Chuan's Promise products on a bedspread next to some dried eucalyptus, a hairbrush and a book

How to spot greenwashing in skincare

Greenwashing is the practice of making products seem more eco-friendly or sustainable than they actually are. As someone who factors sustainability into every product and business decision I make (hello, see sample sale above!), it bothers me when I see companies greenwashing their beauty or skincare products.

So, how can you tell if a product is being greenwashed, or if it’s the real deal? Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Look for honesty and transparency. Is the company or brand sharing what makes their products eco-friendly? Do they share information about their sustainability practices? It’s easy to slap the word “clean” or “green” on a product, it’s much harder to share actual reasons why a product is a sustainable option. 
  • Packaging can be a dead giveaway for whether or not a skincare product is being greenwashed. If a company is using hard to recycle or reuse materials, like plastic or metal tubes, or is known for overpackaging products with extra filler for that Instagram aesthetic, it could be a sign that they are greenwashing. Just because a company uses plastic packaging doesn’t mean it’s greenwashing though, so you can also check to see if a company has committed to going plastic free. If so, what’s their goal and are they sharing updates on progress? If not, are they reducing packaging waste elsewhere? 
  • Single use skincare products, like sheet masks and makeup wipes, are a big red flag. Not only do they contribute to packaging waste, but the product itself is meant to be disposed of! Sometimes this is for sanitary reasons (eg. you don’t want to share a makeup wipe with a friend, gross), but nowadays there are plenty of non-single use options, like refillable makeup remover that can be applied with reusable cotton rounds. 
  • Last but not least, if it’s too good or cheap to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, sustainable ingredients, supplies and business practices still cost more than conventional options. Don’t be fooled by brands’ greenwashy claims!

If you want to learn more about FTC guidelines around environmental and sustainability-related marketing claims, check out their Green Guides. They were last updated about a decade ago, but they can help consumers better understand what companies can and can’t say.

BONUS: My hot take on “clean beauty” at a certain big beauty store. 

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