Most green claims made in the ingredients category are not regulated so there is widespread confusion surrounding definitions and most importantly why they matter. Knowing what your favourite beauty products are made of and their impact, environmentally and socially, is important.
We recommend looking for certifications to third-party standards to ensure the brands you are buying are using their ingredient claims in an honest and clear way (as certifications and third-party standards have independent testing measures to ensure quality and consistency).
As definitions such as ‘natural’ are not regulated, products can sometimes include ingredients that are more irritating and harmful than those they are trying to exclude (by not being natural). Products labelled ‘all natural’ capture the importance of knowing what to look out for.
Think about what ingredients matter to you and do your research. Brands will rarely tick all the boxes but knowing what you are looking for can help you make informed choices. A good place to start is to look for recommendations through independent consumer testing bodies such as Which? or Ethical Consumer. To learn more about the requirements behind the ingredient-related claims and certifications you come across, explore the Provenance Framework, an open-source rulebook to help brands communicate impact and avoid greenwashing.
Greenwashing means shoppers are making what they think are ‘green’ choices, when in fact, their choices could have a negative effect on the environment rather than positive. Problematically, this drains credibility from honest brands that are genuinely trying to be have a positive impact.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Microplastics are small pieces of plastics (typically under 5.5mm) contained in beauty products (amongst other things) that are rinsed away with wastewater during use, which means they ultimately end up in the ocean. Plastic degrades into smaller and smaller pieces over tens or even hundreds of years. This means that all plastic that has ever been produced and has ended up in the environment is still present there in one form or another. The impact this has on sea life, wildlife & human life is still being researched.
Microplastics are found in various cosmetics such as eyeliners, mascara, lipsticks, powders and skincare products. Each use may contain up to 100,000 tiny plastic particles. To make sure that products are completely free of any microplastic ingredients, you need a guarantee so look for the Zero logo. On average, a human being absorbs up to five grams of plastic per week via the diet, which is roughly the weight of a credit card. The UK-wide ban on microbeads in rinse-off products (scrubs, shampoo or shower gel) only solves half of the problem, particularly as it does not cover leave-on cosmetics (make-up).
This is a popular and broadly used term. Although, with no official regulatory definition, it is hard to say for certain whether a product is natural. It is therefore important to look for products with a certification seals such as NATRUE or the Soil Association as this can provide defined guarantees for natural cosmetics based on a rigorous criteria.
This is a product made using biodynamically grown ingredients. This farming system is ‘super-organic’ in that it is an organic farming system which also manages biodiversity and takes into account the holistic farming system.
Against Animal Testing / Cruelty Free
Against Animal Testing / Cruelty Free
Animal testing for cosmetics was banned in the UK in 1998, and it is currently against the law to test any ingredients or finished products on animals. However, some countries still require animal testing and brands might decide to test and sell these products outside of the UK. Even if the product has not directly been tested on an animal, the raw materials and ingredients used to make the product may also have been tested.
Until alternatives to animal testing become globally accepted and implemented worldwide, you need to be vigilant. Supporting companies who have clear stances against animal testing or campaign actively against it is a good start. Also, look out for products that are Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny approved.
An organic product uses ingredients that were grown and processed without the use of manufactured herbicides and artificial fertilisers, and refers to certified farming practices and food products made using legally defined rules.
This term is not legally protected on cosmetics and beauty products, but to help to guide you can look out for certified products with the by COSMOS (as certified by the Soil Association) & NATRUE seals.
The criteria for both seals are clearly defined in their private standards and ensure a minimum percentage of the ingredients came from certified organic agriculture.
Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known as the triple bottom line. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an example of how this is brought to life in the real world.
Palm oil is a vegetable oil extracted from either the fruits (palm oil) or kernels (palm kernel oil) of palm trees, it remains a highly production ‘efficient’ ingredient and is used in many different products from body care, skincare & haircare.
Palm oil has many benefits, grown sustainably it produces more oil per area of land than other oil crops but there have been issues caused by deforestation and human rights abuses due to the rapid growth of the industry.
Look for brands choosing Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in their products. The NATRUE standard requires beauty brands to use certified sustainable or certified organic palm oil in their products. You may also want to look out for the Orangutan Alliance Certification to be sure the products you are buying don’t contain palm oil.
Products that do not contain any ingredients or use production processes that are the result of animal slaughter. If you want 100% vegetarian products you should look for an independent standard or certification from a body such as The Vegetarian Society, check certification to a third-party standard or check with the brand you are buying.
Vegan and vegetarian claims are often thought to be synonymous with promoting animal welfare, but they cannot be assumed to be natural, organic or less harmful to the planet unless verified.
Ingredients which are derived from nature but have gone through more extensive processing to create a higher level of safety or efficacy and have been modified from their original state, e.g. sodium bicarbonate which can be found as a naturally occurring compound, but is more frequently manufactured from other naturally derived materials. Sodium bicarbonate can be produced by the reaction of carbon dioxide and soda ash, a naturally occurring mineral.
These can be entirely man-made ingredients that do not exist in nature (e.g. silicones) or reproductions of substances that already exist in nature (e.g. sorbic acid, a preservative).
The terms Vegan and Vegetarian aren’t legally protected at EU level, but it is possible to guarantee that a product is either Vegan or Vegetarian through private standards or definitions. Products not tested on animals are not automatically Vegan and vice versa. Looking at the certification logo seals on pack and the list of ingredients can help you verify whether a cosmetic is vegan or vegetarian.