Understanding Clean Beauty and How to Spot Greenwashed Products

Understanding Clean Beauty and How to Spot Greenwashed Products


More and more today, conscious consumers – mostly of the Gen Z variety – are demanding better from the products they use and the brands that create them. The rise of the wellness and clean beauty sectors have led to consumers making considered choices for not only their personal care, but for the environment.

While the phrase “clean beauty” has many meanings, it is widely accepted that stripped-back or natural ingredients in beauty and skincare products are better than synthetic, aggressive or pollutant chemicals, which is particularly attractive to consumers with sensitive skin. “Green” indicates that an ingredient or product is natural and does no harm to the environment, while non-toxic indicates that a product will not have an adverse effect on the user.

However, many beauty brands make a point to espouse their “green” credentials in order to appeal to the health and environmentally conscious consumers, and in some cases, use common buzzwords to advertise a false message about their products; which is also known as greenwashing.

Some brands resort to greenwashing to grab the attention of customers and align themselves with the clean beauty movement, taking advantage of the fact that many products and ingredients are not regulated by the industry or the Food and Drug Administration. However, there are ways to spot superficially labelled cosmetics and not-so-natural skincare serums to ensure your customers are receiving only the best quality products from your store. Below are four tips to help you navigate your beauty buy.

Kudu Cosmetica

 Kudu Comestica uses ingredients with the least impact on the environment

Always read the ingredient list

This might seem a bit obvious to those with sensitive skin and a dermatologist on call, but the ingredient list can tell you a lot about a product: note; a product is only as clean as its worst ingredient. Just like with food, ingredients are listed by amount: the ingredient with the highest percentage will be listed first, and anything over one percent will appear on the label. So, if one of the first ingredients is a toxic-sounding chemical, such as formaldehyde, then it probably isn’t good for people’s health. There are a ton of ingredients to avoid for different health reasons, and they can be easily researched to be sure, or checked for on this list of restricted toxins provided by The Good Face Project.

Understand buzz words and what they really mean

Buzzwords and commonly used descriptors such as green, sustainable, vegan, organic, all-natural, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, cruelty-free and many other terms can all mean that a product is clean, but it doesn’t necessarily ensure that they are. A product can still be clean and use natural ingredients, but not be vegan if it’s made using animal by-products. And a product is only certified “organic” if it bears the USDA Organic Seal. It can seem confusing, but it all comes down to what you really want to achieve with clean beauty. If you are just interested in products that look out for the body, then a brand’s pledge of sustainability and cruelty-free production might not be as important. If you’re ever unsure of what a word means, again, consult sites like Good Face Project for clarity.

Beware of ambiguous wording

This goes back into the conversation about greenwashing and buzzwords. Words have the power to clarify, but also to keep us from reading between the lines. Some products use phrases such as “derived of…” or “from natural ingredients” to make users think that they actually contain coconut oil or bamboo extracts, for example, when in reality they indicate that something was done to the previously natural ingredient to makes it into something that’s no longer fully natural.

Rethink what you think you know

Care should be taken with assuming what is or isn’t clean beauty based on previous knowledge. Often, we think that “synthetic” in relation to beauty products means plastic and fake, not something that meshes well with our hair and skin. Obviously, some synthetics are used as preservatives or fillers, but many clean beauty brands make the argument for the need of synthetics. Many “man-made” ingredients can be safer and more effective if used properly in combination with more natural ingredients.

Understand what works best for your customer and what you expect from a brand

Ultimately, clean beauty is what you make of it. You can choose what aspects of the movement to embrace and which ones to reject. The focus should be on how the products and brands you carry reflect your values and goals. Holding brand partners and the industry at large accountable and requiring the highest quality for your products can only lead to more improvements within the beauty industry. The meaning of clean beauty can differ from one person to another, but it’s important to note that retailers and consumers have the power to decide and change what happens to our health and the environment, even if only from a beauty standpoint.


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