Not for Earth, but for Beauty Brands - Un-Greenwashing Your Makeup Bag Ingredients

March 6, 2024


If you’re reading this blog, chances are you care about not only the health of the earth around you but your own. With trends created by industry leaders attempting to cycle faster than ever,  the use of “greenwashing” is a tactic that goes beyond home care and food labels and straight to our mascaras and moisturizers. The era of the educated consumer is in when it comes to beauty and skincare. Let’s dig in so we can understand what is at play to convince us to buy a product to elevate our look or treat our skin via ingredient greenwashing.

Greenwashing is a general anti-marketing term used to describe advertising and packaging that promote a healthy or eco-friendly vibe with no substance to back it up. I know you’ve seen it - “clean beauty,” “all-natural,” or the never-ending lists of “free-from…” Greenwashing nudges the buyer to believe they are making a better or maybe safer product choice, and often it is as obvious as products being designed with a nature-oriented look. Earth tones don’t equal a better product! 

There are no U.S. regulations regarding advertising claims of eco-friendly or “clean” ingredients in consumer personal beauty or skincare products. Zero. None. 

Here’s a short list of claims and buzzword labels you may see that require no need for proof from the brands that use them:



-non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores)




-non-toxic/ toxin-free

How do we choose better?

A solid piece of advice is to avoid products not sold in the European Union - their beauty and skincare ingredient standards are much stricter than in the United States. - for example, the E.U. bans over 2.400 ingredients in cosmetics, while the U.S. bans only eleven.  The Federal Drug Administration does not approve cosmetics but does regulate them - loosely

When it comes to “choosing right” among all of the overwhelming options, my favorite tip is to list out what matters to you. Is it no animal-testing or animal-derived ingredients? Is it no artificial dyes or specific ingredients due to an allergy? That way you can go top to bottom of your priorities and analyze an ingredient list, creating your personal standard of purchasing.
Note: If you’re aiming for a small ingredient list (especially on liquids or creams) you may be missing out on safe preservatives that extend shelf life. Be mindful of expiration dates and visual or smell cues of expiration.

Here are some questions I love to ask myself when shopping beauty that can pin down if I’m letting marketing dictate my beauty consumption over solid facts:

1. Does this product only appear healthier due to the visuals (i.e. packaging, ad campaign, hero plant ingredient)? I love a pretty package, but I don’t love being lied to.

2. Have studies shown that one of the ingredients is known to be a problem? If so - is any amount harmful? 

3. Is this ingredient a risk only if there is an allergy to it? If you’re unsure, you can always patch test a new product on your arm before applying it to more sensitive skin. 

4. Would canceling a specific ingredient only help another beauty sector increase sales?

6. For effectiveness or safety claims citing studies (usually marked with an asterisk*!) Did the brand use a sample size of ten or one on-staff dermatologist for a recommendation? Doesn’t seem well-researched to me.

6. Is this ingredient banned in the EU? 

7. Did I want this product only because a friend or family member suggested it as a healthy option? What are their sources?

8. Am I unsure if I trust the product for any reason at all? Put it back until you know for sure- be skeptical! Ultimately, companies are trying to make a sale.

Always be researching

For a deeper dive into beauty labeling and safety check out these resources, in no specific order, to get you started:

Art of Dermatology NYC - Greenwashing and the Reality of Skin Care Labeling 

The Beauty Brains Blog and Podcast - Search for “greenwashing”

Javon Ford, Cosmetic Chemist, on TikTok

The Klog- Decoding Skin Care Labels: What Terms Like Non-Comedogenic and Hypoallergenic REALLY Mean

Naked Poppy - Your Cheat Sheet of Clean Beauty Terms

U.S. FDA - Allergens in Cosmetics

Vogue Business - The US beauty industry is largely unregulated. Is that starting to change?

Additional Blog Sources:


This piece was written by Madelynn Austin. An interdisciplinary artist Madelynn examines the use and limits of cosmetics and beauty as well as the complexity of human resilience through the lens of legacy, environment, disability, and emotional intelligence. Her conceptual visual works are made primarily with expired cosmetics, florals, and found objects to expand abstraction through painting, installation, and sculpture. Madelynn chose to her ability to recognize niche intersections as opportunity to bridge the gap created between domestic arts and fine art in modern society. Learn more at

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