Greenwashing: How to identify real natural products?

What is Greenwashing?

In today’s world, more and more people are turning to sustainable, natural and organic products. As consumers, we are looking for transparent & authentic companies who care for the environment and its surroundings. To fulfil these needs, companies are adopting marketing led campaigns to promote a caring image by using greenwashing techniques. This recent phenomenon refers to companies that claim to be sustainable and eco-friendly when, in reality, they are not. On the contrary, this misleading practice gives the company an eco-friendly image when, in fact, there are little or no measures in place when it comes to the environment. Greenwashing is, therefore, a pure marketing technique used to communicate a false-image of the brand and misleading consumers.

How to recognize Greenwashing?

With companies pouring millions into marketing campaigns, it’s hard to identify a real natural product from a fake one. With cosmetic products, design and packaging can give you an indication of greenwashing. Brands tend to use similar packaging techniques. Overall, there are three indicators:

First, using glass containers or bottle with a label made of paper. This technique makes the product look very authentic.

The second is the wording and terms. Often you will be flooded with a list of terms like natural and organic. Here are some more examples of buzzwords companies use: ethical, pure, clean and green, eco-friendly. These terms are often used because there are no regulatory measures for them. This means that everyone can use these terms legally. In short, a lot of deceptive synonyms. Everything points to a natural product, which has little or no natural ingredients in them.

Finally, there is a third method to give the product a natural image. Quality seals of approval are misused in different ways. These give credibility to the brand and the company. Many brands play on the consumers’ lack of understanding and lead them astray. However, there are also certified organic labels that guarantee that companies meet the required standards and guidelines before they are issued a certified label. These are independent bodies that verified the ingredient list and confirm that the product is natural and environmentally friendly. Here are some seals that offer you a guarantee that the product you are buying is natural: Ecogarantie, Ecocert and Cosmos Bio.


What is INCI?

The INCI list tells you more about the exact composition of your cosmetics. This lists names the ingredients in Latin or English, no matter where they come from. It lists the ingredients in their decreasing order of concentration. However, there is one exception to this: the products with a concentration of less than 1% are listed arbitrarily.

Understanding the INCI list

  • Aqua means water.
  • A Latin term is often used for natural plant extract. Some exceptions apply: Petrolatum (Vaseline) and Paraffinum Liquidum (mineral oil). These terms refer to petrochemical derivatives.
  • The prefix sil- and the suffix -en refer to silicones
  • Acronyms (like PEG, SLS …) are often a bad sign.
  • CI followed by a number refers to hair colorants (natural or chemical).
  • Substances which can trigger allergic reactions are generally found at the bottom of the list (for example linalool, limonene, …).

If you want more information about this topic, you can always check The Truth about Cosmetics site. This page provides detailed information about cosmetic ingredients.

Greenwashing-Signale erkennen mit unter anderem der INCI-Liste