Natural ingredients

Six terms green beauty brands should stop using now

Let’s face it. The new conscious consumer is emerging savvier than ever. Soon, a brand will not be able to use “organic” in its name without living up to the title.

Look at the investment One Love Organics made last year to become an Ecocert certified manufacturing facility in order to produce its own certified organic products.

In green beauty, every line is held up to scrutiny and one glitch in marketing could tear down the facade. That’s why brands need to come up with new terminology because consumers want 100 percent authenticity more than anything. Tweet This!

I believe it’s a good sign that we are progressing away from certain words. Our word choices prove that we are informed and can no longer be duped into buying something because of an “all natural” sticker on the label.

It also shows that we are making tremendous strides toward a total beauty evolution where catch-all promises like “anti-aging” are no longer relevant and transparency is the norm.

Pretty soon even the term “green beauty” will be obsolete as it continues to infiltrate mainstream markets and claims its rightful title as simply “beauty”—a category that no longer demands distinction.

Clean beauty will become the new standard of beauty and everything else will require the label: “Contains chemicals that may prove harmful to your health and to the environment” OR “Produced in a facility that does not treat its workers fairly.” Because we need to be aware before we buy.

Meanwhile, these promotional terms need to get the boot.

Non-toxic

As any formulator will tell you, even rose essential oil, a seemingly natural and innocuous ingredient, can become toxic at high levels. The FDA states that “many plants, whether or not they are organically grown, contain substances that may be toxic or allergenic.” (Source)

“Non-toxic,” which literally means non-poisonous, harmful, or deadly, is such an ambiguous term that it actually proves nothing about a brand’s care in formulations and could be misleading.

When a company uses it, a big red flag goes up and you’d better research its ingredients with a magnifying glass. You’ll likely be surprised by what you unearth that is far from a non-toxic claim.

Look at what has happened to the now defunct Ava Anderson Non-Toxic. When held up to the lens, it collapsed entirely. It seems the company folded due to mounting issues regarding not listing all their ingredients, perhaps to guard their “non-toxic” image, but that’s merely speculation on my part.

The official statement on the website reads: “Our daughter has been under attack, online and in person, and has been tethered to social media for years, attempting to protect the brand and the company she cares so much for.”

If there is nothing questionable in the labeling, there is nothing to defend. Period. Tweet this!

Maybe it’s also worth examining whether toxic and beauty belong in the same sentence.

Check out Josh Rosebrook’s site. You won’t find the word “toxic” anywhere. Instead, he focuses on celebrating what makes his products work and the selective process that feeds his formulas. That is a way prettier approach to beauty if you ask me.

Preservative-free

If a product publicizes itself as “preservative-free,” run from this irresponsible company instantly. A product containing water must include a preservative in order to maintain shelf life and resist mold and bacteria. It is the type of preservative that matters. But a lack of preservative is not only a careless marketing ploy, it can be harmful.

Chemical-free

Any brand that’s using this phrase is probably still living in the previous decade when brands needed to hunt down words to prove that they were free from harmful ingredients. Use it and be prepared to receive a barrage of angry shouts that even water is a chemical.

This phrase misses the mark completely and reflects poorly on a company. Instead, brands  like Laurel Whole Plant Organics use “harsh chemicals” or “toxic chemicals” to distinguish what’s not in their formulas, and those words work much better.

Free from

The UK cosmetics trade association (CTPA) and France’s body for competition and fraud control (DGCCRF) advised against the “free from” claim in 2009 (source), stating that a brand that pronounces itself to be free from certain chemicals is willfully misleading the consumer into thinking it’s offering a healthier option and implies that the other ingredients used to replace those chemicals are safer and better.

It is certainly no guarantee and generally means the consumer needs to do more research or steer clear of the brand altogether. In researching this post, I found a line that really shocked me.

Paula’s Choice is a website written by Paula Begoun who is known to blow the whistle on false beauty claims. But look at what she wrote in an article titled 6 Meaningless Cosmetic Claims You Shouldn’t Believe:

“…and that’s why every Paula’s Choice product is free of unnecessary skin irritants.” Does that mean that if an irritant is necessary, they will use it? Really, as a consumer we have to dig deep and read between the lines.

