Greenwashing beauty products: why you could be at risk

Greenwashing beauty products. Who knew it could be such big business?

Earth & Skin ? 08/2020


As consumer demand grows for beauty products that are safe for people, the environment and animals, there’s been a corresponding shift in product marketing.

Under current legislation in Australia (and around the world), it seems that not much is required to justify organic or natural beauty product claims.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem right.

We all want to look and feel our best, but it shouldn’t come at a cost, to us or the environment.

The challenge is knowing how to spot greenwashing so that when armed with the right information information, you can have the trust and confidence in beauty products you choose.

Beauty products and greenwashing: what is it?

Greenwashing is a relatively new term and is all too common.

It is most often used by businesses or organisations to either promote their products to the fast growing consumer group interested in environmental and health concerns or to cover less than environmentally friendly activities.

You’re no doubt familiar with the way resources and energy companies promote sustainability activities. While they’re setting up wind farms and running community projects, they’re also continuing to undertake activities that have negative environmental consequences.

Watching the glossy television commercial, we think, Great! I’ll make the switch because they’re doing good things. But, we could be mislead.

In the world of beauty products, it’s no different. We see ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ and think we’re really getting what we pay for: products that are good for us and good for the environment. And that includes the animals they’re not testing on, right?

I often see products on the shelves at the supermarket with misleading labels. By using the word ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or even part of the word in the product name, the consumer is lead to believe the product is organic or natural when on further investigation it is far from it.

This partly because the requirements around labelling are open to interpretation. In Australia, cosmetic products don’t need to show their scientific effects they way therapeutic products must.

Although product labelling is regulated under the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards, Cosmetics) Regulations 1991, manufacturers can work their way around it. This regulation requires all intentionally added ingredients are listed on the product label.

What about when you see the ingredient ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’?

‘Fragrance’ is a generic term used by manufacturers. When I say generic, I mean a single listing of fragrance on a product’s ingredient list could represent dozens, or even hundreds of unlisted chemical compounds, which were used to create the final individual fragrance.


What’s more, manufacturers do not have to list these individual ingredients. Why? Because fragrance is considered a trade secret.

This means a business might be fully compliant with labelling legislation, but not necessarily doing the right thing by consumers. Worst case scenario, this can affect people’s health and damage the environment, including plant and animal life. It gives a whole new meaning to personal care.

The negative impact of chemicals in beauty products is researched widely. Some chemical ingredients have been shown to mimic oestrogen, cause cancer, contribute to fertility issues and obesity. The US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) is fighting hard to raise awareness and facilitate legislation change.

All that’s great, but what you do as a regular consumer of beauty products?

Get tough on your beauty products

Most people who choose and use truly natural or organic products are making a conscious decision.

Whether they’re influenced by health, personal values or a desire to do something good for the environment, they bring awareness to their decision making and beauty product purchases.

What these people have come to realise is not all organic or natural products are organic or natural.

If you are looking for non-toxic beauty products that are manufactured by companies who are astute stewards of sustainability and genuine personal care, there are questions you can ask:

  • Is the company doing the right thing environmentally? Do they manufacture in an ethical way, i.e. no animal testing, minimal waste, energy efficient?
  • Are their ingredient claims misleading? What’s on the label? Are they hiding behind blanket terms like ‘fragrance’ or have they listed all the product ingredients?
  • What does the research say? Can you find information to back up the product’s claims? Is it a trusted, credible source?

My own frustration and negative experience of chemical ingredients in beauty products prompted me to establish Earth + Skin Organic Day Spa on the Gold Coast. When I lost my sense of smell after just a short time of working as a nail technician, I felt there had to be another way. And there is.

Firstly, we can make a conscious choice to use only non-toxic beauty products. Apart from being good for you and your family, this choice is also good for the environment.

We can call companies on their beauty product greenwashing. Choosing not to buy from a brand or business does have an impact. We can take the lead from organisations like EWG and search out and support those doing the right thing.

Many of these businesses do what the team at Earth + Skin do – research the research. This means we’re able to confidently recommend products that are truly organic and natural – and that work. We also use all natural, organic and low-tox products in our treatments

Our approach to care for our clients is simple.

  • Always try before we buy
  • Never stock anything we wouldn’t use ourselves
  • Choose products that are non-toxic, vegan and good for the environment.

Apply these principles to your own beauty product purchases and you’ll be waving good-bye to greenwashing in no time. And while the initial change might seem onerous, it doesn’t need to be. Start small – with one product, if you must.

Not only will you look beautiful, you’ll feel good too. Naturally.

Earth + Skin

Earth and Skin, Gold Coast is a Day Spa and Beauty Shop with a difference. Situated in our gorgeous Queenslander building, iconic to the heritage village of Mudgeeraba. Our light filled space is decorated with natural decor, living greenery and soothing music which helps to create a relaxing atmosphere where our clients enjoy mindful spa treatments without negative impact to their health or the environment. Enjoy a full range of facials, body therapy and beauty treatments. Everything we do at Earth and Skin is done with care for you, planet Earth and your skin. Because beauty does not have to compromise your health.

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