Josie Maran Cosmetics: Green or Greenwash?


Photo credit: Josie Maran Cosmetics

When it comes to looking green and gorgeous, model Josie Maran is on top of her game. Crowned the Green Glamour Queen in the premier issue of Organic Beauty, Maran is the face that launched an eco-empire—and sold a thousand mascara wands. Her eponymous cosmetics line, touted as natural, organic, and free from parabens, phthalates, and most petrochemicals, has won accolades from mainstream femme mags like Allure, Glamour, Vogue, and most recently Elle, where Maran's tinted moisturizer triumphed in the 2009 Green Star Awards.

Not everyone is a fan, however. Writing on the blog Feelgood Style, Terri Bly, founder and president of The Nature of Beauty, which sells eco-friendly cosmetics and skincare products, calls Maran out for misrepresenting just how "natural" Josie Maran Cosmetics is.

Petrochemicals, petrochemicals, everywhere

A closer look at the ingredients of Maran's Earth Day Essentials Kit left Bly bemused—and a little disgruntled. In "Greenwasher Exposed: Josie Maran?," she writes:

Her products are so riddled with synthetics, with so many little tricks to throw even the savviest consumer off the trail, I'm only impressed with her ability to secure the reputation of having a natural line in the first place.

To illustrate her thesis, Bly homes in on Maran's Plumping Lip Gloss, which lists polybutene, a petroleum-derived synthetic, as its first ingredient.

Simply Google "Polybutene" and any word with it, such as "manufacturer," "purchase," or "origin," and you will get a long list of petrochemical companies that map out the chemical structure of the product and then list the other polymers (read: adhesives) they manufacture. My ingredients reference resource, A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, confirms its petro-origin, adding that it is also found in lubricating oil, sealing tape and cable insulation. Mmmmm, cable insulation.

Cruelty-free?

When Bly and I chatted over e-mail, she also cast a gimlet eye on the brand's "cruelty-free" claims. "The petrochemical business, including Ineos [which makes Indopol H-1500, the polybutene compound used in the lip gloss], conducts animal testing," she said. "So when she says 'cruelty-free,' does she mean the ingredients themselves are not tested on animals, or that her final products are not tested on animals? Consumers who care about these things ought to know."

And the use of lake dyes (Red 6, Red 7, Yellow 5, Red 27) in the Plumping LIp Gloss? They're coal-tar derivatives that are continuously tested on animals because of their carcinogenic properties, according to PETA's Caring Consumer Guide.

Josie Maran's response

When asked to comment, Maran, through her rep, told TreeHugger that the Environmental Working Group gives polybutene a low hazard score of 2. "In addition," she said, "I have a green chemist consultant who reviews my ingredients and we believe the polybutene in my lip gloss formulations is nontoxic."

She added: "I'm grateful there are people who care about what goes into their cosmetics. I'm one of those people. I care very much about creating healthy products, and I think that if you are going to review products, you should be knowledgeable about what you are saying. To assume is as dangerous as putting unhealthy ingredients in cosmetics. People believe what they read and the point of this green-conscious path we are on needs to be a cooperative group effort. If we want to make a positive impact on the world and really make change then we need to work together. I have reformulated before and I am reformulating some products now to make them even healthier. There is always going to be newer greener chemistry, and I'm committed to keeping up with it."

Truth in advertising

Bly doesn't deny that Maran is transparent about her ingredients—they're fully disclosed on the Josie Maran Cosmetics Web site, after all—but she says that the symbols Maran uses as shorthand for what you won't find in her products don't paint a sufficient picture of how natural—or unnatural—they are.

The award-winning tinted moisturizer is thrown up as an example. "In the package, we see the symbols for both natural and organic," Bly told me. "This product contains 24 synthetic ingredients, 18 of which are found at the beginning of the ingredients label, meaning they make up the bulk of the product. Seventeen are organic and a handful are natural. So if she is going to be completely transparent about her products, then there should be a symbol for 'contains synthetic ingredients,' too. Better yet, consider doing what most natural/organic companies do: Contains x% natural ingredients, x% organic ingredients. Again, that's transparent and easy to read and understand. The symbols are misleading, confusing, and often inaccurate."

Attacking Maran wasn't Bly's intention when she wrote her post, she said. "I made numerous comments about how much I wanted to be wrong," she said. "Rather than bashing her, I outlined the process I went through to examine the ingredients, told consumers how they could learn for themselves and what resources I used, and then asked Josie to clarify if I had my info wrong. That's not bashing. That's simply stating what I found when I explored further."

As consumers, she said, we should always be asking the right questions, even of so-called green brands we admire or trust—far too much is at stake not to. "We do have to unite," she said. "But we also have to hold each other accountable, because no one else will."

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Tags: Beauty Lab | Cosmetics | United States