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By Chere Di Boscio
Recently, Dr Bronner’s exposed the truth about ‘fake’ organic brands–that is to say, brands that claimed to be organic based on their ingredients, packaging and marketing, but which actually either a) carried only a few organic ingredients mixed with highly chemical ones or b) actually had no organic ingredients at all.
This kind of ‘greenwashing’ is more common than you think, and here at Eluxe we’re getting rather tired of correcting brands telling us they’re ‘eco friendly’ when actually they’re anything but.
We’ve already unveiled 5 other brands notorious for their greenwashing, but after a quick survey of staff, friends and family, we’ve found five more brands to add to that list.
Some results you may have suspected, while others may shock you. Buyer beware!
Of those brands you think are eco friendly, Kiehl’s ranks high. Its ‘old worlde’ packaging, claims of purity and even organic ingredients all mislead customers into thinking the products it peddles are natural. In fact, this is far from the reality–almost all of Kiehl’s creams, serums and potions is chock-full of nasties.
Take Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream for example. At the top of its ingredients list is phenoxyethanol, a preservative that is a skin irritant and a neurotoxin. Not a good start. Moving down the list, we find two parabens, associated with cancer; chlorphenesin, a neurotoxin that is restricted in Japan; disodium EDTA, a harsh chemical which enhances the penetration of other ingredients; triethanolamine, which was proven in animal studies to cause sense organ problems, even at very low doses, and sodium hydroxide, which has been shown to destroy healthy skin cels within one hour.
Given this long list of potentially harmful chemicals, Kiehl’s claims that the cream’s use of an all-natural Australian desert plant with superb water retention properties seems rather meaningless by comparison, no? Oh, and guess what–according to PETA, they also test on animals!
The Brazilian shoe company co-designs with big names, including Karl Lagerfeld and notably Vivienne Westwood. Until fairly recently, Melissa branded itself as an ‘eco-friendly’ company because it uses ‘vegan leather‘ comprised of recycled PVC for most of its shoe designs.
According to Inhabitat, the shoes are made from MELFLEX plastic, a flexible form of PCV. They claim Melissa shoes are “totally cruelty free and devoid of animal products”, and go on to mention that “the Brazilian-based company is totally rad in its recycling of 99.9% of factory water and waste, and they also go the distance by recycling overstock styles into next season’s collection. Even better? Melissa Shoes employees are paid above average wages and benefits. What’s not to like in these plastic fantastic accessories?”
Well, quite a lot, actually.
Research shows that heavily toxic and dangerously carcinogenic PVC is never, ever safe, especially for children, and recycling it actually releases more toxins from this carcinogenic material into the atmosphere.
On their website, Melissa list several countries that have online shops where you can buy their shoes, but there are some notable exceptions: most of the EU. Perhaps this is because PVC is banned in most EU countries? For example, Sweden has been working on discontinuing all PVC uses since 1995, and in Spain, over 60 cities have been declared PVC-free. Germany has banned the disposal of PVC in landfills as of 2005, is minimising the incineration of PVC, and is encouraging a full phase out of all PVC products.
Melissa used to have all their social and environmental ‘credentials’ listed on their site. No longer. No wonder.
This brand, owned by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder corporation, claims their production processes involve some forms of natural energy and renewable resources, and that their skincare is formulated with organic and natural ingredients, which is true–some of the ingredients are.
However, almost all Origins products we checked contain potent chemicals that are known irritants and have no established benefit for skin; what was especially worrying is that the skin creams with sun care protection also contained highly irritating ingredients, some of which are phototoxic.
