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All You Need to Know About Green Beauty – True or False

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Should we choose a vegan day cream or still fear animal testing?

The green meadow into which the cosmetics industry has rushed looks like a jungle.

My goal of the day is for you to be unbeatable on the subject.

According to a Birchbox study conducted this year on 751 women in France, 9 out of 10 feel concerned by the so-called green beauty.

A term that is a bit vague but very practical to designate organic, vegan, but also “clean beauty” (which is defined as being as good for the skin as it is for the planet), and, more generally, the vast range of so-called “natural” products.

In recent months, the growth of the sector has been phenomenal. Large groups are creating their own green brands, while until now they preferred to buy from existing producers.

L’Oréal launched “La Provençale Bio” last year, Unilever has just founded “Love Beauty and Planet”.

This proves that this market will grow and last.

It’s clear that the category of green consumers defined by the marketing groups two years ago has grown considerably since then.

The industry has gone through several stages: in the mid-2000s; we realized that some brands that were close to the natural concept finally included very little plant ingredients in their compositions: this shook the cosmetics industry and facilitated the outbreak of green labels.

Today we are reaching a second stage: the craze has become global.

In France, for example, it has sped up thanks to pressure from consumers, smart phone applications to decipher the composition of products, and the awareness of big cosmetics brands for ecological issues.

It’s a fact: what we apply to our skin challenges us all more today than in the past.

Proof of this is that in 2017, 16% of us systematically read the list of ingredients; today, according to the same Birchbox study, we are 30%.

In concrete terms, what does this change for the market?

More and more brands are looking to reformulate their products to comply with the new expectations of consumers influenced by these applications, like “Think Dirty” or “CosmEthics”.

These actions are sometimes only motivated by emotion or trend and not scientifically justified.

Consumers simply find it difficult to understand what’s in their products, so they take refuge in what seems to be ‘safe’: beliefs and ratings.

Here is my decryption to help you make a rational selective “classification” among the multitude of information on this ecologically explosive issue.

1- A Natural Product is Harmless – FALSE

Many brands use the word natural as a guarantee of quality or safety.

There is confusion over the words. Synthetic doesn’t mean bad, but it’s sometimes used as a shortcut.

Displaying a percentage of naturally derived active ingredients makes no sense in terms of safety or efficiency.

An example? Castor oil is very useful in cosmetics, but the resin from the castor-oil plant itself can be fatal.

Natural active ingredients are composed of several molecules, sometimes hundreds for a single rose extract, which can even vary from one harvest to another.

In short, their effect on the skin is sometimes complicated to control.

For sensitive skin, it is safer to use products formulated with pure molecules, such as paraffin, which is indeed derived from petrochemicals, but is neutral and stable.

2- The Natural Active Ingredients Come from Fields – FALSE

Several experts agree that if the cosmetics sector only looks for plant ingredients, there will be no more room for agricultural production for food.

The plants found in your skincare products may be cloned… and that’s good news.

For years now, biotechnology or other processes can multiply plant cells.

Sustainable bio-culture is already being used for some rare plants, such as edelweiss.

A piece of leaf is cloned without transforming its genetic material, and you can even keep the organic label!

The plant is then reproduced in a greenhouse or laboratory. Same thing with plankton.

These techniques have many benefits, they save cultivable land and they increase the quality of the active ingredients because they control its growth conditions.

However, this method is more expensive than traditional agriculture because it needs highly qualified people and this will reflect on the final price of the product.

3- Natural is Necessarily “Good For The Planet” – FALSE

The formulation in cosmetics is only part of the product.

To determine its environmental impact, it is necessary to know where the ingredients come from and whether the product is not over-packaged.

On this point, the industry is making progress, even if it remains very polluting.

The major groups have been committed to sustainable development for a long time. Smaller companies that subcontract have more difficulty controlling these environmental parameters.

Several companies have made progress toward waste recycling and have announced their collaboration with the company Loop to eliminate and recycle residues.

Others are lightening packaging (but the Cellophane that still wraps many cardboard boxes is still not recyclable), or reducing the weight of products.

The goal here is to reduce the carbon impact by transporting more and polluting less.

On these issues, nobody is perfect, and the ideal solution does not yet exist: glass, for example, is infinitely recyclable but very heavy.

The other aspect to consider: the production methods.

For a long time, cosmetics have used petroleum derivatives, acetone or toluene to extract the active ingredients.

