Today’s skincare shelves are filled with “natural” and “organic” products meant to provide healthy alternatives to skincare products that rely heavily on synthetic materials, chemicals and more. It’s admirable that so many people want to use natural products on their faces and bodies, and to meet this demand for responsible manufacturing, many companies have chosen to make their cleansers, toners and creams with natural ingredients. However, many of these claims are not what they appear. Are you sure that the products on your shelf are really as clean as they appear?
To understand what’s actually happening in the skincare industry you have to understand greenwashing. Greenwashing refers to the common practice of businesses that share a false impression of their products’ “green” value. In other words, they make misleading claims or information about how organic and environmentally friendly their practices and ingredients are. Deandra Jefferson, a sustainability professional spoke to Business New Daily about the real motive behind these common practices. "Greenwashing is actually in a corporation's best interest. Although the concept of corporate social responsibility exists, it is very rare that corporations actually live up to them, and when they do, it's a surface-level effort to make themselves look good."
Essentially, large companies make consumers like you believe they’re using natural ingredients, recycled packaging and more to produce a “natural” product with processes that eliminate or reduce waste when in fact, they’re just selling you an idea.The truth is, every company that claims organic or natural isn’t really either one of these. These labels and seals of approval that are featured on the front of products in your local drugstore or big box store actually require money and very little organic content. "Generally speaking, natural and organic, are fairly unregulated terms," Georgia Barnes, a business development manager for the Soil Association told Vogue. "For example, a product just has to contain 1% organic ingredients, and you can call it organic! Even if it's loaded with pesticides in the other 99%."
Corporations have grown increasingly sophisticated with the way they coax consumers into believing they’re saving the planet with their products. However, is any product truly natural when it must be altered and transformed into a finished product? Take Vitamin C for example – there are several forms of this ingredient, and most effective is ascorbyl palmitate, which is made from mixing vitamin c with palmitic acid, which is derived from animals or plants.
It is impossible to take an ingredient from the Earth and then bottle it 100% “untouched.” Every substance has to be processed to some degree. Therefore, it is difficult for skin care ingredients be considered “natural.” Processed ingredients are not necessarily bad for you, so instead of looking for “natural” or “organic” on labels, look at the ingredients list. Avoid the ingredients on LeCerre’s Never Toxic List.
Instead of shopping for seals or looking for keywords like “organic” and “natural” become a diligent and informed shopper who reads the ingredients label. You will be amazed to discover what you can learn from the ingredients and why you can’t just trust the front label. Here’s what do look for when you read a product label.
Step 1: When you read an ingredient label on a skincare product you want to first pay attention to the order that the ingredients are listed in– ingredients are always shown from highest concentration to least, so this will help indicate which substances have the highest quantity. It’s not enough for a product to have a natural ingredient if it’s the last item on the list.
Step 2: You also want to get a feel for how long products last by checking out the expiration date as well as any indicators for how long a product last. Open jar symbols with numbers and the letter M will indicate how many months you can use a product once opened, and expiration dates are typically included in the lot or batch numbers on the packaging.
Step 3: Once you’ve gotten the hang of reading ingredients, it’s helpful to know what ingredients you should avoid. While each consumer might have something they’re looking for, here are some general rules of thumb: stay away from parabens, sulfates, artificial dyes and fragrances, and tons of acids. Many of these may fall under difficult names, so it’s helpful to make a note of them on your phone or a notepad to check as you shop.
Methylparabens, propylparabens, and butylparabens are popular parabens that help preserve products but have been linked in some studies to breast cancer. Sodium laureth sulfates, alkylbenzene sulfonate, sodium cocoyl sarcosinate are frequently used sulfates that are used to produce lather in cleansing items like shampoos. They irritate the skin and strip it of its natural oils. The same goes for lots of acids (especially in conjunction with Vitamin C) and dyes and fragrances, all of which can burn or irritate sensitive and normal skin.
Step 4: If you want to know what items you do want to find on your ingredient list, this includes a mixture of healthy chemicals and less potent materials, such as: jojoba oil, shea butter, plant butters, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, beta hydroxy acid, ferulic acid, tocopherol, caprylic glycerides, among others. While essential oils smell delicious and are good for you, be cautious with the amounts as some individuals have allergic reactions to them.
Using the right ingredients in the proper concentrations will ensure which product is the most organic and the best for your skin type. Spend some time getting acquainted with different ingredients that are effective as treating the skin well and study the ingredient list the next time you shop for a product. You might be surprised to find that it’s more toxic than the front labels suggest.