As much as I want to make better choices when it comes to my beauty and skincare products, sometimes I get so confused by the advertising claims and ingredients lists that I just throw up my hands and buy what looks good. In the below post, Jacalyn Beales talks about the problem of greenwashing: intentionally misleading customers to believe that the product we’re buying is green, clean, and good for us. In addition to her research, I’ve included some photos and info about Credo, an authentically green beauty boutique that has helped me find better products without all the confusion (Credo links are affiliate links). Thanks for allowing me to share your words, Jacalyn!
This piece was written by Jacalyn Beales and originally appeared on jacalynbeales.com.
The first time I picked up what I thought was an ethically-made beauty product, I ran towards the bright light and never looked back. It was a moisturizer from LUSH called “Vanishing Cream,” and in this cream, I thought I had found my saving grace.
Fast forward five years later, and I haven’t touched a LUSH product since.
Well, wait: that’s a lie. People keep getting me LUSH products as gifts because, at one point in my naive and ignorant life as a younger 20-something, I foolishly believed LUSH was the answer to my green-beauty prayers.
I was so wrong.
Chances are, you’ve heard of “fast fashion” – a phenomenon in which fashion such as clothing is produced quickly and at low costs in order to mimic and keep up with ever-evolving trends in fashion. Retailers such as H&M and Zara have long been proclaimed as fast-fashion moguls, disregarding sustainability and ethics to produce collection after collection of clothing and accessory items as quickly as humanly – sweatshop? – possible. In order to keep up with trends and consumer demand, fast fashion labels like Forever 21 produce cheaply-made, low-quality items to feed the masses.
Fast fashion is said to have taken root in the 1990’s, when fashion retailers began to experience more serious pressure to increase their profits after department stores started creating their own cost-effective versions of the latest styles. This led to many brands utilizing cheap labor, running a robot-like enterprise whereby people in developing and poor-off countries were being paid far less than anyone ever should be and working in deplorable conditions, all so brands could churn out Chelsea boots and rompers to unsuspecting shoppers in Europe and North America. People looked the other way when it came to the realities of fast fashion: exploitation of fellow humans, poor labor and working conditions, sweatshops…you get the picture.
As of late, there has been a growing awareness developing around the dangers of fast fashion, but one thing I rarely see in the world of eco-conscious living and sustainability is a focus on what could be considered “fast beauty.”
This may come as a surprise, however, just as many retailers and brands practice fast fashion, so too do brands practice fast beauty.
That is, beauty produced using cheaper yet harmful ingredients which impact the planet, humans, and our fellow sentient beings negatively.
If fast fashion can be characterized by a brand’s desire to increase profits, decrease production costs and utilize materials not totally ethically made or sourced, then fast beauty can be characterized the same way. Many beauty brands – especially those who claim to be “green” – often utilize ingredients such as palm oil, animal by-products and other additives which are available to us at the expense of humans, wildlife, and the environment. It’s obvious that beauty brands like MAC, Sephora and those created by designer labels such as Channel utilize a range of artificial ingredients that many a consumer is blind to, but it’s the green beauty brands you have to watch out for.
Why? Because unlike those brands mentioned previously, which really don’t even bother to hide their use of gross, unpronounceable ingredients, green beauty easily fools you into believing that something is “green,” even if it isn’t, which means you could be buying into what I call the “green gimmick.”
It’s actually called “greenwashing,” and a perfect example of this is LUSH. Claiming to be a vegan, good-for-you green beauty brand, you might be shocked to learn that not every LUSH product actually is vegan, nor is it totally green. The trend of labeling products “green” simply because they aren’t tested on animals also implies that the products themselves are made with natural, ethically-sourced ingredients. But as EcoCult points out here, LUSH makes many of their items with artificial additives like fragrances and parabens, a fact easily overshadowed by the brand’s “cruelty-free” mantra. Just because a brand doesn’t test on animals doesn’t mean it’s totally green.
Another example of this (which I’m sure many people will harangue me for) is Herbivore Botanicals (*see update below). Having tried a few of their items myself, I can attest to their effectiveness but, sadly, not their “greenness.” In many an HB product, you’ll find palm derivatives ranging from glycerine to straight up palm oil. Yet, there is no information available as to where these ingredients are sourced from, and simply adding “sustainable” in front of the words “palm oil” doesn’t make it so. In fact, as Selva Beat explains here, the terms “certified” and “sustainable” don’t mean what we’ve been led to believe they do.
There’s also the slightly tricky issue with the use of ingredients in “green” beauty products which make the whole “vegan” claim null-and-void. If a product says it’s vegan but contains, say, honey or beeswax, for all intents and purposes that product isn’t actually vegan. You could also consider a self-proclaimed “vegan” product not vegan if it utilizes additives like palm oil, considering the production of palm oil has led (and continues to lead) to the destruction and degradation of human, wildlife and environmental rights, including plummeting numbers of wild species and the exploitation of both wildlife and humans. How can a product be “green” or “vegan” if it contains such an environmentally-harmful ingredient(s)?
What it funnels down to is convenience.
Fast fashion retailers want to increase their profits and do so by using cheap, easily-sourced labor and materials. Fast beauty does the same thing. Palm oil, for example, is so easily attainable and often at lower costs than less common ingredients that a soap maker, for instance, might prefer to use palm oil in their soaps and save a few dollars rather than source a more ethical and sustainable alternative. They keep their costs down but can upsell or price their products as they desire, which is similar to fast fashion brands using cheaper, lower-quality materials to make their product. It may also be more cost effective for a brand to use artificial fragrances in their moisturizers or night creams than, say, pure essential oils, which themselves can be pricey. If a brand can manufacture slightly organic products with smaller and sometimes kinder ingredient lists than a Sephora cream, for instance, but at a lower cost by using not-so-awesome ingredients like palm, why wouldn’t they? They decrease their expenses and can increase their profits, simultaneously.