Finding the truth behind labels on your favorite household cleaner, beauty product or health food isn’t always easy. Now that the consumer marketplace sees the trend towards more natural, safer and non-toxic products, companies are using just about every label possible to entice consumers to buy their products. Buyer beware.
“Greenwashing” is a term that’s used to describe when companies use misleading marketing terms to convince consumers that their products are safer, or more natural than they really are. So when you’re looking for safer beauty products, household cleaners or healthy snacks, how can you spot greenwashing?
Follow Your Nose
Avoid buying products that have a strong scent, including vinyl plastic or beauty products that list ‘fragrance’ on the ingredient list. This code word—fragrance—is protected by trade secrets and can contain dozens, or even hundreds different secret chemicals. Any company who isn’t fully disclosing fragrances, should be cautious when labelling their products as “safer”, “natural”, or “organic”. Please note that companies can safely use essential oils to scent their products, but they should be labeled accordingly.
“Organic” Marketing Claims
While the term “organic” is regulated with regards to food products, did you know that the term is not regulated for beauty and cleaning products? You don’t know how much of that beauty or cleaning product is made with organic ingredients—it could be a mere sliver, and yet, the company still slapped that big, bold ORGANIC on that label, making you think it’s a better choice than the conventional alternative based on that fact alone. (Never mind that the rest of the ingredient list could be full of harmful chemicals like parabens, phthalates, or PFAS.) So what is a buyer to do?
- Look for labels from EWG VERIFIED, MADE SAFE, or EPA Safer Choice, which vet the products for safety. If there is a USDA Organic label on a beauty or cleaning product, it doesn’t mean EVERY ingredient is certified, just certain ones. And no we aren’t usually told which ones unless they use an asterisk to show consumers.
- Prioritize shopping USDA organic for food products, but de-prioritize it for beauty and cleaning products since organic doesn’t equal safety.
How green can a company really be if the footprint of each product is excessive? If they’re wrapping their oh-so-virtuous product in layer upon layer of future landfill contents? For example, there’s a company I love called Beyond Meat—they make truly tasty, plant based protein (aka fake meat products). And while their veggie burger looks delicious, it comes packed in excessive plastic and paper cardboards. Pass on that patty! Remember: Being “green” isn’t just about what’s inside the box, it’s also about how the product is stored and shipped.
Check the Skin Deep Database
For beauty products, look to see how they stack up in the handy Skin Deep Database created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This search engine gives hazard scale scores for common beauty products; I aim to choose products that score 4 or less. If you spend a bit of time on the site, you’ll quickly notice that several brands that market themselves as “natural” have products that rank 7-10 on the hazard scale.
Need more help when it comes to buying better products? Shop my fully-vetted, hand-picked safer brands HERE.
Good point about the packaging – some companies don’t do a good job of thinking through that part!
Excessive packaging drives me nuts. Why do grocery stores wrap my organic produce in plastic???? These are great tips to remember when shopping!