Instead, follow the standard that May Lindstrom and Leahlani Skincare have perfected of extolling the virtues of each of the ingredients and the inherent beauty in truly natural formulations.

Plant-derived

Buyer beware. Thanks to this revelatory post by Josh Rosebrook, “plant-derived” is the new green washing—when companies misrepresent themselves as being more environmentally responsible than they really are. It is used to deflect notice of totally synthetic ingredients in a product, while still claiming to be clean and green.

Rather than repeat Josh’s entire article, head over there and take notes. It’s a must-read for any conscious consumer.

All natural

Snapple still uses this phrase on its bottles and the popular beverage is anything but natural. There is absolutely no regulation by the FDA when it comes to these labels and proving authenticity.

In fact, what would “all natural” mean anyway? Grass is not even all natural when there are pesticides sprayed all over it.

By the way, the FDA does not regulate the word “organic” either, though the USDA does but has minimal capacity to oversee it due to limited resources. So there is no guarantee that a product with organic in its name or in its ingredients is safer than its conventional counterparts.

Stephanie Greenwood, founder of Bubble & Bee, has a great explanation about why there’s no such thing as certified organic soap, so if you see a soap that’s organic, watch out! It’s definitely worth reading here.

It is time to quit slapping on meaningless phrases. The new conscious consumer wants authenticity above all else. Misleading the public, now that is toxic.

24 thoughts on “Six terms green beauty brands should stop using now

    1. Thank you so much, Tamara! I’ll check them out and also check out how the Soil Association criteria differs from USDA Organic label. My guess is that there must be distinguishing features of each. Thanks for bringing to my attention. Xoxo

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  1. ahhh! Sarita, you’ve done it again! I love how you manage to put everything I was thinking on paper. I guess green bloggers think alike. I always want to write about these topics, but I can never figure out how to word it. I’m so thankful you’re so eloquent when it comes to these kinds of posts because I love reading them and sharing them! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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    1. Tianna, that’s the sweetest comment ever. Thank you. I feel lucky/blessed when the words come to me too. I never know when but when I get an “idea” download, that’s when I go with it. You write beautifully as well and express yourself better than you think. I’m happy you find that I’ve captured something here. Hopefully, only the beginning of an ongoing discussion and expansion. ♡♡♡

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  2. Josh Rosebrook’s site does contain the word toxic (in the ingredients section)..LOL. But I know what you mean – there is a lot of positivity and positive energy on his website and in his descriptions.

    But I agree! There are too many words that are heavily misused in the mainstream beauty industry, which makes me shy away from using terms like organic and natural because it sounds like greenwashing (even when I am actually referring to all natural, organic products). Also ‘non-toxic’, as you so beautifully described, is not the best word to use, being very ambiguous and misleading. And I couldn’t agree more on the ‘preservative-free’ term.

    You are absolutely right that the kind of language we use should reflect what is in rather than what is not in the products. josh rosebrook, may, la bella figura, lalun naturals, to name just a few, do a great job of focusing on the ‘amazingness’ of the ingredients they use. I think this goes a long way in attracting rather than alienating people who want to use effective products regardless of the ‘greenness’.

    However, having said that, I think almost all ‘green/clean’ skincare brands use one or more of these terms, possibly as a short hand to refer to their ingredient philosophy. But language is such a tricky thing that it can easily both inform or mislead so your post is a great reminder to be mindful about the words that are used to describe the products one sells.

    Oh and I love how you describe clean beauty as the norm and how the term green beauty could soon be obsolete! Thank you for this post.