Moreover, for ‘natural’ products, there are certainly a LOT of chemicals, though the brand claims these are not ‘harsh’, whatever that means. For example, these are just some of the chemicals listed on the ingredients list for A Perfect World SPF 25 Age Defense Moisturiser:
Octisalate, Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Ethyl Macadamiate, Methyl Trimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Lauryl PEG-9 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, PEG-100 Stearate , Glyceryl Stearate, Ascorbyl Tocopheryl Maleate , Oryzanol, Ergothioneine, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Cetyl Alcohol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Linoleic Acid, Squalane, Sodium Hyaluronate, Caprylyl Glycol, Dehydroxanthan Gum, Silica, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Phenoxyethanol
In particular, Octocrylene, which is one of the top 3 ingredients in this particular product, can be absorbed into the skin, and studies have shown that it could promote the generation of harmful free radicals when exposed to light. As free radicals can damage DNA, there is concern that this ingredient might have actually contributed to a rise in cases melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users. However, researchers say further studies are needed to determine the true health impact of this ingredient.
Most worrying of all is the listing of Squalane, which is often derived from sharks. This can come in plant form too, but Origins makes no clarification of that, thus meaning that the product may actually not be cruelty-free.
So for those who are vegan or who just care about animal rights, even though Origins says they contain no animal ingredients, you should question the ‘origins’ of the brand’s Squalane, and more importantly–know that parent company Estee Lauder still tests on animals in China, and that includes doing animal testing of the Origins range if it’s sold in China. As an added bonus, the company’s CEO, Ron Lauder, supports right-wing Israeli extremists with funds generated from the group’s cosmetics–hardly ethical.
We were shocked to see this brand, owned by the notorious Nestle, at Sustainable Luxury 1.618. I personally asked what on earth this company was doing at a sustainability show, and was basically told that because they have a recycling program for their coffee pods, the brand is ‘green’. Ha! Quite a claim from a company that makes a product that is, by its very nature, hardly eco-friendly. While their coffee may be quick to make, let’s not forget that for centuries, no electricity has been necessary to make a good brew: hot water and a coffee press were enough.
Even the scoop espresso makers, so popular in Italian coffee bars over generations and still the main way to make coffee in many proper cafes today, only require loose coffee and a metallic scoop. Nothing disposable here, and what’s more: the grounds can be used to fertilise acid-loving plants, like gardenias, for example.
In Britain alone, almost 200m–yes, that’s right, 200 million— coffee capsules were used last year, and almost all ended up in landfill. Why? Because it’s a hassle to recycle them. Sure, Nespresso say they will collect its aluminium pods for recycling – but only when you order more from its website. Otherwise you can recycle at its UK stores – a long trip if you don’t live in London, Birmingham or Manchester, and hardly convenient even if you do.
It’s hard to take Nespresso’s claims to sustainability seriously when its parent company has one of the worst ecological track records in history and is currently destroying Indonesian rainforests to harvest palm oil for its chocolate and other products. Not only that, but they’re notorious for bottling free tap water and selling as bottled water. But the entire concept behind Nespresso’s coffee pods, now being pushed by the company into restaurants around the world, is dubious–I mean, given that espresso has been made for a century without pods at all, wouldn’t it be better for the planet if these completely unnecessary pods didn’t exist in the first place?
Yet another brand in the Hall of Shame that’s under the Estee Lauder umbrella (although it ‘operates independently’) is the hair care label, Aveda.
Aveda’s business practices are definitely more eco-friendly than most: it was the first beauty company to use 100% post-consumer recycled PET packaging; it manufactures with 100% certified wind power, and has signed up to the CERES Principles, a 10-point code of corporate environmental conduct created in 1989.
However, most people buy the brand’s products believing they are ‘organic’ or ‘pure’–but the reality is often not quite that.
While there are indeed some natural ingredients many items in the Aveda range, others are as chemically nasty as anything on a cheap drugstore shelf. For example, their Aveda Control Paste Finishing Paste, carries high health concerns for allergies and immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and occupational hazards, among other issues. A quick look at the ingredients list confirms that this is one product to avoid:
Aqueous (Water, Aqua Purificata, Purified) Extracts: Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow) (Organically Grown), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Organically Grown), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, (Coconut), PEG-25 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Tribehenin, (Rapeseed), Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, (Coconut), Glycerin, (Coconut), Cetearyl Alcohol (Coconut), Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate (Palm), Fragrance (Parfum), Citral, Geraniol, Linalool, Farnesol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Eugenol, Limonene, Hydroxypropyl Guar, Disodium EDTA, Chlorphenesin, Methylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Annatto (Cl 75120), Mica, Titanium Dioxide (Cl 77891).
