I have a friend who is a pretty savvy, green-minded consumer. She reads labels. She looks for products with a certified organic logo. She (usually) doesn’t fall for marketing hype and greenwashing tricks.
This friend went camping last week and forgot to take her usual organic shampoo and conditioner. While her young son was getting a haircut, she raced into a nearby pharmacy.
With little time to scrutinise the labels, she grabbed a shampoo and conditioner with earthy looking brown packaging and a nice picture of a tree on it. She had a quick look at the label on the front, paid a hefty price for what she thought was a natural shampoo and conditioner and ran back to pick up her son.
Only later, when she had time to read the back label properly, did she realise she’d been duped.
The front label she’d read in the pharmacy said “sulfate, phosphate, paraben free”. It sounded convincing, especially when combined with the natural-looking packaging.
The back label, however, was a different story entirely. The first ingredient in both the shampoo and conditioner was water – very expensive water it seems.
Then followed a list of chemicals that no health conscious consumer in their right mind would wash their hair with. There was virtually nothing natural or nourishing for the hair in there, just a bunch of chemicals that temporarily gave shine or removed dirt and grease.
I’d be here all day if I went through all of them, but here’s a quick look at a few of the ingredients she discovered:
- Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate (a.k.a MES) — This anionic surfactant is a foaming degreaser found in 95% of shampoos. It is controversial as it may be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. It is a lower irritant than sulfate surfactants (like sodium laureth and lauryl sulfate) but it is not exactly natural and can still cause irritation.
- PEG-150 distearate —An emulsifier and thickening agent especially effective in surfactant containing products (shampoo and conditioner). It is a potentially carcinogenic petroleum ingredient that can alter and reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor. This could increase the appearance of aging and leave you more vulnerable to bacteria. PEGs are controversial cosmetics ingredients partly because they can penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body, or they help other chemicals and ingredients to be absorbed.
- Cyclopentasiloxane — This is a silicone that is used as a conditioner, delivery agent, lubricant and solvent. It can cause skin and eye irritation and there are many concerns regarding the harmful effects it may have on the environment (e.g. marine life).
The moral of the story? Even health conscious consumers who are aware of the need to scrutinise labels can fall victim to deceptive marketing and greenwashing.
My advice? If an ingredient sounds like something cooked up in a lab, or the product doesn’t clearly carry a ‘certified organic’ logo from a reputable certifying body, leave it on the shelf.