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    1. Thanks for your detailed comment, Lavanya. I think more than not using the language, which I agree can be challenging, is that if a company does use those terms, they have to be prepared to prove their accuracy or they will face a huge backlash in the long run. I certainly would love to see more innovative marketing words going forward. SkinOwl, for instance, uses the self-care approach to appeal to consumers. That’s so much more positive and creative. I love this discussion and hope it keeps going. Clearly change is in the air. Xo

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  3. Great article and much of this I have been ranting about on twitter recently, non-toxic and chemical free wind me up the most. Can I just highlight that you have had people tweet “clean beauty” is that a better term? What does that even mean to those outside of the Green Community? Is it a good enough replacement? Language is so tricky and will always divide people because of interpretation.
    The one term I don’t want to lose is “Free From” and maybe that’s a UK v USA issue but my whole life revolves around Free From because of my allergies. I’m currently reviewing products which state “free from nuts, free from gluten etc” and I see no problem with that as a customer who needs to avoid these things. Free from chemicals is obviously bollocks, but free from SLS or mineral oil, I see no issue with that. Skinsmatter have been defending the use of the term “free from” and have wrote some interesting articles which I fully support (I have left a comment on their site explaining more). http://www.skinsmatter.com/blog/?p=424 & http://www.skinsmatter.com/blog/?p=445
    You mentioned on Twitter “cruelty free” but I don’t feel this falls under the “free from” umbrella, it’s a different subject altogether but if a company wants to tell me they are free from animal ingredients then that’s different.
    Can we add to your “banned” phrases dermatologically tested and hypoallergenic because those are marketing bollocks!
    There needs to be more regulations regarding the natural & organic beauty/cosmetic industry, the words “natural” and “organic” needs governing in some way (#campaignforclarity)

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    1. Hi Sarah! Thanks for adding your comment here as I felt your tweets added another dimension to this discussion. I see what you mean about “free from” and that’s a different context than what I was referring to. Where I notice “free from” would be the companies that say “free from Parabens” implying that they know that people want to avoid this preservative but then the products still contain a slew of other preservatives and ingredients that may not be any better. However, when it comes to avoiding certain ingredients due to allergies, it is still a useful phrase. That’s a great distinction. As for “hypoallergenic” and “dermatologically tested” I agree. As this was a post about green beauty products, I don’t see those terms on many of them but mostly on conventional brands. You are spot on that they dupe the consumer and are meaningless. As for the terms “green beauty” and “clean beauty,” they are totally fine because how else would we set them apart. Of course, this is only my opinion (as is the entire post, so please take it as such), but what I was trying to convey is that at some point we won’t need to distinguish it as “green” because it will be subsumed under the larger rubric of “beauty” and will be the norm, not the fringe. It will be the beauty products that are not created ethically and with integrity that will be the ones that need a label. That’s my hopeful projection going forward. For now green beauty is still relevant. Thanks for your comment and insights! I always value them. They get me thinking from another angle. XO

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      1. but if something is free from parabens and it is actually genuinely free of that ingredient then the statement is not wrong to the consumer. What you have described in your reply to me falls under the umbrella of Greenwashing which I don’t see as a reason to stop using the term Free From. Also someone could wish to avoid parabens but doesn’t care about other preservatives so to that consumer the free from labelling is of value. I have seen hypoallergenic on green beauty brands.
        This is an interesting post that you put together and following recent “dramas” over nail polish it’s something that needed to be shared, you have sparked conversation and that can only be a good thing🙂

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  4. Language is such a big issue isn’t it. I even struggle with the term “conventional” as an opposite to “organic” when there’s nothing conventional about it! Nearly all my favourite green beauty brands are offenders and use at least one of the terms above in their descriptions/websites. I do hope this changes.

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    1. Thank you for your input, Lynda. It is true that we need to come up with clear terminology so that the consumer understands what they’re buying. Given the challenges and limitations of language to describe beauty products made consciously, when a brand does use these terms, they had better be prepared to uphold them. Unfortunately, by very definition, the six phrases above would be very difficult to prove 100% accurate. They’re singly too ambiguous or are used to imply being more natural than they are. And those are the main issues with them. Xo

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  5. Hi Sarita,

    I so agree with this and Beauty Heroes has used the term non-toxic or toxin free liberally. Non-toxic is in our tag line – Non-Toxic beauty delivered to your door one Hero Product at a time. I understand the argument that everything can be toxic if not used properly, but in this case I’ve always felt that non-toxic meant lacking those ingredients that are out-right just bad for your health – and so I felt comfortable with it and the general understanding of what it means. I always love using the term ‘Healthy Beauty’ so much more than non-toxic, it feels lighter and more in alignment with what I want MY beauty to feel like I sign all of our customer emails “Thank you for trusting us to deliver healthy beauty.’ – so I may revise our tag line to read Healthy Beauty delivered to your door, one Hero Product at a time. So thank you for this post as it inspiring me, as usual. Hero On!

