6 Quick Label Detective Tips for Spotting the Greenwashing in Natural Products

Just How Natural are Your Natural Products Anyway?
Guest Post by Lacey Swartz, Owner KV Organics

This may come as no surprise to some of you, and a big surprise to others.  When it comes to ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims on personal care and cosmetic products, there is a lot of room for differing interpretation.  And this can leave people who shop for natural products confused, frustrated, and sometimes feeling ripped off.

There are two main factors contributing to this conundrum.  First, marketing terminology in the industry isn’t regulated.  Products can be marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ and still use many synthetic ingredients – some of them potentially toxic.

Second, people value things differently – some shop on sticker price, some shop on price per ounce, some shop on convenience, some shop on ingredients, some shop on efficacy, some shop on corporate responsibility, and all these factors combine in a variety of ways to create ‘value’ for any given person.  So, what one person looks for in a ‘natural’ product can vary from what another looks for when buying ‘natural.’

So, how would you define natural?
A- Existing in, or formed by nature, not artificial?  Or,
B- Any chemical that can be derived from natural substances?

If you chose B, then you can probably buy any ‘natural’ product on the market today and not worry much – unless you want to dig into some of the toxicity research behind some of the ingredients used in these ‘natural’ products.

If you chose A, and are someone who prefers to apply the precautionary principle by avoiding as many synthetics as possible, then you’ll need to become a “label detective” to find the truly natural products you want amidst the endless sea of greenwashing.

Become a "label detective" to fight greenwashing

Here are 6 quick "label detective" tips for spotting the greenwashing in ‘natural’ products
  1. Beware of misleading brand names - Just because the brand name is ‘So-and-so Naturals’ or ‘XYZ Organics’ doesn’t mean the product as a whole can be classified as natural or organic.  More often, this just means they use some natural or organic ingredients – along with all their synthetic chemicals.
  2. Ignore the marketing images -  Just because a catalog has lots of plant pictures in it does not mean that the products are natural or organic.
  3. Caution on the marketing claims - Marketing words on the front of a box or bottle - such as natural, safe, pure, gentle, beneficial, non-toxic, organic, and even certified organic - can have varying standards for ingredients and these days demand a closer look at the full ingredient list on the back of the packaging.
  4. Demand full ingredient disclosure - Just because the ‘key ingredients’ list contains natural ingredients, or the product says, ‘made with’ natural ingredients, doesn’t mean the rest of the ingredient list doesn’t contain potentially harmful chemicals.  If a company does not readily disclose or answer your questions on the complete ingredient list, a big red flag should start waving in your mind.
  5. Verify the third party verification standards - Case in point, ‘certified organic’ products.  Certified by what organization?  And what are the certification standards?  There are many different standards out there now vying to become ‘THE’ organic standard for personal care and cosmetic products.  Few if any meet the standards which most consumers have come to think of when they think ‘organic’ – that is 95% minimum organic content, the other 5% natural, no chemical preservatives, etc.  These are the food grade standards and they can be applied to personal care products as well.  Compare products meeting the food-grade organic standards with other ‘organic’ standards that require as little as 10% organic content and often allow ingredients or processing methods that would never be allowed in organic food.
  6. Take the Toxic Test - Become familiar with the more concerning ingredients often still found in ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products and start scanning the backs of boxes and bottles as a regular habit before you buy.  You can find lists of ingredients to avoid from groups such as the Environmental Working Group or the Breast Cancer Fund.  If you wish, I also have, on my website, a free downloadable “Toxic Test” resource list of 50+ ingredients to avoid – all compiled in one document.
The bottom line is, you must have a clear sense of what you are looking for and then do some careful digging to find out if a given product matches what you want.  When in doubt, feel free to ask!  People regularly send me messages via my Facebook page asking me to look over ingredient lists for them, and I’m happy to help if I can.

Lacey Swartz , Owner of KV Organics, is all about creating a safe, sustainable lifestyle for her family and helping other moms in their quest for the same. A  visit to her blog will get you valuable, insider information that the personal care and supplement industries do NOT want you to know.  A one-on-one personal care consultation with Lacey will gain you a friend who will help you create a safer home and more sustainable lifestyle for your family. 

P.S.- Have you heard about The Green PolkaDot Box! Recently launched with over 12,000 members and backed by the Organic Consumer's Association, you can easily buy NonGMO organics at wholesale pricing online.  It's like a Sam's club but focused on products for green, healthy living!!  You can even shop by dietary restrictions like gluten free, vegan or diabetic.

Photo Source: Tribune file photo by Bill , Rock Solid Nutrition

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