Teens Turning Green Blog

How to Spot Greenwashing Like a Pro:

Chances are if you walk down a supermarket beauty aisle, there will likely be dozens of products advertising natural formulas. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by cosmetic choices as companies adopt marketing strategies geared to make their products appear green, eco-friendly, and natural. But did you know that the $50 billion cosmetic industry is the least regulated sector of the market? This allows companies to put unlimited amounts of unregulated, untested, and unlabeled chemicals into the products we use on our bodies. Yikes!?

Brace yourself for the ugly truth: less than 20% of all cosmetic chemicals are tested for safety. Would you drive a car from a company that runs safety tests for only 20% of their cars? Probably not. Don’t be fooled (I was at first!), commonly labeled terms such as “natural”, “organic”, and “herbal” have no legal significance. Zero. Zip. Nada. So, how do we decipher the code of deceptive advertising? The good news is that it’s easy and that impact of our consumptive habits are uber powerful!

Conventional to conscious graphic

First let’s start with an important term that will come in handy in deciding which products are truly non toxic, sustainable, and of course conscious! Greenwashing refers to the methods companies use to promote a pro-environmental image when their ingredients are anything but. This can be as simple as putting a leaf on a shampoo bottle to labeling products as “natural” or “made with organic ingredients” (which, in truth, legally means that only 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic).

“The key is to flip that bottle over and take a look at what’s really in the product.”

If you find words that look like they came from an alien planet, chances are that ingredient does not hold good intentions for the well being of your body, or the planet! Commonly used toxic ingredients to look out for are Parabens, fragrances (a trade secret so companies don’t have to disclose what’s in it), sulfates, and colors listed as “CI” followed by five digits (i.e. FD&C Blue, No. 1, Blue 1). Check out TTG’s Dirty Thirty to get a list of ingredients to avoid.

ingredients vs alternatives

When I first learned about greenwashing and the seemingly endless chemicals in my products, I was completely overwhelmed. How am I to memorize all of these names? There are incredible organizations that have got your back. My favorite go-to site is the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Database. Whenever I need to look up the safety of a product, I simply type my product name (or brand!) into their search bar and EWG will rate the product on a scale of 0 (Safe!) to 10 (Belongs in a far away sealed vault.) based on the safety of the product’s ingredients. Another great tool, especially handy while shopping, is the Skin Deep app that will scan any barcode, highlight harmful ingredients, and provide greener alternatives. With these resources, finding the safest and friendliest products will be a breeze.

No seal, no deal remains my number one rule when looking for eco-fabulous products. Look for the seals or words “certified organic, no harmful chemicals, Non-GMO, or BPA-free” on the bottle to ensure the authenticity of company claims.


SONY DSC

To jumpstart you on your new conscious body routine, check out a few of our favorite brands such as Acure, Aubrey Organics, Dr. Bronners, and EO. As consumers, we have the power to vote with our money for the most sustainable and safe products. Every time you shop consciously, it sends a message of support to companies that are looking out for their consumers, pursuing ethical and safe ingredients. We have the power to use our dollars to advocate for a more sustainable, non-toxic, and safer world! So, spread the word by telling your friends about greenwashing and take action with this month’s PGC 365 challenge!


This post was written by a guest blogger- Alice Beittel

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.10.34 AMBeittel is a senior at Bishop O’Dowd School in Oakland, CA. She is deeply concerned for the future of the environment and wants to spread awareness and inspiration about environmental issues: youth have the power to make changes for the better! Alice found her passion for the environmental justice during Teens Turning Green’s Project Green Challenge 2013 and continues to work towards creating an equitable and sustainable world for all. Currently she is a committee member of her high schools’s Students for Sustainability Club and plans to major in environmental science. She is also an actor, singer, a fencer, a dancer, a snowboarder and of course, a friend of Mother Earth!


Featured image source

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This entry was published on February 12, 2015 at 3:37 pm and is filed under Wear. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “How to Spot Greenwashing Like a Pro:

  1. Fascinating! This stuff is crazy. Such an accurate term- “greenwashing”, lol!

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