Greenwashing: hidden dangers behind cosmetic formulas

Beauty products considered natural, sustainable or handmade can hide assets dangerous to the skin and the planet. Let's see what lies behind cosmetic formulas.
Reading time 5 minutes

A regulatory shift towards greater safety for beauty products is underway in the United States. It takes place through a project called the Personal Care Products Safety Act, a campaign that has the support of major companies in the sector and medical societies. Such entities believe in the need to close the siege against ingredients that are potentially aggressive to the human body and the environment. The movement that intends to change the American federal inspection rules is accompanied and also driven by a significant change in the profile of the global consumer.

Fine print

Beauty lovers are increasingly attached to reading labels. They want to know if the products are organic, biodegradable and recyclable. “The trend in natural cosmetics arises from the real need to maintain a sustainable cycle to produce in the future. Mineral oil, derived from petroleum, for example, will one day run out. We better use vegetable oil obtained through sustainable cultivation ”, says Lucas Portilho, consultant and researcher in cosmetology, from Campinas (SP).


While some companies try to adapt to safe production for the ecosystem, others do greenwashing. “This term describes the movement of companies to disguise a cosmetic full of synthetic substances and from a non-renewable source as being natural”, warns Lucas.


The way out of the trick is to seek information. “If, on the one hand, we are the most contaminated generation of all time, with pollution coming from the most varied means, on the other hand, we are the most informed. The person can make direct contact with the company to learn more about the formula, require tests and quality reports of the cosmetic. And it is not enough to believe in the quality of the products just because they are expensive ”, says Sonia Corazza, chemical engineer specialized in cosmetology. The professional also recommends, to learn more about the toxicity of the beauty product, to access free online platforms, such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) purchase tag Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. There, you can type the ingredient of any formula and understand how aggressive it can be or not.


Another important point that needs to be put on the radar is about how much natural products are capable of certain changes in the look. “We would like the natural to be able to provide all the beauty salon transformations, for example, but that is not yet possible. You can't really bleach hair without using bleaching powders. Brazilian women like to be blond. So, they need to know that the products involved in the process have now evolved to be less aggressive. But there is no miracle. For dark hair to become platinum, it is necessary to discolor the strands and the chemical part is a step in the process. It is up to her to ponder and decide if she wants to go through this ”, says Lucy Cossenzo, hair therapist at ROM Concept, in São Paulo.

Glossary of the cleanest beauty

Karina Soeiro, master in pharmaceutical sciences at USP, in São Paulo, and Lucas Portilho, consultant and researcher in cosmetology, from Campinas, teach how to decipher some ingredients that are part of many of the formulas offered in the current beauty market.


Sulfate: it is in the formula as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryl ether sulfate. It is a detergent and surfactant component capable of causing irritation in sensitive skin, in addition to drying the hair strands. Vegetable alternatives have been developed, but most of them are still extracted from petrochemicals, which are not ecological.


Parabens: studies indicate that these preservatives can alter the hormonal system. And also to unbalance the ecosystem, polluting water sheets. You can find it in the formula as paraben, paraben or the name plus some prefix, like butylparaben.


Phthalates: present in fragrances. “They are endocrine disruptors and can, therefore, cause hormonal changes. They are classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans and banned in several countries in Europe and the United States ”, says Karina Soeiro. On the label, it can be as phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.


Petrolatos: they are seen on the labels as “petrolatum”. They are extracted from petroleum, a non-renewable source, and are present in formulas such as liquid paraffin (“paraffinum liquidum”), liquid petroleum jelly and mineral oil (“mineral oil”).


Synthetic fragrances: according to the pharmacist Lucas Portilho, they contain several allergens. They are identified on the labels as “parfum”.


Silicones: they are not a sustainable ingredient, since they come from a non-renewable source. On labels, they usually have endings like cone, siloxane and conol.

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