mean a product contains 99% organic ingredients or 1% organic ingredients. There are a variety of organizations providing organic certifications and they all have different standards that products are required to meet. There are no standards for “organic” personal care products sold in the United States.
The word “hypoallergenic” has no legal meaning. Manufacturers of cosmetics labeled as hypoallergenic are not required to submit substantiation of their hypoallergenicity claims to the FDA. Some hypoallergenic products contain potent allergens, such as formaldehyde-releasing preservatives or fragrance.
This word truly means nothing. Case in point: a brand of children’s face paint was labeled as “non-toxic”, “FDA-approved”, and “hypoallergenic” was tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The product was found to contain lead (a highly toxic substance) and nickel (which is allergenic). “FDA-approved” is just a lie because the FDA doesn’t approve any cosmetics before they go on the shelves.
Paraben Free, SLS free, Sulfate Free, fragrance free, and unscented… these terms have no legal definition, hence the terms are not regulated.
Consumers think mineral means natural, so they are drawn to it. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Minerals such as iron oxides, talc, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide are micronized, or ground and milled, into tiny particles to create makeup and are often contaminated with heavy metals and asbestos.
Here’s what it means to the folks at Beautycounter: Over 1,800 questionable ingredients are never used in their formulations.
For more information check out helpful third party organizations like the Environmental Working Group or the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.