Greenwashing in cosmetics

Last week during one of my meetings – the subject of this blog post found me. It comes up in one form or another, in every single meeting I have and in every casual conversation with people I meet when we talk about green beauty products.

“Do you know brand X? Is it a good natural brand?”

“I love Brand Y, they have great natural products”

So what’s that subject?


Greenwashing, as Cambridge Dictionaries Online explains, is “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. Greenwashing in cosmetics however goes a step further – companies market their product(s), line or the company altogether as all natural when they actually are not.

As a natural cosmetics store owner I avoid naming brands as examples for greenwashing as I like to keep the tone positive. Greenwashing in cosmetics however needs to be addressed. It’s a very hot and at the same time delicate subject. While greenwashing itself is not new, the trend of greenwashing in cosmetics is becoming more popular with the consumer’s constantly increasing interest in healthy lifestyle and eco-friendly products.

As a woman looking for healthier alternatives for my family and myself, I find it appalling what companies would do just to get my money. I’m not talking only about beauty products here but if you’re wondering, Yes, I have been beauty greenwashed too.

As an advocate of natural cosmetics, it truly hurts me to see a company being considered a leader in eco-friendly products while their formulas use SLS, parabens, fragrances and other harmful synthetic ingredients.It infuriates me when I see a company play eco-friendly because they use recyclable paper (please note the word “recyclable” not “recycled”) while Soapwalla, for instance, re-uses biodegradable, water-soluble packing peanuts from the local food co-op.

So how companies greenwash us actually?


I recently came across a jar of “Pure coconut cream”. When I picked it, I honestly thought that this is a cream made out of one single ingredient – pure coconut. Fortunately, I have this thing with labels and I always need to read the ingredients list. Well, the pure coconut cream did have some coconut in it, as well as a whole lot of other ingredients, including ones you definitely don’t want to put on your skin.

Another often misused word is “natural” – “natural shampoo”, “made with natural ingredients”, you name it.

Some companies promote themselves as “natural” because they have eliminated some of the most popular dangerous ingredients from their formulas (think parabens, fragrances, phthalates, etc) and use some natural ingredients. They still however use synthetic ingredients which are believed to be less harmful.

By the way, don’t trust green color or images of plants on the packaging.


While the previous form of greenwashing is probably the most common one in cosmetics, my blood starts boiling when I see a company claiming they are green because they have several products with 100% natural ingredients and then down the shelf you find parabens, SLS or other nasties in the rest of their products.

It’s like saying that you’re a vegetarian because on Tuesdays you don’t eat meat.


I remember when I started reading about natural cosmetics and synthetic ingredients and I contacted a well-known company in the Netherlands which I thought had natural products. After all, all their products contained plant extracts. Since I couldn’t find the ingredients lists on their website I posted on their Facebook page to ask for them. Their reply was that I needed to send an email to their Customer Service to request the ingredients list. I didn’t bother to do that. Their response gave me all the information I needed.

If a company states that they are natural but they don’t list ingredients on their website, hit the red button on your browser and save your money. A company which is truly natural and committed to being sustainable has no worries about disclosing their ingredients.

If you would like to read more about greenwashing, I strongly suggest you check out Kristen Arnett and her Green Beauty Team. Kristen is an international makeup artist who has been featured as “green expert” in ELLE, and others. Kristen has been educating women in sustainable beauty for years and happens to be one of the women who I have been looking up to since I turned to natural cosmetics. Green Beauty Team is where Kristen together with professionals and holistic beauty experts shares her “non-toxic beauty world”. Kristen recently wrote an article about greenwashing which went viral. A must read.

xo Rayna


[This post was previously published on Reina Organics]

Rayna van Aalst
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