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How to Avoid Greenwashing: 'Plant-Derived' Ingredients Aren't So Great

Posted by Clara on

It's hard work being an educated consumer. There's so much slippery language and so many confusing terms that it's easy to get cynical and throw one's hands up in frustration. 

We're here to help. 

What Does 'Plant-Derived' Actually Mean?

'Plant-derived' sounds really impressive initially. Reading through a long list of ingredients on many 'natural' brands, it's easy to think that the 'plant-derived' ingredients are every bit as natural as 'plant-based' ingredients. But this isn't the case. It's might be easy to think of it like this: 'plant-derived' ingredients are like a xerox of a xerox of a xerox of a xerox. If you look really closely, you can still vaguely make-out the original, but it's nothing like the final product.

(Do you remember xeroxes?)

'Plant-derived' ingredients are often completely altered in a lab or through a number of chemical processes that leave little or nothing of the actual plant in a recognizable form. To say that cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is "made from coconut" is not really a lie. Long ago, it was coconut. It's just been chemically altered in the meantime to become a synthetic surfactant (cleanser) and a foam booster. To be clear though, in that process, it lost most of the properties that made it recognizable as 'coconut'. That this ingredient is still identified on labels as 'made from coconut' is intentionally misleading and attempts to confuse consumers into thinking that the product is still all-natural.  There are so many companies that present cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine or sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate or even sodium laurel sulfate as quaint, natural ingredients that are somehow safer and less irritating because those ingredients came from coconuts. This simply isn't the case. 

We recognize that many consumers have been primed to expect that personal care products will foam and sting and dry the skin in order to feel as if the product is working. In reality, none of those qualities are necessary and usually point to the fact that there is likely some harm being done to the skin tissue. 

Look, we love a good lather with our organic soaps and body washes, but we achieve that by carefully formulating whole, organic plant oils to get the results we want and that our customers expect. We don't substitute cheapened and adulterated ingredients for what is truly plant-based and natural. 

What Can You Do?

We are not advocating that you avoid all products with ingredients that sound like a chemical. We just don't think that synthetics should be labeled as 'natural'. We simply think that companies should be truthful in their marketing and stop labeling their products and their ingredients as natural when they aren't. Read ingredient lists and don't be afraid to contact a company is something sounds fishy to you. We think 'natural' is important and the only way that term gets the respect it deserves is if 'natural' is taken seriously and properly labeled.

Find companies that you like, companies that list all of their ingredients truthfully and support them. These things matter.

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