by Malina Yeager

One thing is for sure: green beauty has gone mainstream. And with all the new products on the market, it’s hard to tell which products are truly natural and which companies are just green washing.

Just because a product is marketed as “natural” does not mean that it’s environmentally friendly. The practice of adding a minuscule amount of a natural ingredient so that a product can be marketed as green is also known in the industry as using ‘marketing ingredients.’ Marketing ingredients increase label appeal, making consumers more likely to buy the product since it looks like, and is marketed as, a natural product.

Here is the good news: Armed with a few tips and resources we can all feel confident about reading labels and shopping for beauty products that are clean, natural, and good for us. Follow the below tips when you search for beauty products, and you will be on your way to a healthier, cleaner beauty routine that won’t harm your hair, skin or health.

A rose by any other name
Ingredients that sound complicated or complex are commonly perceived as unhealthy. This idea is a carry-over from the organic food movement whose mantra is “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.” This is a good rule of thumb for food but doesn’t always apply to beauty products. While many beauty products contain food-based ingredients, many of them also contain natural elements with technical sounding names that can cause confusion.

One example of a natural ingredient that may not sound familiar is dihydrogen oxide—also known as water. The lesson here is that just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the label or you aren’t familiar with it doesn’t mean it’s unnatural, unhealthy or unsafe.

Label reading 101
Believe it or not, there only two ingredients you need to know about to quickly eliminate nearly 99 percent of products you wouldn’t want on your hair or skin. Here are the two you need to avoid.

Artificial fragrance
Suffice it to say, artificial fragrances are a concoction of chemical ingredients. What’s more, these mixtures are listed as just ‘fragrance’ on the label. Artificial fragrances can be made up of hundreds of toxic and harmful chemicals (including phthalates), that studies have linked to hormone disruption, allergies, topical dermatitis and other ailments.
Artificial fragrances are used more often than essential oils in personal care products for a variety of reasons, including stability in a formula, as they are less likely to break down and change fragrance over time. They are also a fraction of the cost of essential oils, since they are human-made and manufactured in a lab. Further, there is never a supply issue, since they’re not dependent on crop yield or seasonality.

Also, remember that companies will often add a tiny amount of essential oil in a formula just so they can add it to the label—even though the real fragrance is artificial. Don’t be deceived by this sleight of hand. Read the label carefully; artificial fragrance will be tucked away someplace toward the end of the ingredient list. If the label lists artificial fragrance on it, find a different product.

Typically labeled as fragrance, parfum or perfume.

2. Silicones
A petroleum-derived ingredient, silicones or the ‘cones’ are what I consider a quick fix group of ingredients, especially for the hair. They act as a Band-Aid to fix damaged, frizzy, curly or otherwise unruly hair. They work by coating the hair, making it shiny and soft. The buildup blocks moisture from penetrating the hair, in turn, this dehydrates the hair. As a result, the hair becomes dull and lifeless. They are also not biodegradable and burden the earth with more waste. Companies use silicones in everything from facial serums to shampoos and conditioner.

Typically listed on the label as silicone, dimethicone or anything ending in ‘cone’.

SEALS AND CERTIFICATIONS
Another way to know if a product is natural is to see if they have any seals or certifications. If a product is certified, you may see a small round stamp on the label that identifies the accreditation. There are many certifications that a company can obtain. Here are a few of the most common ones, including those with the highest standards.

USDA Organic
This seal is a popular one on food products and is considered the gold standard in the industry. It’s not as prevalent to see this on a beauty product but when you do, you know it’s a good one. The USDA organic certification is the most difficult for a beauty company to obtain because it was created for farms and food, not beauty products. In order for a beauty product to use the USDA seal, they must go through an intense and rigorous process of proving their ingredients are organic and that their methods prevent cross-contamination with non-organic ingredients.

Soil Association
Founded in 1946, the soil association was the first in the world to create an organic certification. This UK-based charity is another very high standard for natural and organic beauty products. Many U.S. brands that sell in European countries have this seal, sometimes right alongside the USDA organic seal.

Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) fills a unique gap in the certification market and is one of the newer beauty standards to come onto the scene. EWG certified products take all the data available on the health effects of ingredients and then certify companies that follow the strict EWG standards. The companies that apply for the certification are not allowed to use ingredients containing harmful compounds and must disclose all fragrance components on the label. Companies must also adhere to strict manufacturing practices to ensure the safety of each product. Visit EWG.org.

Apps to help you shop


The EWG app and Think Dirty app makes it easy to search ingredients and products while you shop.
Malina Yeager is the owner of K Salon Organic located at 1819 S Wardson St. in Spokane Valley, WA. For more information, call 509-926-5392 or visit KSalonOrganic.com.