What does greenwashing mean?

The demand for cosmetics based on natural products has made manufacturers interested in products designed differently than "petroleum and aggressive chemicals". However, the term "natural" lacks a legal definition in any country, leaving room for manufacturers to utilize terms like natural cosmetics or natural ingredients without ensuring the absence of risky synthetics alongside plant-based components. This ambiguity often leads to misleading and confusing information, akin to direct consumer deception, known internationally as greenwashing. 

Thanks to well-thought-out marketing, the customer gets the impression that the product is completely natural, that it is significantly more gentle. It is enough to target his "first signal". Packaging with pictures of plants and herbs, emphasis on terms such as natural, natural, hypoallergenic, non-irritating, without harmful ingredients. 

In reality, products engaging in greenwashing tactics may not significantly differ from regular cosmetics. This realization prompted the emergence of certification and oversight entities, tasked with supervising the quality of natural cosmetics, outlining conditions, and specifying permissible ingredients.

For the average consumer unwilling to invest considerable time in self-study of chemical components, compounds, and Latin designations, relying on products with specific certifications becomes the most convenient approach. The complexity of ingredient lists, often presented in unreadable formats like INCI, make this challenge even bigger. Manufacturers contribute to this difficulty through font sizes and presentation. Hence, for an ordinary person, adherence to certified conditions provides a more straightforward way to ensure product quality.

Certificates used in natural cosmetics and what they mean

However, within the framework of many natural certificates, not only the composition is checked and defined (e.g. prohibition of the use of synthetic and harmful substances), but also production procedures (ecological production, careful handling of ingredients, etc.) and many other criteria. A lot of emphasis is placed on the ingredients. Their true natural origin is essential. Many certification companies condition the granting of the relevant certification on a composition based on raw materials originating from controlled organic farming.

Almost without exception, natural cosmetics certificates focus on the condition of the content of raw materials not tested on animals, you will also often find support for fair trade (a guarantee of better working conditions for growers), they do not support the weeding and cutting down of tropical forests, which is not required in the case of products and ingredients of conventional cosmetics.

Examples of these certificates are Ecocert, NATRUE, USDA Organic, COSMOS Organic

Is there a difference between certified natural cosmetics and non-toxic cosmetics?

Yes it is. Not every natural cosmetic that has the appropriate certificate can be called non-toxic at the same time. However, it should be mentioned here that the term "non-toxic" has no exact official and legally valid definition, and the border that separates certified natural and non-toxic cosmetics is often very thin.

Some products are in a sort of gray area of compromise. The definition of what really is or is not non-toxic will therefore be influenced primarily by who interprets it. If we refer to the association Svět non toxic that Pure’n’Well cooperates with and the information available on the website and their Facebook group, here we rely primarily on information from independent evaluation databases and official studies. We consider it meaningful to assess the product from several points of view. Among other things, also from the point of view of tolerance in people with allergies, from documented cases of reactions and contact dermatitis as stated by the relevant organizations specializing in allergies and contact dermatitis.

For example, the ingredient benzyl alcohol (often used as a preservative), which can also be a natural derivative, is allowed by the Ecocert certification company, but we cannot consider it non-toxic, because the tolerability of this ingredient is problematic for sensitive individuals, it is an often mentioned allergen, in higher concentrations irritate the skin and can cause dermatitis. Other negative effects are also described, so it can be risky for many people.


For the sake of objectivity, it should be added that many purely natural ingredients, especially essential oils, can also have irritating potential. This should also be taken into account as part of the non-toxic assessment of the composition, and therefore, for example, a product for children under 2 years old that contains irritating essential oils and is intended for use on the skin cannot be labeled a non-toxic product. Manufacturers often protect themselves by using only permitted concentrations for given preservatives or essential oils, however, few of them are qualified aromatherapists to avoid overuse of fragrance ingredients, even on a natural basis. Many unnecessary reactions in sensitive people arise precisely from the incorrect use of products containing essential oils, or a product with an inappropriately chosen composition and quality of essential oils.

The criteria for "non-toxic" cosmetics are therefore very strict and take into account not only the toxicological aspects set by legislation, which are a condition for the approval of individual chemical components, but also take into account the risks of sensitization in case of an incorrectly chosen composition and an unsparingly chosen combination of some components. Non-toxic criteria also favor ingredients with the potential for better tolerability (for example, sugar surfactants versus coco sulfates used in shampoos, soaps, and gels).

Anyone who really wants to live a non-toxic life will find out after some time that they really don't need much to take care of their skin and their household. Many experienced non-toxic fans can get by with one high-quality oil or butter, hydrolat, pure non-toxic soap. If you are not a friend of the no poo hair washing method, then add gentle low poo shampoo to this list. You can find them all in our webshop.

So what you save on micellar waters, nail polishes, night, day, eye and anti-wrinkle creams, you can sacrifice with a clear conscience to buy really high-quality ingredients. A large range of products can also be made yourself.


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Documents from the Facebook group of a non-profit organization Svet Non Toxic. https://www.facebook.com/groups/www.svetnontoxic.org

December 17, 2023