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Are You Being Greenwashed By Your Beauty?

by Soil Association

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when a brand misleads consumers into thinking they are more sustainable than they really are through their advertising. You may have seen companies employ lots of “green” imagery and colouring in their marketing and packaging, easily connecting the brand to the environment in the consumers mind, whilst offering no guarantee of their real environmental impact. 

How does greenwashing occur in the beauty and wellbeing industry?

Greenwashing is a particular problem in the beauty and wellbeing industry because there is so little regulation around environmental claims.

Let’s look at this in relation to the term “organic”. In the UK, for food to be labelled as “organic” it needs to have been farmed to a strict legally defined standard. However, this is not the case with beauty and wellbeing products. The term is not legally regulated in this field, meaning that it is possible for companies to label their product as organic even if it contains minimal organic ingredients!

A survey by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published in 2021 found that 40% of green claims made online could be considered misleading. This has prompted the government to launch the Green Claims Code to give companies guidance on making sure any environmental claims they make are accurate and not misleading consumers. As this measure leaves the checking of claims up to the company themselves however, many still feel not enough is being done to hold businesses accountable.

As a consumer, how do I avoid being greenwashed?

One of the easiest ways to avoid greenwashing is to look for a reputable third-party certification. This will ensure a brand has had to meet certain criteria to make environmental claims .

To ensure you are buying not just a truly organic, but also a responsible product, be sure to look for the Soil Association Certification Organic logo. This ensures that at least 20% of the overall ingredients in the product are organic (10% for wash off products). This may seem like a low percentage, but it is because water makes up a large percentage of the ingredient composition and cannot be classed as organic because it is not a farmed ingredient! However, 95% of the product’s PPAI ingredients - which are the ingredients from agriculture that have gone through a physical process such as crushing - must be organic. 

A product certified to the Soil Association Certification standard is guaranteed to have gone through sustainability checks, from the farm the ingredients are grown on, to the processing and packaging facilities. All of these must be inspected and certified by us, and these checks happen every year when the company’s license is up for renewal. 

What ingredients should I look out for?

The best way to identify greenwashing is to be informed. INCI lists on the back of products can be very confusing, so check out the Soil Association’s list of “Terrible Ten” ingredients in beauty products. These are ingredients that are included in some products claiming to be organic that would not be allowed under the Soil Association Certification Standard, due to the potential side effects on both human and environmental health. 

The certified organic beauty and wellbeing market is experiencing strong growth. Sales of certified products grew 15% in 2021 and the market is now worth £138m in the UK alone. Our 2022 Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Market Report also found that consumers are becoming more aware of greenwashing, and while 52% of consumers surveyed do not trust brands to be honest about their environmental impact, 42% said they would be encouraged to see a brand as more sustainable if it had third party certification proving its standards.