For the past ten years, non-polluting methods have existed, such as high-pressure water. A technique that is not taken into account by all eco-labels and beauty apps.

This really does not encourage brands to act more ethically for the environment.

4- You Can’t Avoid the Preservatives – FALSE

This is the most controversial category of ingredients.

Preservatives aim to limit bacterial proliferation, so they are molecules that can be a little aggressive, but they are present in formulations at a maximum of 1%.

After parabens, some of which have been banned, it is now the turn of phenoxyethanol, a glycol ether, or in other words, a solvent, to spread fear among many consumers.

A suspicion that has a tenacious effect.

There is a lot of hindsight on this molecule, but some brands, in order to reassure their consumers, have substituted it for other more recent preservatives, which are less studied and perhaps more irritating.

In cosmetics with an organic label, preservatives are sometimes replaced by acids or alcohol, a penetration enhancer (also called sorption promoters or accelerants).

Some may be allergenic.

There’s no reason to panic, but if you’re wary of it, you can turn to sterile cosmetics.

The Avène brand is at the forefront on this solution with its airless packaging.

The other track: when the product does not contain water, there is no bacterial proliferation.

So it’s up to us to use soaps, balms, sticks and solid shampoos.

If kept away from light and heat, oils don’t need them either.

5- All the Products Sold on the Market are Vegan – FAKE


Products derived from animals are still used in cosmetics, even if the list remains very limited.

In some of our skincare products and make-up we can still find beeswax, honey, and dairy derivatives.

But gradually, most animal substances have been replaced by their vegetable equivalent: thanks to the work of laboratories, shark squalane has been largely abandoned in favor of squalene, which comes from olive pits.

The labs also know how to create algae-based gels that have replaced those with pig gelatin.

The problem is that some components have the same designation in ingredient lists, whether they are animal or vegetable derived.

On this point, one has to rely on the label “Leaping Bunny” or “Vegan” on the packaging.

There is no standard, but this is a crucial and positive period because the demand is such that more and more cosmetics brands are asking for it.

6- In the European Union, the Label “Cruelty Free” is Useless – TRUE

Animal welfare is a growing concern: according to the Birchbox survey, 56% of women know the meaning of the “Cruelty Free” label.

However, in the European Union, it serves no purpose: products created and sold in Europe are no longer tested on animals since 2013 and those imported since 2016.

The EU legislation is a model for the rest of the world in the eyes of lobbyists.

European consumers can rest easy.

Brands that display the ‘Leaping Bunny’ label only do so internationally.

The lobbyists aim to extend the ban on testing around the world.

Australia and California recently banned them.

In Canada, a bill is being considered, as well as in Hawaii.

China remains a point of tension, however, it would seem that consumer demand for more transparency is recognized by the Chinese authorities and that a dialogue is possible.

7- The “FREE FROM” or “WITHOUT” Claim Should be Removed From Products – TRUE

As of July 1 2019, the European regulation on cosmetics has been amended.

Brands may no longer display the word “Free From” or “Without” on products.

This change applies to claims that “denigrate” otherwise permitted ingredients, which is confusing.

The new legislation will also affect the term “hypoallergenic“, which has been found to be unclear after claims of intolerances and allergies because of the widespread use of a preservative replacing demonized parabens.

“Free from paraben”, ” Free from triclosan”, ” Free from phenoxyethanol” will disappear.

Brands cannot highlight a prohibited ingredient (“corticoid-free” for example); an ingredient that should not be in a product (“Caffeine free” for beer).

Certain names, which “serve a specific population”, are still allowed: “without animal derivatives” for vegan, “Free from acetone” for those who are discommoded by the smell, or “without alcohol” in mouthwashes for families.

There is a recommendation, though, to keep “Free from essential oils” for pregnant women.

In the USA, the legislation is less restrictive in terms of what can and can’t go in a product, and the “Free from” labels can be of some help to consumers to roughly distinguish the good from the bad.

In Europe, on the other hand, the FEBEA, the French federation of cosmetics industries, has published on July 1, 2019, on its website, a database of ingredients with their functions and explanations on the controversies.

As for the L’Oréal group, a communication platform has been set up (Inside our products), a glossary that lifts the veil on the ingredients used by their labs.

To avoid polemics and appease consumers, the cosmetics industry should probably have made this effort of education and clarity much earlier.

Did you find all the answers on this growing “Green Beauty” phenomenon? What is your experience with “Green Beauty”?

Let me know in a comment below.

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