Who doesn’t want radiant and glowing skin? Perfect, flawless. Who doesn’t want to feel pampered and look amazing? But when it comes to beauty products there’s a darker side. From lead in lipsticks to cosmetic animal testing there are many ethical issues you should closely examine before you make that green beauty product purchase. It can be a hard and confusing road, but with a little bit of research and a willingness to try to make better, greener, and more ethical choices you can select green beauty products that are great for you and the world.
Know the Issues
What issues face green beauty products anyway? Before you make an informed purchasing decision you need to learn about the ecological, ethical, health, and environmental issues that surround the products you are interested in. It’s not always so clear cut. There are several main issues that you should carefully consider before you decide to purchase that product.
Animal Testing may seem easy at first, but as I mentioned in my K-beauty article on the topic it’s not always so clear. While a brand may not animal test in one country they sell their products in, they may be required to test in another country. The best way to make sure you are avoiding products tested on animals is to look for the Leaping Bunny logo which certifies that the product has not been tested on animals.
In Kbeauty things like snail, and horse oil are found in many different beauty products, but animal based ingredients are not always so clearly marked. Some ingredients are compounds that come from animal sources. This raises ethical issues about the treatment of these animals. How were they raised? What was their quality of life like? If you are vegan, you probably have no issue opting out of these types of products, but for the omnivores you might feel more conflicted about it. If you are considering a product that includes animal based ingredients, I highly recommend researching that ingredient and learning as much as you can about how it’s produced.
Palm oil is a notorious culprit for the destruction of forests, and negative environmental impacts. While on the surface it seems like a good, natural ingredient, it has a very dark side. If you choose to select products with palm oil it is imperative that you ensure it’s sustainably harvested palm oil. Palm oil isn’t the only ingredient with sustainability issues! Many herbal or traditional medicine ingredients may also come from unsustainable sources, even if it’s wildcrafted or foraged!
This is an issue I see that is very misunderstood in the green community. Let’s get this strait: everything is toxic in the right dosage. Even water can be toxic. Toxicity is all about the dosage. While drinking too much water can harm you, even kill you, drinking just enough will leave you perfectly hydrated and healthy. While drinking too little will leave you dehydrated and facing certain death or other health complications. The same is true of every other substance we come into contact with (yes, including vitamins and minerals that we need to survive).
So what does this have to do with personal care products?
Small doses of substances can have healthful impacts, while minimizing negative side effects. Take Fluoride for example. It occurs naturally, and in some places it occurs naturally in drinking water. Too much can cause health issues, but small doses help keep your teeth healthy. So, my point is, that just because something may have bad effects in larger doses, doesn’t automatically mean that you should avoid it at all costs.
That being said, there are probably some things you’d rather not have in your personal care items, like for example lead. Unfortunately, lead is one of the most common toxic ingredients found in many cosmetics, particularly lipsticks.
Organic vs. Natural vs Certified Organic
Organic agriculture has certain benefits, including most notably a reduced dependence on what are most often fossil-fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides. In order to obtain a USDA Organic certification, the company or product needs to go through a lengthy and fairly costly process. This in theory means that consumers get an easy way to determine if a product meets an independent third party’s standard of what Organic means. Smaller companies may not have the time, money, or resources to pursue a certified organic status. You may see this on some products which list organic ingredients in their products but the product themselves is not certified organic, or is marketed as containing a certain amount of organic ingredients. You may also see products that claim to be natural. Sadly, “natural” is a marketing term. There’s no requirement or standard at all for this claim.
What does this mean for you?
Smaller businesses may have a harder time getting organic certifications, even though their products are technically organic or contain all organic ingredients. A lack of organic certification doesn’t necessarily mean that product is different from it’s certified organic competitor. However, it certainly can mean that it is! So if you are looking at a product from your local vendor at the farmer’s market, they probably won’t be certified organic, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support them if you love their products! However, if it’s a big national brand that’s not certified organic, you may want to look into the product or brand more.
