Greenwashing, Marketing, and Being a Smart Consumer

I’m baaack.

So, today I got all fired up because I saw a number of people posting about how excited they were to get a butt load of Lush Cosmetics products for Christmas (mildly sorry to burst that bubble if you read this)/I’ve been meaning to blog about ingredients and being a smart consumer for MONTHS. And I’m sitting there like “welp, Lush does some really effective branding” because everyone seems to blindly accept their schemes of having natural products. But if you read the ingredients, (many of) their products are full of not-so-great chemicals and parabens.

Enter greenwashing. What is that?

Everyone’s heard the expression “whitewashing” — it’s defined as “a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context.”

“Greenwashing” is the same premise, but in an environmental context.

It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact
(Greenwashing Index)

And Lush isn’t the only company that does this. “Natural” is an unregulated word, meaning that there are no national standards and anyone can slap it on their product and deceive people who don’t read labels or don’t know how. Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert here by any means, especially because there are so many synthetic chemicals on the market and new ones everyday, and they’re all able to function under “safe until proven otherwise.” And even when something might not be safe, there’s a lot of money behind these cheap, easily manufactured chemicals, leading to a lot of contradictory information out there. It’s honestly tough to know whether that long name in your ingredient list might be harmful or is okay.

So let’s take a look at one of Lush’s products and some of the “safe synthetics” listed. Here is the ingredient list from their I Love Juicy Shampoo, which is pretty typical of their products (although this one doesn’t contain color dyes):
lush

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)– this is the stuff that makes your soaps soapy
“Sulfates are known skin irritants and may even corrode the skin. The International Journal of Toxicology also provides a safety assessment of SLS and recommends concentration levels of no more than 1% in products with prolonged use. This is disturbing when you consider a number of cleaning products have levels of SLS as high as between 10-20% and in extreme cases over 30%.” There are debates about whether SLS is linked to cancer, but no scientific evidence yet. Also a potential hormone disruptor. Derived from petrolatum which is a non-renewable resource. SLS is found in toothpaste, mouthwash, makeup, body wash and shampoos.

Cocamide DEA
Usually things with capital letters at the end are bad news– especially if it’s an ingredient in your food (ingredients to avoid consuming coming soon). This ingredient, which is found in most of LUSH’s shampoo products, is listed as a 7 out of 10 on EWG’s toxicity scale. The basis of the chemical—coconut oil—seems innocent enough and Lush LOVES the “it came from a coconut, so it’s safe and natural” excuse. But scientists tinker with the ingredient, modifying it into an unnatural, toxic form– landing it on California’s list of known carcinogens.

Fragrance
Almost all of LUSH’s products and so so so many products list “fragrance” as an ingredient. Using “fragrance” on a label “represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” According to EWG, fragrances are among the top five allergens in the world.

Parabens
I set a product down when I see it contains parabens. And these are common– Bath and Body Works products are full of them, as well as the unsuspecting Cetaphil. Several of LUSH’s products include methyl-paraben and propyl-paraben. These ingredients are added to deodorants, toothpastes, shampoos, conditioners, body lotions and makeups, among other products, to stop the growth of fungus, bacteria and other potentially damaging microbes (i.e. used as a preservative even in some “natural” products).  “Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity,” reports the non-profit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC). CSC cites a 2004 British study that detected traces of five parabens in the breast tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied. “This small study does not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, but it is important because it detected the presence of intact parabens—unaltered by the body’s metabolism—which is an indication of the chemical’s ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue.” Parabens have been found in drinking water and other water sources, leading it to end up in our foods. The EU banned parabens in 2012, as they’re associated with diminished fertility  (studies found that it led to decreased sperm counts in rats) and many other issues.

Frankly, “safe synthetics” my ass, Lush. And that’s just a look at a few chemicals of hundreds of thousands. Though, this product is far better than many you can buy at Target or a typical drug store.

Here are a few resources where you can learn more:
Environmental Working Group Consumer Guides: A number of different guides that outline their approved products, broken down into categories like sunscreen and cosmetics. You can also just google any chemical name and “ewg” and rankings for the products will come up, based on toxicity, cancer concerns, environmental effects, etc. As mentioned, nearly all of the data is incomplete or may contradict things you read elsewhere.

Good Guide: Search by category for the products you use and see how they’re ranked based on health, environment, and social impact. Again, this data is often incomplete, inconclusive, or contradictory.

It’s all a learning experience and you do have power as a consumer to choose not to support companies or select products that use ingredients that you don’t want in or on your body, but it’s tough and requires constant vigilance (aka reading every label). Many of these “everyday” chemicals end up in our water ways, which make our drinking water a slurry of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Lessen your impact on the environment, your health, and everyone’s health by shopping smart.

Some products I use/trust and 5 Things You No Longer Need to Buy found here

So, friends, take a look at the guides I mentioned above to see how your products rank, read up on the chemicals you should always avoid so you’re armed with that knowledge, and always always read your ingredients. Even if it says it’s “natural”, you could slide out of the store with some nasty stuff if you’re not shopping smart.

 

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