How to Avoid Being Greenwashed

How to Avoid Being Greenwashed - What is Greenwashing and How to Avoid It | HealthfullyHannah.com

The past few years have brought a huge shift towards natural, nontoxic, and safer products in the cosmetic industry. Consumers are starting to become aware of the impact that products have on their health, seeking safer options and alternatives. Many companies realize this and use it as a marketing scheme; misleading consumers into thinking their product is nontoxic or safe, regardless of the ingredients in the product.

Greenwashing: When a company misleads consumers by falsely marketing a product as being natural, safe, and nontoxic regardless of the safety of the ingredients in the product.

How to Avoid Being Greenwashed

Read Labels not Claims

First and most importantly, watch out for claims on products. Read ingredient labels, not product claims. Many companies and products claim to be “All-Natural” and “Pure” and even use the word “Organic” on the label.

However, there is no regulation on any of these claims. The FDA does not have the authority to require companies to test cosmetics for safety and does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on the market.

Download your Ingredients to Avoid Wallet Guide, here.

Common ‘Greenwashing’ terms to watch out for:

  • Natural
  • Plant-based/derived
  • Mineral
  • Pure
  • Organic

Companies may use any ‘raw material’ as an ingredient without approval from the FDA. Think these companies have your health in mind? Additionally, the “FDA does not have the resources or authority under the law for pre-market approval of cosmetic product labeling.”

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Don’t assume it’s safe.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that because a product is on the shelf (even if it’s an expensive, high-end brand or company) it must be safe. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, “the European Union (consisting of over 28 countries) law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects.  In comparison, the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics.” The products on the shelves are anything but safe.

“Companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA.” (FDA, 2016)

So, not only are companies responsible for their own safety claims, (can you say conflict of interest?!) but they don’t have to share any information with the FDA about the safety of their products. If this wasn’t bad enough, the FDA states that it is ‘not authorized to order recalls of hazardous chemicals from the market.’

Related: How to Transition to Natural Beauty (free worksheet & checklist!)

What about the USDA Organic Label?

While the FDA does not define or regulate the term “organic” when it comes to personal care products and cosmetics, the “USDA Certified Organic” label is defined and regulated. Companies that use this label must actually contain organic ingredients.

A breakdown of the terms:

100% Organic” – All ingredients must be organically produced.

Organic” – 95% of ingredients must be organically produced.

Made with organic ingredients” – At least 70% of ingredients must be organic.

So, thankfully, this is not an example of greenwashing and can be trusted!

With that said, a product does not have to include this label for it to be completely safe and pure! Many companies with natural, safe, and nontoxic products do not have the USDA label because of the expense of the certification.

Ready to detox your makeup bag? Here are 7 natural beauty products to detox your makeup bag!

The best way to avoid being greenwashed and learn if your products are truly safe is to read past the pretty packaging and claims on the front of the product and take a look at the ingredient list. If there are ingredients that you can’t read or pronounce, you can bet that many of them are harmful and should be avoided. Don’t put yourself at risk. If you wouldn’t eat it- don’t put it on your skin.

Have you noticed products that are greenwashed? Let me know in the comments below!

Sources and Further Reading:
FDA: Regulation of Cosmetics
Environmental Working Group: Myths of Cosmetic Safety
USDA: Explaining the Label
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: US Cosmetic Laws
Mercola: Beware of Greenwashing


Hannah Smith

Hannah is the founder and health educator at Healthfully Hannah, empowering women to live healthfully through science-based, step-by-step guidance. Read Hannah’s personal health journey that led her to discover the power of Functional Medicine and Nutrition. Feel free to send Hannah a message here.


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  1. great post! i fell victim to green washing with my sunscreen last year and now read labels completely differently as a result. thanks for the extra info 🙂