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It’s time for some of the most popular health and beauty brands to come clean, concludes a new Soil Association report. Widespread, uncontrolled greenwashing including potentially misleading labels were among a list of issues cited. What to make of the news?

The Halo Effect and the Reality Behind the Brand

It has been over 15 years since The Good Shopping Guide launched. In that time we’ve learned that greenwashing and mislabeling, including misleading promotion of brand identity, are not issues constrained to only a small section of industry. As our independent investigation and research continues to show, these are generally widespread problems.

In the Health and Beauty sector, as in many other sectors, it is not uncommon for companies and brands to exploit the so-called “halo effect”. For most consumers, it seems that what is listed on the pack, what is conveyed in an advert, correlates with what one generally thinks about a product. Thus the importance of “brand image” which seeks to persuade, among other things, how our lives will be significantly improved by using a company’s products.

Greenwashing seems to serve a similar purpose. But as faithful readers of The Good Shopping Guide will already be aware, the reality behind the brand is not always what one would like to believe.

Courtesy of the Soil Association[/caption]

What’s the problem?

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. And while scientific research shows that what you put on your skin will likely also be absorbed in your bloodstream, to greater or lesser extent, there is little knowledge about the severity of possible instances of bio-accumulation. As part of The Soil Association research, a leading independent toxicologist “reviewed the ingredients we found in products which say organic on the label and identified the Terrible Ten: Ingredients which have been shown in wider use to cause problems such as allergies, hormone disruption, or harm to the development of unborn babies”.

Emeritus Professor Vyvyan Howard of the Centre for Molecular Bioscience at Ulster University, who assessed the ingredients used in the potentially misleadingly labelled products and came up with the ‘Terrible Ten’, said: “I was shocked to find ingredients which could contain human carcinogens in products with labels which could misleadingly suggest that they might be organic. Genuine organic products are independently certified and I would encourage consumers to choose those to be sure they are keeping away from ingredients included in the Terrible Ten.

The “Terrible Ten” includes a mix of ingredients, from imidazolidinyl urea to retinyl palmitate. Research by The Soil Association in conjunction with Prof. Howard cites a number of scientific sources, which you can survey here.

Meanwhile, one could possibly expand the “Terrible Ten” list reported by The Soil Association to the “Dirty Dozen” – a popular list of chemicals commonly found in beauty products being investigated by scientistsfor their potentially harmful effects in the long-term.

Of course not all chemicals are bad, and there’s no such thing as a completely “chemical free” product (if one understands the basic science of chemistry). There is, however, such as a thing as a product being free of synthetic chemicals. And there is a genuine issue about the harmful and unharmful effects of synthetic chemicals, as we’re beginning to learn.

The problem is that the health and beauty industry is a maze when it comes to navigating the truth, especially for the average consumer who may not have the time to pick at all the fine details.

Campaign for Clarity

One of the concerns, reports The Soil Association, is that “you are at risk of being misled”. Their Come Clean About Beauty investigation disclosed:

…a cross section of brands and beauty products on the market which make potentially misleading organic claims on the label. Major beauty brands Boots, Dr Organic and Faith in Nature have all been named as culprits of greenwashing. These brands include ‘organic’ on some labels – yet these products are not certified as organic and include ingredients banned under organic standards.

Throughout the world, awareness is thankfully growing. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising claims in the U.S., came down five smaller companies for falsely promoting products as “all natural.” In Europe regulation is generally thought to be more strict than in North America. However, “unlike with organic food, which must adhere to strict EU standards, there are no legal standards for the use of the terms ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ on beauty products. This means in practice that any brand or beauty product can be labelled as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ even if it contains virtually no organic or natural ingredients”.

The Campaign for Clarity is asking for consumer signatures, demanding brands using potentially misleading labels on products by honest and truthful. You can sign the petition here.

Another reference worth checking out is The Good Guide – a science-based and consumer-friendly product review guide.

For a quick and easy ethical comparison shopping list, head over to the relevant section of The Good Shopping Guide. Here you will find a list of ethically ranked brands according to our comprehensive, independent and holistic research:

Skincare

Make-up

Shampoo and Conditioner

Soap

Sun protection

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