Here are 9 popular ethical claims and what they truly mean, as well as signs of greenwashing to look out for.
"Cruelty-free" means that the brand doesn't test on animals. Brands that are cruelty-free are not necessarily vegan.
Bunnywashing alert! This term is not regulated, meaning any company can claim to be cruelty-free even if they're not. To ensure that a brand is truly cruelty-free, ask them the questions we ask each brand added to our database.
"Vegan" means that a product doesn't contain any animal-derived ingredients. This includes anything from honey (from bees) to carmine (red pigment from insects) to lanolin (secreted by sheep). If a brand doesn't use animal-derived ingredients at all throughtout their product range, they're 100% vegan.
Vegan-washing? Brands claiming that products are vegan when they're not is rare. You can mostly trust a "vegan" label, but make sure to read the list of ingredients to be certain.
Organic refers to an ingredient being sourced without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful substances. Organic farming is better for the environment, making it an ethical choice. Organic products need to contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
Greenwashing alert! Make sure to look for organic certification. Brands can claim to be "organic" even though they're not. Some brands such as Organix (now OGX) or Babyganics are not at all organic, which is misleading.
A "natural" product should, in theory, be made from natural ingredients as opposed to synthetic ingredients. Products labeled "natural" are not necessarily cruelty-free, vegan, organic, or safer for your skin.
Greenwashing alert! This claim is often used as a form of greenwashing.
With the rise of clean beauty, we need to clarify a few things. The goal of clean beauty is to offer safe, non-toxic products. What clean beauty should be is more sustainable, better for the planet, and also cruelty-free. However, not all "clean beauty" brands tick all those boxes.
Greenwashing alert! "Clean" is subjective. It also doesn't necessarily mean that brands are sustainable or eco-friendly. Most "clean beauty" is formulated without certain ingredients, therefore not considering some iffy ingredients that may fly under the radar. An example is Sephora's Clean Beauty label which categorizes Olaplax as Clean.
Before the rise of clean beauty, we often spoke of "green beauty". A true "green beauty" brand not only focuses on safe, non-toxic ingredients, but also takes into account environmental aspects. Some brands are organic (which is better for the environment), while some have sustainable practices such as eco-friendly packaging. Green beauty has largely been replaced by the term "clean beauty".
Fair trade ingredients should in theory be made by workers who are not only compensated fairly, but are also able to work in good conditions, and in a safe environment. This means there's no child labour and no slave labour involved.
Greenwashing alert! Look for certifications, and make sure the certifications are trustworthy. In theory, fair trade is a great initiative, but the rules and regulations might not always be followed in practice.
Sustainable beauty focuses on the environment. This can mean: eco-friendly packaging, plastic-free packaging, sustainably-sourced ingredients, not using palm oil (largely responsible for deforestation).
Greenwashing alert! Make sure brands or products are truly sustainable. Look beyond the "sustainable" claim to know exactly what makes them sustainable.
When we use the word "ethical", we're mainly talking about these 3 pillars: the environment (sustainability), people (fair wages, good working conditions), and animals (cruelty-free, vegan). Depending on the brand, they might emphasize some pillars more than others, sometimes completely eliminating one or more of them.
An ethical brand typically won't be 100% ethical. Depending on your values, do a little digging and choose ethical brands that align with your specific values or ethical pillars.