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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, 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. 

In my experience, brands that honestly and transparently share their decision making framework around sustainability choices are the brands that are trying to make the most impact. 

Take a look at their packaging choices

Packaging can be a quick 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 over-packaging products with extra filler to achieve a certain social media-optimized aesthetic, it could be a sign that they are greenwashing.

However, just because a company uses plastic packaging doesn’t mean it is greenwashing, 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 or offsetting their plastic usage?

Single use skincare products, like sheet masks and makeup wipes, are another 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, but nowadays there are plenty of non-single use options - for example, refillable makeup remover that can be applied with reusable cotton rounds.

If it's too good to be true, it probably is

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 a decade ago and can help consumers better understand what companies can and can’t say.

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