Written by Gemma Watts
Ever confused by the labelling on cosmetics? Are they really all that they claim to be? We decipher loopholes in cosmetic labelling the beauty industry doesn’t want you to know about.
Making the switch to natural, cruelty-free, sustainable beauty is a feat to be admired; however, despite pure intentions, many of us are still using chemical-packed, synthetic-based products – all contrary to what we might think.
As the green beauty movement continues to build momentum, a new beauty trend has subsequently gained traction- “greenwashing.” We’ve all seen them. Beautifully packaged products, usually with a green label, emblazoned with beauty buzzwords like “natural,” “botanical” and “organic.” Then we read the fine print. “Contains natural ingredients” “including botanicals” and “organic coconut/lemon/jojoba”- whichever organic ingredient the brand has chosen to include amongst a 95 per cent synthetic ingredients list. No matter how admirable your intentions, the only real key to truly making the switch to natural products is to understand how to decode cosmetics labels. To assist, we’ve put together a quick guide to ensure you know exactly what to look for to empower and arm yourself as a beauty consumer.
What is greenwashing And how does it happen?
Greenwashing is a phenomenon that sees cosmetics companies play on the surging natural beauty trend, coating their products in colours and keywords that we, the consumer, associate with organic beauty. The catch? These products may contain a handful of “natural” ingredients, however these greenwashed labels are designed to make the product appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Yep, not cool!
Greenwashing is, largely, the result of poor cosmetics regulation in Australia and very clever marketing. Usually, these brands aren’t making false claims- they’ve discovered a loophole and, while it’s a very fine line, are simply exploiting that. Technically, a “natural” product should contain at least 90 per cent naturally derived ingredients, however, unless the product has been certified, there’s next to no way to be sure. Cosmetics labels and ingredients are largely unregulated in Australia so, unless a brand has put its product forward for certification, there’s a large chance the product hasn’t been examined by a third party and is, therefore, misleading you.
What to look for: Certification
When you spot a seemingly natural beauty product on the shelf, one of the first things to look for is third-party certification. If a product has been “certified” by a governing body, each ingredient, claim and part of the manufacturing process will have been examined by a third party meaning the brand legally cannot make a false claim. There are several third-party certifiers in Australia, each with a different list of criteria that a product needs to meet before receiving certification. Some of these certification bodies allow for a certain percentage of synthetic ingredients, while others specify that each and every ingredient needs to be organic- the level of certification you wish to shop within depends on your personal preferences. There are currently three regulatory bodies in Australia that can guarantee a product is “certified organic,” which means it contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. Those bodies are Australian Certified Organic (ACO), the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) and Organic Food Chain (OFC). If you find any of these three logos on the front of your product, you can rest assured you’re buying certified organic. If the logo is on the back of the product, said product must contain upwards of 70% organic ingredients.
“If a product has been
“certified” by a governing
body, each ingredient,
claim and part of the
will have been examined
by a third party- meaning
the brand legally cannot
make a false claim.”
The top third of the ingredients list will make up between 80 and 90 per cent of the product, according to Mukti of Mukti Organics (a master of label decoding- so much so, she has written an entire book on it!). The middle third of the list constitutes around 4-12 per cent, while the bottom third makes up less than 4 per cent of the product. Regardless of whether you’re shopping natural or synthetic, water (H2O) will likely make up two thirds of the product. Whether you choose “organic” or “natural” is entirely up to you, however there are several “natural” based brands that still use synthetic ingredients to improve things like a product’s shelf life, while leaving out the most dangerous chemicals. Sukin are a fabulous example of an Australian brand who rely on synthetics purely for longevity and efficacy while enforcing a strict “no” list of some of the beauty industry’s most commonly utilised chemicals. According to Sukin, ingredients to consider steering clear of include petrolatum, mineral oils, silicone, phthalates/phylates, sulphates and animal derivatives. If you spot these ingredients on the back of your product packaging and you’re intending to make the switch to more natural products, consider replacing with a cleaner alternative.
Other things to consider: Cruelty free and sustainable products.
Organic ingredients aside, you may also wish to consider choosing cruelty-free and sustainably-packaged products. A cruelty free certification from a third party such as Choose Cruelty Free (famous for its Leaping Bunny certification logo) ensures a product has not been tested on animals. The Choose Cruelty Free website also adds that a “vegan” product is not necessarily cruelty free, as vegan status purely relates to whether or not animal derivatives or ingredients have been used- not how they’ve been tested. Sustainability is, at this stage, more difficult to guarantee when shopping, so look for products that are “certified carbon neutral.” Carbon neutral is a global standard, certifying businesses (including those within the beauty
industry) that have reduced their carbon footprint to net zero. If you’re working to make the switch to natural organic, cruelty free and even carbon neutral beauty products, do your research and arm yourself with knowledge. Certified status allows consumers to feel empowered as they shop, meaning you can rest assured that the products you’re bringing into your home have been thoroughly regulated- making sure you aren’t falling victim to greenwashing