Your efforts to buy healthy products could, in the end, make you lose money and actually be damaging your health.
Greenwashing is the food and beauty industries' form of brainwashing: tricking consumers through creative marketing into believing they are a healthier option.
By using buzz terms like "natural" or "vegan", and visuals associated with health and nature (like using green as their main packaging color, or showing plants and fruits on their labels), companies try to give the impression that they are more environmentally friendly and healthier than they truly are.
Unfortunately, no regulation prevents companies from using these types of deceiving practices. You have to be your advocate when it comes to understanding what you're buying and what ingredients you should avoid.
Regulatory entities like the FDA or Health Canada don't regulate cosmetics as rigorously as pharmaceuticals or food, allowing companies to get away with using false or misleading claims and to use potentially harmful ingredients that are banned or controlled in other countries.
To help you understand what to look for when it comes to greenwashing, I compiled the most common tricks used by deceiving companies. Read along to learn what you can do to protect yourself from this practice, or watch the video by clicking here.
Unfortunately, there are no regulations for the images a company can use on their packaging, which allows deceptive practices such as decorating the labels and boxes with pictures of fruits, plants, farmers, and other natural-looking images to give the impression of "natural", "organic" or "botanical", even when the product contains few or no natural ingredients.
Another trick is using earth tones, greens, and browns to connote an all-natural vibe. It's no secret that buyers are showing a growing interest in healthier ingredients, and there is an unconscious (and logical) association of such colors with nature. To exploit this, many brands are avoiding bright, flashy, and unnatural colours on their packaging and opting for colors that are perceived as "natural".
This is not to say that graphics of nature and earthy colors on labels are a sign of deceiving marketing, but rather that they are not to be used as a sign of what is in the ingredients or what the company stands for.
Claims and certifications can refer to several aspects of a product, not necessarily to its contents. For example, a brand can claim to be "ecological" or "sustainable" because its packaging is recyclable, not because its contents or ingredients are non-toxic, ecological or sustainable.
An excellent example of this is exfoliating microbeads. When news arose about how pollutant this ingredient is, we started to see some companies promoting their microbead-containing products with "environmentally friendly" formulas, not because their microbeads were not contaminating, but because other components of their formulas were eco-friendly.
Other companies simply removed the word "microbeads" from their packaging. Still, a simple look at the label would show them hidden in the list of ingredients under the guise of polyethylene and polypropylene.
Another example of this is the use of charities and fundraisers to give the impression of specific practices. For example, showcasing support to farmers of organic fields leads people to believe that the company uses ingredients from those farmers and hence, use organic or natural ingredients.
Supporting a fundraiser, utilizing sustainable packaging, and supporting ecological practices are critical components of a brand's beliefs, ethics, and standards, but make sure you understand if the claims you see on their marketing refer to the ingredients they use too.
The only way to tell if a product is truly healthy is to learn to identify toxic and undesired ingredients to ensure you keep them at bay. Flip the box around to search for any hints of nasties, check for unknown names and, if you don't know them, google them! Nowadays, it's easy to know what ingredients should be avoided.
Over the last decade, health-savvy consumers have come to know a few enemies that are to be avoided: parabens, sulphates, silicones, formaldehyde, to name a few. However, these are not the only nasty ingredients to avoid. The presence of claims such as "without parabens" doesn't mean there aren't other harmful ingredients sneakily hidden within.
I have seen shampoos that claim to be "sulfate free", but when I read the ingredients, I find Sodium Sulfonate… which is as irritating as sulfate!
Companies have learned to avoid these ingredients, but in some cases, they have replaced them with worse options that just happen to be less known by the general public. It's important to choose brands that are responding to the 'green' trend with safer alternatives and healthier options, not with smarter marketing strategies.
As a rule of thumb, consider all the ingredients that go into a skincare product just as much as what gets left out, and research any ingredient that you're not familiar with.
Be wary of fancy 'trademarked' ingredients such as this hypothetical example: "Powered by our patented Skin Extract X21™". As ridiculous as it sounds, I just changed a couple of words from an actual product I saw a few days ago (a big known brand, by the way!) showcasing this "ingredient"… who knows what's in it!
Know who you are buying from
Big brands are a very complex net of employees, investors, and directives. Believe me, I worked for one of them for many years. They know exactly what to say and how to say it to make you purchase their products.
Small companies can only grow if they do what they promise; they don't have big budgets to convince you to buy their products. They usually have a more straightforward definition of what they stand for, who they are, where they source ingredients, etc. The face behind the brand is involved in every step of the process and is easily accessible for questions and concerns (i.e. nowhere to hide if something goes wrong!).
My Promise to You
The fear of being tricked by the industry and the shocking realization of the extent to which we can be poisoning ourselves with our skincare products made me create Lulo Skin. I believe that safe, clean skincare should be available to all and transparent, honest and affordable.
With Lulo, you don't have to sacrifice your skincare goals to opt for a healthy option; in other words, you can have potent anti-aging skincare without risking your health. By combining natural and plant-based ingredients with safe, modern, effective components that support a healthy, plump and bright skin, we provide the best of what nature and science can offer.