Skip to main content

F is for Faux Green: What's Really Green in Beauty and What Isn't

How NOT to let greenwashing get the better of you
  • Author:
  • Updated:

These days it's not uncommon for FASHION Magazine beauty editor Lesa Hannah to take a bunch of unused product samples back to the office. That is not normal beauty-editor behaviour. But after researching and writing a story on what it what it means to be truly natural when it comes to make-pretty choices, not only is Lesa more choosy about what she puts on her face and body, she's become an expert at spotting the wolves in green clothing.

"Greenwashing" has, unfortunately, become a common by-product of the growing demand for natural and organic beauty solutions. While some companies concentrate on crafting entirely synthetic-free formulations, others throw a few drops of a natural ingredient into their mix, print leaves on their packaging and spin a green tale about what still adds up to a mostly not-made-by-nature composition.

Ecocert stamp not so reassuring

Even a certification stamp from a recognized authority is no guarantee of a product's true colours. For instance, Ecocert-approved products can contain sulfates, which are not considered acceptable ingredients by proponents of natural beauty.

"In my interview with [Ecocert], they told me they allow sulfates because while they're a known skin irritant, they're not bad for the environment," Lesa confirms. "There's a perception that if a product is certified by them, you can trust it. And that's simply not the case. Unlike the USDA, Ecocert is in the business of certifiying, so they stand to profit every time they give their seal of approval. You have to look at the ingredients yourself," she says. "I now google ingredients all the time."

Look for entire ingredients lists

But how can you trust what you read on the web? "When I visit sites, I look for entire ingredient lists," Lesa explains, and gives credit to companies, such as John Masters Organics, which "go the extra mile to educate the consumer" on a range of details such as the difference between "cold-pressed" and "heat distilled" plant oils. Complete transparency from the manufacturer is key, she says; even defending the use of a synthetic ingredient goes a long way to fostering trust.

The research for her story, "An Education," has shifted Lesa's beauty focus -- profoundly, in fact. "I used to be so blown away by beauty technology, but now my first reaction is, 'what chemical did they use to make it do that?’"

Green beauty gets prettier

What ignites her passion instead is the progress some brands are making when it comes to creating natural formulas that function as well as their synthetics-laden counterparts (click here for more on what to expect from natural vs synthetic products), as well as the way natural beauty is presented.

"So much of beauty is about being seduced by gorgeous packaging and design," she notes. She gives Pacifica a nod for its pretty tins of natural solid perfume, and calls Burt's Bees "awesome because it's so affordable and accessible," but says, "the category still has a hippie feel. It needs to have more luxe to attract more people, and we need a store like Murale, which is beautiful, to showcase more green."

Make your own green choices

Despite her new mantle as an "eco-warrior," Lesa isn't about forcing natural beauty on anyone. "I don't think anyone should feel they should go completely green," she insists. "Maybe go greener with skincare because the skin absorbs so much of what we put on it. You have to figure out what trade-offs you need to make." For example, Lesa says she'll stick with her conventional mascara because she can't give up the smudge-free results she gets with it, but she's as green as she can be with her sunscreen.

For more, click here to read Fashion's Guide to Green Beauty, get the 411 on ingredients to put on your watch list, and check out Lesa's round-up of great greens.

Image courtesy of