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    1. Thank you, Jeannie. I hope it’s clear that I was not pointing a finger at any one company and certainly not the companies, like yours, that strive for greater authenticity at their core.

      I am also a writer so I recognize how hard it is to find words that capture what clean beauty means so that it appeals to many readers. “Clean beauty” in itself is rather ambiguous and can be misleading too. So we are all of us trapped by the limitations of language to convey that we want beauty that’s beautiful inside and out!

      That said, I appreciate your openness in considering new terminology. I do agree that “healthy beauty” is a more inviting word choice with a more expansive feel to it. If the outcome of this post–and some of the other articles that are expressing similar ideas–is that companies must stretch their minds a bit to market themselves with unique and expansive words, then I feel satisfied to be part of that ongoing discussion.❤

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  6. Hey Sarita, I’m curious if you have ever vetted Little Barn Apothecary ? I have one of their scented body oils and the scent lasts forever, so I was curious about the ingredients being purely botanical. On the website they only list “key ingredients” (one of my red flags!). They don’t list all of the ingredients. So, do you have any info regarding this? I know this line is a fave of many green beauty bloggers.

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    1. That’s a great question and certainly a solid reason to be concerned. One of my red flags is only listing key ingredients too. I have no experience with the company, other than it appealing to me from Instagram. Have you written to them to ask your questions? I would definitely want to know a full list of ingredients. That would be my next step.

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  7. Hi, I read this over a couple of times and I’m just left confused. According to you then, what IS ok to say? While your article may encourage good discussion, it feels a bit condescending in tone. Is there going to be a division in the green beauty community, because now we can’t all agree on what is actually green? What IS green? Are you saying that everyone is trying to be green by using meaningless phrases, but their products are not actually green? Again, I’m just left confused by all of this.

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    1. Hi Lynne! Thanks for your comment and for asking me to clarify. The last thing that I mean to be is condescending. Actually, it’s a call for honest marketing. Too often the consumer is duped by these phrases that only sometimes pan out as true. Most brands that are truly natural are more cautious about making any blatant claims because they know that it’s too easy to fall into the trap of having to defend themselves over them. So, I’m advising honest and original marketing, yes. Remove those words entirely? It’s really up to the brand. I can only speak to what I’ve observed. It’s hard to recover from a dishonest claim. It’s not hard to represent a brand truthfully and then have nothing to uphold or defend. It’s not about defining what is green or what is natural. It is about not throwing around these statements unless the brand lives up to them. I hope that makes it clearer and that I answered your questions.

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  8. Hi Sarita,
    I appreciate your response. I’m a bit bemused that this blog post is about defining terms, and yet you are not willing to define green or natural! Maybe because there really is no official definition of these terms, and they are not FDA recognized? So then really how does a company market? What does clean even mean?! I guess I just feel that you are quick to judge all of us ignorants who are throwing around these terms, but in a sense, you are doing the same thing, just using different words and making up your own definition to suit your needs. And this is what I find to be divisive in the community (jeesh, now I don’t even know what to call this community!). It’s a sense of superiority, I know better than you, when I think everything is still pretty new and we are all figuring stuff out. I guess I have a simple wish that we could all come at it from a similar place. I just want to find good products that work, that will not harm my body. It’s disheartening to trust in a company and then feel duped. But equally disheartening to get chastised for it.

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    1. Sorry that you feel chastised and not sure how you got that from me. It’s merely a blog post and an opinion based on my research, but it is not and never was intended to put anyone down. So for that I apologize. It IS unfortunate, however, for people to use certain terms and then get in trouble for them. I don’t know if anyone has a working definition of green because it does mean different things to different people and that’s great. If anything, allow this post to merely serve as food for thought, but certainly not as a way to belittle anyone. That is never what I’m about. I actually don’t find the community to be divisive but rather we are all pushing through together to bring a viable sustainable model to the beauty space.

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