The Truth About Greenwashing

At Madame Lemy, we seek to educate consumers about the ingredients that exist in deodorants, especially those sold by large companies that have dominated the industry for many years. Recently, we discovered a deodorant released by a big-brand company that featured large text highlighting the deodorant’s “natural scent” and 0% aluminum content on the front and center on its packaging. The packaging was also adorned with graphics of colorful fruit, typical branding to create the illusion of a clean and natural product. We were shocked that the company had seemed to market the deodorant in a way to make consumers believe the product is safe and all-natural when, in fact, it is not. 

Unfortunately, this type of deceptive marketing has become common as big brands have been seeing a shift in consumer purchasing behavior toward natural products. Not wanting to miss out on this segment of consumers, such companies have appeared to be following suit. While it would be fantastic to see more established brands make a move to creating all-natural deodorants, these brands instead are falling short by continuing to use toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. To the customer, it looks as though the companies are increasing the safety and transparency of ingredients in their products. In reality, they are simply taking out the most recognized dangerous ingredient, aluminum, changing their packaging and marketing, and selling them as their “greener” option. This practice of false advertising and manufacturing is called greenwashing. 

In truth, there are still three dangerous chemicals in this particular deodorant, for example, that are important for consumers to be aware of: Glycol, Parfum and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene).

Glycol - Propylene glycol is a highly irritable ingredient, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, even just 2% of propylene glycol can be harmful, yet many deodorants contain around 50% of it!

Parfum - In the United States, there are more than 3,000 chemicals--many of them hazardous to human health--that are not required to be disclosed under the words “parfum” or “fragrance.” In a given product, there can be anywhere from a few to more than a 100 additional chemicals, hidden under the words parfum or fragrance. Until laws change, we will never know how many chemicals consumers are being exposed to in mass-produced deodorants, as companies can legally hide their full list of ingredients in this manner.

BHT - Tony Vargas, the former Vice President of Research and Development of Elizabeth Arden, informed us that BHT is in the same family as BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole), which has already been banned from cosmetics due to its hazardous dangers on human health. Vargas, who now sits on Madame Lemy’s advisory board, predicts BHT will be the next ingredient that will be banned from use in cosmetics.  

Due to the lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry, companies easily get away with using carcinogenic ingredients. There are no laws or regulations for a cosmetic product to go to market in the US unless it is an over-the-counter product. This means any company can throw some ingredients together, as long as they don’t include the 11 chemicals banned in the US (compared to the EU’s 1,328 chemicals banned), put it in a jar, and sell it tomorrow. Though there is obviously a lot more detail that goes into a larger corporation’s product development process, it can still legally put known carcinogens in its products and go to market. We hope these big corporations will see the paradigm shift and make changes to make safe, healthy products.

Unfortunately only those educated on how to shop for truly natural products can see right through greenwashing. I was recently browsing my favorite magazine’s list of the best beauty products of 2018. The list now includes a natural section, and I was stunned when I saw this big-brand deodorant listed at number one. There are many amazing, all-natural deodorant brands that fit the bill. Putting a product with known toxic chemicals on a natural list contributes to the concerning rise of greenwashing. Unless consumers have a reason or desire to go on their own search, they are going to put their trust in the publications they are reading and in the branding of products they consider purchasing. We need to start addressing the deceptions of big-brand companies and calling them out, so consumers are given the real facts about what is natural and what is not. 

For 12 years, I worked as a makeup artist for celebrities and some of the worlds most recognizable supermodels in fashion, film, and TV. I used expensive, beautifully packaged products on all of my clients, never thinking twice about the safety of the cosmetics. If it’s that expensive, pretty, and in-demand, it must be safe, right? During my hunt for a safe and natural deodorant, my eyes were opened to the lack of regulation across the cosmetics industry as a whole. As my journey continued with Madame Lemy, I felt it was my obligation to take my experience and knowledge and spread the word. Just because something is sitting on a shelf and looks natural, does not mean it is.

You’re probably wondering what we as consumers can do to fight this harmful lack of regulation. We can make a difference with our wallets. Support brands that follow an ethical standard and use vegan, cruelty-free, and safe ingredients. Carefully study the eco-friendly packaging of a product to make sure it’s actually natural and not a product of greenwashing. Consumer health and safety matters more than profit and that is part of our ethos at Madame Lemy.

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Holly Eve is the founder and CEO of Madame Lemy, an all-natural and sustainable luxury beauty brand. She speaks and writes on both entrepreneurship and mental health. Prior to starting her business, Holly worked as a celebrity and TV makeup artist between New York City and Los Angeles, where she currently resides.