'Greenwashing'—5 Misleading Marketing Terms To Be Wary Of With Beauty Products

greenwashing in beauty industry
Image: Biologi

Clean beauty has become what clean eating is—a way of ensuring that you’re looking after your body from the inside out. As a society, we are becoming more mindful of what we’re putting in and on our bodies, and over the years, there has been a gravitational shift towards natural and organic food sources, followed by natural and organic skincare products. But with a plethora of beauty products on the market combined with clever marketing tactics, it can be quite confusing for us, as consumers, to know exactly what we’re buying in to.
Enter: Greenwashing.
“This is a term used to describe when a brand makes claims to be green and natural through their marketing, yet when you delve a little deeper, chances are there is more effort put into the perception rather than the actual practice,” explains chemist and founder of Biologi, Ross Macdougald.

Photo via @myscandistyle reposted by @biologiserum

“It’s when a brand promotes their products using unsubstantiated or misleading claims that lead the customer to believe that their products are natural, green or organic (when in actual fact, they’re only partially, or in worst cases, not at all).
Here are some common terms to be wary of when selecting beauty and skincare products:


Ross explains that the word ‘natural’ can be the thing that gets the purchases across the line, however, the term ‘natural’ is often misused. “In some cases, this can mean that only a small percentage of a product’s ingredient is plant-based or originally ‘natural’, but has now, in fact, gone through a production process which now results in a less-than-natural form.”


“The phrase basically implies that components once came from a natural source but they have been altered in some way, usually delivering a chemically-laden form of the original ingredient,” explains Ross.


“This is another claim that creates a misleading perception. This obviously sounds great in theory, because who wouldn’t want to buy a product which has been endorsed by a professional? However, unfortunately, the case is normally that the dermatologist has usually been paid a nice little fee to promote the brand and its products.”
“Brands also make the ambiguous claim of ‘Dermatologically tested’, without any further information on how this testing was done, the sample size, how it was performed, or whether it was successful or not.”

Image supplied by Edible Beauty

No nasties such as parabens, sulfates, etc

“Many natural brands make a lot of noise in regards to the toxic chemicals that aren’t contained in their products, such as parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, sulfates, etc,” explains Ross. “This is a great way of shifting the focus to what’s not in their products, rather than discussing what actually is.”

“A lot of the time these same brands contain ‘toxic chemicals’ or substitutes which are either as bad or even worse. An example of this is when brands will replace a fragrance with essential oils that have the potential to be far more sensitizing to the skin than the fragrance (this is just so they can claim the ‘natural’ high ground). It’s like adding chlorine or arsenic to your product and saying they are good for us because they are natural.”

Photo via @___thelatest reposted by @biologiserum


“There’s also the commonly used statements like ‘Chemical Free’ or ‘Toxin-Free’. These are crazy statements especially if you consider that ingredients like water (common in most skincare products) are actually a chemical made up of hydrogen and oxygen.”

Then there’s the production process, which is rife with confusion. Some brands are claiming they use green practices and rightfully so, however when you delve a little deeper, it could mean that they as a brand do, but they may have sourced ingredients from third party suppliers that do not. This is a big grey area and whilst the brand itself is making a claim that is correct, somewhere down the line the practices are not green, meaning as a consumer you may not have made that purchase had you known.

edible beauty natural beauty
Image: Edible Beauty

Now, just to be clear, this is not to say that ALL brands using the terms above are doing so in a misleading manner. There are brands that we know and trust doing the right thing. The point here, however, is that there are brands out there jumping on the bandwagon with desirable beauty claims that are nothing more than a clever marketing ploy, in which case, we as consumers have to be mindful.

So, what’s a girl (or guy) to do?

First and foremost, it’s important to make yourself more informed when it comes to the purchases you make. “To avoid being greenwashed, look for brands that are displaying 100% transparency in their marketing. Also, do your research and get informed about the brand, their products, and their company practices,” advises Ross.
“Try not to take everything at face value and if in doubt, ask the brand itself. They have a duty of care to tell you the truth and it’s your right as a consumer to delve deeper. There are also some great resources online who break down skincare labeling terminology and shed further light on the grey areas.”
“As a consumer, it is important to be aware of what you’re purchasing and whilst it can be a confusing world out there, you have a right to know what you’re putting on your skin.”

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