5 Greenwashed Myths of the Beauty Industry (And How Not to Fall For Them)

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With environmental awareness on the ascent—thank you Goracle and friends—natural and organic beauty products have exploded onto the scene with such force that even drugstore shelves are groaning under their collective weight.

The proverbial fly in the undereye ointment? Greenwashing, which has also seen a corresponding uptick, making it an increasingly difficult task to tease the real McCoys from the bandwagon-hopping pretenders. Although no full-proof decoder ring exists to help us make sense of the murky waters of truth (and falsehood) in advertising, we've pulled together five of the most common ruses making their rounds online and in-stores. Suffice to say, it ain't pretty.

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1. If it's "natural," it must be green

"Natural" and "all-natural" may lead us to surmise that a product is as pure as the driven snow (or as pristine as a virgin rainforest), but because they're not regulated labeling terms, marketeers are free to bandy them around with alacrity and, more important, without fear of reprisal. Plus, much like their kissing cousins "nature-inspired," "naturally derived," and "based on natural," they're also vague, misleading, and essentially meaningless.

Tacking "Naturals" at the end of a company's name, branding one's packaging with earthy tones and botanical allusions, and peppering advertising copy with exotic fruit and vegetable extracts are other strategies used to lull us into a false sense of security. The point of this PR legerdemain? You'll be too distracted to notice the disconnect between the laboriously crafted fantasy and the sordid reality.

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2. It contains organic or fair-trade ingredients—totally eco, no?

It's true that we're judged by the company we keep, but tossing a couple of organic or fair-trade ingredients into the mix, commendable as that might be, does not an unsullied concoction make—yes, even if you bold said ingredients and strategically craft your marketing campaign around them. When methylparaben and PEG-100 stearate are bumping uglies with organic cocoa butter and fair-trade mango extract, you have a tainted product on your hands. Or to put it another way, Mother Teresa's presence won't turn the Mos Eisley Cantina into the Sistine Chapel.

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3. It has no parabens. We're home-free, right?

Not so fast. While these ubiquitous, hormone-mimicking preservatives are chief among the Big Bads of skincare ingredients, in terms of the attention they've received and the controversy they've generated, they're not the be-all and end-all. Be wary of companies that use the exclusion of parabens, usually followed closely by phthalates, as a smokescreen for letting other toxic, multisyllabic nasties slide by.

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