B-Corps & Brand Missions
Some companies are awesome. They do good work, and they give back to the communities. Some are just out for the profits of their CEOs. How do you tell the difference? First, check the business form! B-corps are a specific type of business that has strict requirements about how the business is to be run. B-corps, as part of their business structures must have programs that help improve social good. Seventh Generation is one national example of a B-Corp. They very clearly state their mission statement, as well as the programs they have instituted or support to help support that mission statement. Frankly, that’s one of the reason I love them so much! How many other companies do you know of that actively try to make the world a better place? Who call out their own industry and actively seek ways to make it better?
Second, check the company’s mission statement and any programs they may have that help to make the world a better place. If you’re going to buy a product, shouldn’t that money go to a company that actually cares about something other than just making money? I like to think so, and if you are reading this, you probably do too!
Green washing is a term that basically means a product/service/whatever that isn’t necessarily very ecologically friendly is being marketed as a green option. It means, that you, as the consumer, are not getting the Eco-friendly product you thought you were, but instead clever marketing made you think that. Not cool, right? You may have encountered it when you’ve seen ads on the television from an energy company telling you about how “green” their energy sources are, when in reality those green sources make up for a very small percentage of how they get their energy. Or at hotels that let you re-use towels to save water, but have fountains going at all times, and massive pools, and green lawns…in the dessert.
How do you tell if it’s green washed?
There’s a site for that! They’ve got some really great advice to help you spot green washing when you see it.
While toxic ingredients are their own issue, there’s also the matter of what happens to that soap or shampoo when it goes down the drain? Will it pollute or otherwise harm the ecosystem it enters after it leave your pipes? Micro-beads (polyethylene) are part of this issue. How disturbing is it that they are in the fish you are eating?! But it can also extend to other ingredients, such as SLS/Sulfates, and tricloscan. These ingredients can harm wildlife and pollute waters, and they aren’t too good for you either.
Have a Budget in Mind
Let’s get real, you’ve only got a certain amount to spend on your green beauty products, you need to get the most bang for your bucks! There are lots of green beauty brands at lots of different price points. There is something for every budget. You don’t have to spend $30 on a tiny 50ml bottle of product, there are many that are very affordable, and easily found within your regular grocery store. Keep in mind, that your product will last you a while. I get about 3-6 months use out of 35-50ml bottles of product, and that’s with twice-a-day, every day use. Sometimes that upfront cost is well worth it once you figure out how long it will last plus any other benefits it will give you (like making you look awesome).
Make Sure It’s Right For Your Skin
There’s nothing worse than getting a new product only to discover that your skin absolutely hates it. This is where samples come in. If you can get a sample of a product, especially if it’s a pricey one, do so! It’s better to know before you shell out full price for a full size product ot know that your skin will hate it. It’s also important to start looking at ingredients, not just for the reasons already mentioned, but to make sure it’s stuff your skin likes. Everyone’s skin is different. If you are using a product now that your skin likes, try to see what ingredients are in it and make a note of it. It will give you a good starting point to reference new products.
Don’t Forget the Enjoyment Factor
I switched facial cleansers because I wanted something better, that was 2 cleansers ago. I have only found worse. The two I picked dry my skin out more than my old one, and don’t smell nearly as amazing. My old one smelled of roses, it was amazing! My new ones smell more like pine and tea tree oil. Okay, but I mean…it’s not roses. I wanted to try the next big thing, the “cool” stuff everyone else used, but the new things just aren’t as nice to use!
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that you actually like. You don’t have to settle for things that smell bad, don’t wash off easily or you dread using. That defeats the whole point doesn’t it? You want to take care of yourself so you feel and look your best, so whatever products you end up selecting, make them ones you enjoy using.
There are many different issues that you should consider before you buy green personal care products, as well as personal likes and dislikes. The good news is that there are lots of products that can meet all these criteria! Many companies have realized that we can be clean, have awesome skin and even makeup without polluting our world, using toxic ingredients, or harming animals.
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Looking for some suggestions? Here are some of my favorite green personal care brands:
How do you select which green beauty & personal care products to select and buy?