Beware of Greenwashing

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As more and more people demand safer products, there are more companies that make them. Unfortunately, there are also companies that are engaging in some creative marketing to make their products appear safe when in fact they are not. This is called greenwashing. Every time I see a commercial for products I know contain toxic chemicals, I cringe because I know that somewhere out there is an uninformed consumer who will take the commercial at face value. While I won’t name any specific companies or products due to libel laws, I will point out some of the tactics I see in advertising.
For example, one personal care line claims to have no harsh chemicals, yet every product in that line contains fragrance (yes, I read the ingredient list on every product I found on the shelf!). Fragrance is one of the most toxic ingredients there is! The ingredients in fragrance are protected by trade secret laws. Just know that when you see the word “fragrance” on a label, that means there are hundreds more chemicals in the product. Even unscented products have “masking” fragrance, which contain the same nasty chemicals that are in scented fragrance. Unless the label specifies that the fragrance is 100% essential oils, or says it’s phthalate free, I would absolutely avoid it.
Another product line compares their product to other products of its kind and talks about how their ingredients are less harsh than the competition. This may be true, but it doesn’t make the ingredients in their products safe! Yes, I’ve checked this brand and they use parabens and fragrance, two of the worst things that could possibly be in something you put on your skin!
Yet another example is a line of haircare products that is referred to as “[brand name] naturals” because it is free of parabens and dyes. Why on earth would you need dye in a shampoo anyway? You’re washing your hair with it – it doesn’t matter what color it is! The ingredient list does include some naturally occurring things like water, honey, and coconut extract. Unfortunately, it also contains toxic things such as Methylchloroisothiazolinone, and you guessed it, fragrance.
Several product lines use the word “natural” in their advertising, along with white lighting, and natural looking makeup on their spokesperson. Sounds great right? Makes you think that the ingredients are all natural. Alas, the word “natural” on a label means nothing. The portion of the FDA that “over-sees” (they have very little real power) cosmetics has not legally defined the word natural, so any company can say their product is natural, even if it contains synthetic ingredients.
Savvy companies realize that more and more customers are avoiding things like parabens, dyes, propylene glycol, sodium laurel sulfate, etc. Rather than make safer product, companies will often list the chemical under a different name on the ingredient list. Other times companies switch to lesser known or even untested chemicals instead. That way if a customer is looking to avoid a specific chemical, they don’t see it on the label, so they feel ok buying the product. Your average person isn’t a chemist, so they have no idea what they are looking at when they see these alternatives.
It can be very overwhelming to try to buy safer products when you don’t know what the ingredients are. So, how do we as consumers stay informed and make safer choices? There are some great resources available! For more info on greenwashing, visit http://greenwashingindex.com/about-greenwashing/ . To learn more about the chemicals found in personal care products and cosmetics, check out http://www.safecosmetics.org/ . For research and consumer guides to find safer products, I recommend http://www.ewg.org/ . If you’re on the go, EWG has smart phone apps that can help you shop. As helpful as the EWG app is, there are times when it can’t find the brand you’re looking at. When that happens, there’s another app I love to use called Chemical Maze. It costs $7.99 but is absolutely worth it! You can search chemicals in personal care, cosmetics, and even food. You type in the name of the chemical you’re unsure of, and it brings up a result of how it’s derived, what it’s typically used in, and whether or not it is considered safe. It’s helped me make quite a few purchasing decisions with all kinds of items!

I hope you find this information useful in your journey to safer products.  Thanks for reading!

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