Beauty Greenwashing 101

What you put on your skin matters as much as what you put in your body. Your skin is your largest organ. And while we know it is important to eat healthy things and take care of our skin we might not know how to do that safely.

Enter: the Clean Beauty Movement. Arguably started by Gregg Renfrew, the founder of Beautycounter when she created a company to protect herself and her kids from the harmful ingredients found in most beauty products. She wanted a high end product that would rival department store brands and while we encourage you to slide up to the beauty counter the name actually means something different.

It means we are here to COUNTER the Beauty Industry.

Beauty products are nothing new. And they’ve actually been full of junk for centuries. But the proliferation of chemicals following World War II means that for the last 90 years we have, as a society, exposed ourselves to more chemicals than any of our ancestors, maybe combined.

I’m not a statistician. I remember getting an A in Freshman Stats with a lot of extra credit and I do believe that about 71% of all the stats you hear are false.

What can’t be argued is the increased rates of cancers, infertility (both female and male) and other chronic disorders in the last 50 years.

So what changed in that time? Well, our foods became mass produced, packaged and genetically modified. And the personal care products we used not only increased in numbers but were formulated with a lot of the fancy new chemicals available.

But it can be hard to know what to buy. I buy (and sell) Beautycounter because I trust that the brand has tested the ingredients for safety and focused on a formulation that will take care of my skin. But sometimes you run out or you’re at Target or walking past a Sephora and you just feel like shopping!

Both brands have hopped on the clean bandwagon. Target has a seal called “Target Clean” and Sephora’s program is called “Clean at Sephora“. Both list a few ingredients that are excluded from products with those stickers but there is still a lot of grey area.

The sticker helps you feel good. Like a fat free sticker on your favorite snack. But like that fat free sticker doesn’t also say “but with 10g of extra sodium/sugar/other chemical” the lists aren’t exhaustive and neither includes Fragrances.

A company can use the term “fragrance” in their ingredient description and that can hide anything. Literally anything. Fragrance is considered a trade secret so over 3,000 chemicals can hide behind the word.

So if there is “fragrance” listed. Put it back down. You don’t know what that could be.

There is currently a class action lawsuit against Sephora because their “clean” labeled products still contained harmful ingredients and the buyers felt mislead. Part of me said “duh – you can’t believe companies!” and another part of me said “smart person for filing a suit.”

Kind of like the “Caution Hot” coffee lawsuit against McDonalds. Yes, of course the hot coffee ordered is going to be hot. But it was actually 20 degrees hotter than necessary and when spilled caused third degree burns faster. Hence plaintiff won.

In this Sephora lawsuit, yes the buyer should know to double check ingredients before buying something but there’s also an assumption that these products don’t contain harmful chemicals.

There is also an argument that “I’ve used these products all my life and I’m fine” but is anxiety, sleep issues, and adult acne fine? These are all things caused by hormone imbalances and many harmful chemicals in products are endocrine disruptors meaning they’re messing with your hormones.

Okay, so it’s all hopeless and we’re doomed.

Not quite.

There are things you can do.

First, Become a Researcher

Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels. And running ingredients through the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.

There is an app you can download too and a lot of products are scannable and searchable. Products are rated on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being EWG Verified and about as safe as you can get and 10 being the worst thing you can slather on your face.

Each product has an overall score and then you can drill down to see how each ingredient got rated. Some products with the same overall score are very different under the hood.

(Side note: most Beautycounter products are EWG Verified, our manufacturing list excludes 1,800 ingredients, and most are Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free certified too)

Clearya is another site to help you identify harmful ingredients while you’re shopping online. If the product you’re looking at doesn’t make the cut you can check for alternatives in the app/browser extension.

Second, Vote With Your Dollar

Once you find a brand/product that you like that falls within safe standards keep buying it. It’s that simple. The market will follow the dollar.

This is why greenwashing is so tricky. Retailers are already responding to the demand for cleaner, safer products but they’re doing it in a way that allows more products to fall under the “clean” umbrella. When those products really aren’t that clean at all.

That’s pretty much it. If you’re looking for a place to start download the EWG app or Clearya and look up the products in your house. You’ll learn pretty quickly where you can make safer choices the next time you need to shop.


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