Clean beauty or greenwashing? A guide to help you find the answer
The words "natural", "sustainable" and "non-toxic" are often used to describe skincare products, but are these statement actually truthful to the products being marketed? The answer is often no, and it took me time to learn how to find products that were truly healthy and sustainable. In this post I share the main 3 things I learned about sustainable home + body products and how to make sure you are not buying a product of greenwashing.
1. Sustainability is NOT just in the ingredients.
Well, sustainability is a big, broad word, but let's define ingredient sustainability with the following parameters:
- Organic ingredients: Ingredients grown without synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified organism (GMO) free.
- Non synthetic/ Natural - made ingredients sourced from nature rather than developed in a laboratory.
- Biodegradable: Goes back to the earth without polluting it (ex: composts into the earth rather than becoming micro-plastics in the ocean.
Following these ingredient sustainability parameters will make the substance you are adding to your skin non toxic to you. But the packaging of this product could be made with plastic, which is probably not biodegradable, and could end up in the oceans, polluting the waters and soil, and in the long term, bringing health issues to humans and other human beings. The transportation of these ingredients and packages could be creating pollution with a high footprint, lowering air quality which in the long term would also cause health problems to humans and other beings. The ingredient content of a product is important, but there are several other components that go into a sustainable product. When looking for a specific product I ask myself: Are the ingredients clean? Is the packaging made of a material that can be reused, repurposed or recycled?
2. Not all sustainable products are ethical (and vice versa)
Now that we covered what physical parts of a product need to be considered when talking about sustainability (ingredients and materials), we can start looking at the invisible parts of a product that can help us understand its practices. The following points are things I ask businesses before choosing a product.
- Local or small business sourced: Sourced local to reduce the carbon footprint, supporting small businesses.
- Fair trade/ Fair wages for workers: Are workers in this supply chain paid a living wage? Does this company treat their employees and contractors well or does it have a toxic company culture?
- Inclusivity/ Representation: Who works and who owns this company? How is the profit of this company being distributed? Does this company bring inclusivity to its practices?
There are several invisible factors to be considered when choosing a product. They are often not included in a simple brand search. I like to email businesses to understand their practices. I also try to learn the story behind the brand to make sure their ethics are transparent.
3. Ingredients are important!
We talked about ingredient on item 1, but how do you actually check if ingredients are sustainable?
- Read ingredient labels: Reading the complete ingredient labels should not take long and is the easiest way to understand what is inside the product you want to buy. It is important to look for the FULL ingredient list, and not only to the "Key ingredient" of a product (some businesses highlight pretty ingredients and only add the entire ingredient list in a smaller font somewhere later in the product description).
When reading the list, I look for ingredients that I know are natural, such as the name of plants and oils, water, herbs, etc. If there are any ingredients with names I don' recognize, I run a quick internet search to make sure they are non-synthetic. I also stay away from mineral oils. Petroleum derived oils are often labeled as mineral, as even though they are technically natural, the processing of these oils and their connection to petroleum are enough reasons for me to avoid them.
I hope this post could bring you some useful information about sustainable classifications and how to identity the health and environmental impact of a given product. If you are wondering about how Circular Bodies chooses ingredients for our products, you can check out this post, which explains the sustainability standards we follow.
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