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Greenwashed beauty is more toxic than conventional beauty.

April 18, 2011

You know what really boils my goat? OK, so that’s not even an expression, but I’m guessing a goat that’s about to be boiled is pretty ticked off. (Geez, poor goat….sorry for the visual, guys).


OMG. HATE IT! To no end, it annoys me. Beyond that, it actually saddens me. Why? Because greenwashing affects those who are trying to make a little difference in their lives by switching to products that are supposedly better for the environment or their health. They’ve heard the claims of potential health and environmental disasters that conventional products cause. The idea of using plant-based ingredients appeals to them. They reach for that cute bottle with the beige packaging, adorning leaves and marigolds, thinking that they too, can make the switch. They use the product, never bothering to check out the ingredients…actually believing the clever marketing on the front. The product smells nice, and works just the same as the one that replaced it. Ooooh, the lather! Goodness, it’s like a freakin’ Tahitian spa in the bathroom, so no harm no foul in trying this crazy, new-aged hippie stuff, right? Wrong. Harm! Foul!  Red flag!

The ingredients list, the only trust-worthy area of any product, reveals the truth behind greenwashed products. Maybe there’s a few “active botanicals” in there. Maybe the ingredients are 50%, 20%, 1% better than the non-greenwashed version. Maybe there isn’t any difference at all, but only the ingredients list reveals what’s really going on inside the package.

Greenwashing dupes consumers in such a sick, conniving fashion…in a way that is no longer marketing, in a way that no longer plays fair by anybody’s account. It tricks people into buying the very poisons they are seeking to avoid. It is as sad and demented as doctor’s prescribing drugs for commission, or celebrity endorsements for products they would never allow near their bodies. It’s selling dangerous, crappy products with a drop of something natural in it (or sometimes just a synthetic fragrance that mimics a lily on steroids), to the very people who are actually trying to consciously  make a healthier, safer choice.

This, to me, makes greenwashed beauty far more toxic than their conventional counterparts.


name dropping

I never thought I would name any names, but I will. What the hell!  I don’t t want to damage some natural cosmetics co’s out there, who have been making some fairly natural stuff for a long time (you know, Kiss My Face, Aveda, Avalon Organics, YES, so on and so forth…their okaaaay.), who sometimes falter and add a little dash of SLS here and there, maybe a little paraben for good measure, and oh, a whole lot of fragrance. I say that I would not want to damage them because despite their somewhat liberal standards, at least they aren’t spewing masses of lies in our faces. Companies like, oh, I dunno, Cover Girl (that new line of theirs in the green packaging? Umm..what’s with that?) or Aveeno and their “key ingredients” peppered into their toxic sauce, on the other hand, I find to be insulting and completely damaging. They are damaging not only because they are selling toxic crud to people, but because they make actual natural brands have to say things like “actual natural brands”. They make people who believe in green beauty defend and justify the merits and integrity of what a claim like “organic” truly means… and explaining why a brand called something like Organic Juice or Surge or something (I’m thinking of a particular brand but the name’s not coming to me! Lucky them.) doesn’t mean that it’s actually organic or that they even think it’s organic, but it’s a clever word to throw around for marketing purposes, and how this is different from actual actual organic.

At least you know!

I honestly believe that when most people buy something that is synthetic, they know it’s pretty toxic. Nobody is buying any conventional product, be it a cosmetic, cleaning product or diaper, thinking that it is fully plant-derived, biodegradable and toxin-free. You know when you get something sparkly and cherry flavoured from the dollar-store, that you’re not exactly lapping up antioxidants and botanicals. You know there’s some funky stuff in there…that’s why they can sell it for a buck and make a profit! But at least you make that decision because you decide that, at least for that moment, you’re making a little sacrifice for a product that fulfills a need. Science can come up with some truly brilliant products. Things that smell great, make your lips look plump and juicy, give the appearance of silky, healthy hair, make your skin glow. Labs create wicked concoctions that cost nearly nothing and make you look fantastic in the short term.

However, nobody really believes that hair dye is healthy. Or that bright orange lipstick isn’t synthetic. Or that perfume that can linger on clothing for months is natural. We all know that it’s synthetic, it was created to be efficient in some cosmetic task, and that it succeeds. I also honestly believe that nobody really assumes that there isn’t a price to pay, big or small, as a trade-off for convenience, price, and instant gratification.

But at least you know what you’re in for.

Paradox of choice.

On the other hand, if you were forced to eat a natural sea sponge, or one made of petrochemicals, which would you choose? (side note: my boyfriend finds my hypothetical situations to be somewhat illogical, and you’re allowed to agree, but just imagine you had to eat a sponge, ok?) OK. Better yet, when you can choose between two lipsticks, same lovely shade, similar lovely packaging, same function and style, but the ingredients are listed in plain sight.  One is made of a pile of weird chemicals, including a sprinkling of lead, and the other is made of waxes, butters, oils and natural pigments, which do you choose?

Exactly. It’s obvious. But what if things get confusing? The ingredients are next to impossible to find, and both claim to be chock-full of beneficial ingredients? If you’re going to choose the chemical version because the colour lasts for 3 days and you can’t be bothered to reapply, then awesome, go for it. But if you’re on the market for something that’s safe and natural and you’re sold something that really isn’t simply because you got the wrong message, then all your good intentions are for nothing. Worst of all, you were tricked.

Be a skeptic.

So be a skeptic. Greenwashing might just conveniently go away if just doesn’t fool people anymore.

Be a pain the ass, if you want. Ask questions. Stand there and READ labels. Encourage your friends to do so as well. Laugh in the face of greenwashing.