Moreover, their rapeseed oil is very likely from GMO sources (as almost all rapeseed oil is today, unless specified as organic) and much of the abundant palm oil that’s present in many of the brand’s products is sourced from Indonesian rainforests, meaning not only are ancient trees being cut down to fulfil demand for palm oil there, but many species of animal, most notably the orangutan, are being displaced.
As part of the Estee Lauder family, a portion of Aveda’s profits go to the owners of the group. In 1993, Ron Lauder co-founded a think tank called the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. The Israeli Education Ministry has described the center as “a research institute whose leanings are extreme right-wing and even fascistic.” Much of the focus of this Estee Lauder-funded group perpetuates war in the Middle East.
The bottom line? This is one brand whose ingredients are often far from sustainable, despite what they claim.
I know several people with skin allergies and eczema who have turned to this brand to solve their maladies, with little success. And no surprises: despite Aveeno’s claims that their Active Naturals carry ingredients “derived from nature and uniquely formulated by Aveeno to deliver real skin results”, more often than not, these ‘natural’ ingredients are just part of a chemical mix.
Let’s look at their Daily Scrub, for example.
The product contains a long list of ingredients, but those that I personally would consider dubious include: Sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene, lauryl glucoside, PEG-16 soy sterol, carbomer, phenoxyethanol, glycol distearate, cocamidopropyl betaine, methylparaben, butylene glycol, fragrance, laureth-4, sodium hydroxide, and tetrasodium EDTA.
Cure skin allergies? Despite their neutral beige packaging and promises to deliver all the goodness of nature, Aveeno’s products are more likely to cause them.
It sells itself as an Argan oil based product that restores hair and skin through the power of nature. Its website uses interviews with women involved in social volunteering, renewable energy and animal rights. But all of this is planned campaigning directly aimed at greenwashing the fact that the product itself has links to an oppressive, exploitative regime. Yes, that’s right–MoroccanOil isn’t Moroccan at all–it’s actually an Israeli company.
But appropriating Moroccan culture isn’t the only unethical thing this brand does. Whilst Argan oil has been used by Arabian women for centuries because it’s wonderful for both the skin and hair, MoroccanOil contains a teeny, tiny, weeny percentage of pure Argan oil–in some products, it’s as low as 4%–and the other, say 96% is pretty much water and nasty chemicals. But of course MoroccanOil’s prices don’t reflect this.
In short, there’s just no justification for buying anything from this product line. You’d be better off buying pure Argan oil products created by the likes of Art Naturals, Pura d’Or or Josie Maran instead.
This one kinda breaks our hearts. We had huge, high hopes for Jessica Alba’s apparently all natural grooming products, housecleaning and baby care store. But then we found out she wasn’t actually all that ‘honest’ about the ingredients of her products. For example, she labelled her premium Infant Formula as “organic” – but it’s actually far from that. A lawsuit brought against the company alleges the product contains 11 synthetic ingredients that are not allowed by federal law in organic products, including sodium selenite and taurine – yep, the key ingredient of energy drink Red Bull. For infants? Hmmm….
But that’s not all. Honest Co uses sodium coco sulphate in its laundry detergent and some shampoos, and apparently, that ingredient has high levels of sodium laureth sulphate, which is a harsh detergent than can harm skin. The worst thing about the whole debacle is that rather than apologising and maybe promising to change the formulations, Jessica has taken a PR approach favoured by politicians (and we all know how ‘honest’ they are!), defending her choices and denying any wrongdoing.
If it were just one mess up, we’d be inclined to let it slip, but the truth is, this company has made several ‘mistakes’ in claiming their products are all natural and free of harmful ingredients. Consumer trust levels? Plummeting…
All images by the company’s websites unless stated. Main image: Pixabay