Why Embracing “Green Beauty” Should Be About Moderation, Not Marketing Hype
Apr 26, 2019
The greenwashing of beauty is real, with everyone seeming to jump on the “clean,” “eco,” or “green” beauty bandwagon. But when the marketing starts to tell you that everything is a “toxin” or starts going against science, that’s when you have to take a step back and maybe take a deep non-toxic breath. One green beauty (and science) lover explains.
I remember Earth Day being a big deal where I went to elementary school in Washington state; it was always an occasion for a field trip of some sort to a local apple orchard along with a composting project for our class (which also lead to a mealworm crawling up my shirt). Reduce, reuse, recycle, right? I feel like that phrase is going to be burned into my brain for the rest of my life, but honestly, it is something that we could all be more conscious of. Reusing containers skincare comes in, even if just for decoration, and making sure to properly recycle packaging boxes is something the large majority of us could do be better about.
However, I have noticed another trend that has really gotten out of hand in my opinion, and every time Earth Day rolls around, I swear it just gets more and more out of hand. While terms like “clean beauty,” “eco beauty,” “green beauty,” or “non-toxic” (which makes me eye roll the hardest, along with @Jude Chao) still may mean things in certain circles, mass marketing has taken these terms to a whole new place that I think we need to be honest about.
A lot of what started this “green” movement was a desire from consumers who had very particular sensitivities to ingredients and/or a drive to be more aware of what they were applying to their faces, much like people who are on gluten-free or vegan/plant-based diets. A lot of smaller, indie companies cropped up on places like Etsy and began what I consider to be more of the “mainstream” movement towards these “green” products that were based more on ingredients derived from traditional medicine, like medicinal herbs and naturally occurring ingredients like raw honey.
I use quite a few products like this myself, and I have zero problem with them. Actually, they are some of my favorite products that I have in my rotation and have warranted repurchases over the last two or three years that I’ve been exploring more green beauty companies. Where things began to go off the rails is when people started using the term “green beauty” and all of the various related phrases to drive profits as hard as possible. (After all, this sector of the beauty industry is estimated to be worth around $20 billion currently, according to a cursory Google search). What started to happen was hard to watch for myself and a lot of fellow beauty industry colleagues: The marketing put out by the larger, older companies paraded around this idea that traditional formulations with more man-made or synthetic ingredients were somehow “toxic” or “harmful,” which scared literally everyone and their mother away from certain ingredients like parabens that have been documented and used safely for decades.
The flurry of messages and questions I got from my friends and family who were literally scared to use their favorite moisturizer or serum anymore because it had “toxic” ingredients in it caught me totally off guard, and frankly, it made me really frustrated. We talk a lot about how skincare is a way for us to look after ourselves and take small moments in the day to breathe, relax, and ground ourselves. Instilling fear in people is the opposite of all of those things, and using some clinical trial from 20 years ago of an ingredient injected into a rat in quantities much higher than you’d ever find in a moisturizer to scare people off from “bad” ingredients is beyond unacceptable.
At the end of the day, anything can be toxic in the right amounts. We need oxygen to live, and even that in large enough quantities can be harmful to the human body. One of my friend’s mothers swears by using sweet almond oil directly after showering to moisturize her body, and I can say she has some of the most glowy, beautiful skin I’ve ever seen. That same friend of mine has severe nut allergies, and if she used the same oil her mom did, it would literally send her to the hospital. Just because it’s natural does not mean in any way that it’s somehow gentler or more effective than something made in a lab.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking alternatives to products you are currently using if you notice you’re having persistent irritation or issues with more traditional or conventional products, or if you’re just curious like I am. I love my green beauty products and indie companies to pieces, so much so that they’ve become some of my favorite brands (I can definitely talk about them more if y’all would like!). I’ve spent the last two months using face balms made of plant butters and oils instead of a traditional cream at night and have absolutely loved it. I also use my Banila Co. cleansing balm every day — it's full of chemicals I’m sure some major retailers in the U.S. would not give a “clean” stamp to. I love it just as much as my moisturizing balms and neither are going anywhere any time soon. I’ve been obsessed with using honey-based masks over the weekends while I’m watching a movie, and when I wash it off, I go right in and massage on a retinol derivative that definitely came from a test tube. They can all be effective and accomplish what you want.
My point in going on this particular rant is that if you’ve been curious about adding some “green” to your skincare this Earth Day week with all the various promotions going on, I definitely encourage you to do so. I just want everyone to keep in mind while they’re doing their shopping that there should not be any fear that you’re somehow going to be doing yourself harm if you’re using products containing ingredients that someone tells you is “toxic.” Just make sure you patch test any new products, incorporate them one by one into your rotation, and keep your existing products you love right where they are in your routine if they continue to work well.
Sound off below if there are any green beauty brands you’ve heard of or been curious about, any stories or experiences with green beauty marketing, or any other comments on Earth Day or green beauty-related topics. And remember: Reduce, reuse, recycle. :)
Born in Korea and raised in Washington, Leo is another 20-something member of the K-Beauty Squad that is as committed to his love of skincare as he is to wine and cheese covered snack foods. After working as an educator and trainer in the beauty industry, he joined the team at Beautytap to continue sharing his knowledge and passion for skincare and all things chok-chok. During his free time, he’s been spotted in the wild bingeing Netflix shows, blasting K-pop while playing video games, or (much more rarely) leaving his hovel to venture forth in search of cocktails and Korean BBQ.