Cosmetics: A deceptive industry

Marketing knows how to ride the noblest consumer trends and aspirations. Cosmetics are no exception, and the natural, organic and vegan mentions put forward by brands have slowly become traps rather than guarantees.

Shopping malls’ physical and online shelves are swarming with deceptive packaging designed to portray a brand as “Clean” and “Eco-friendly”, thereby satisfying a specific growing category of customers. Today, the process even has a name, “Greenwashing”. Cosmetic products are no exception and in recent years we have seen the emergence of a trend, “Cleantech”, which consists in optimizing the best of nature in the laboratory. The promises are very attractive. But what about practicality?

A vast “catch-all”

It is paramount to emphasize in one aspect far from trivial: despite the omnipresence of “clean” in the contemporary cosmetics industry, the concept is not clearly framed by any legal boundaries. An article in “Le Monde” from the end of last year, notably explained that “the “clean”trend gained its position by favoring naturalness and by issuing black lists of ingredients – (parabens, silicones, petrochemical derivatives ) – deemed harmful to the skin and general health. This has led some brands to communicate more on the “without” than on the “with”.” [1]

A brief historical reminder that allows us to better understand the real intentions of many companies using such terms. The presence of controversial ingredients, convoluted formulations on product label, lack of ethics in supply and use of polluting packaging are all elements that can be part of a company’s policy still claiming to be “clean”.

Manipulative Statements

The same goes for highlighting qualities through misleading names. “Natural” particularly widespread. “This term, which is found on a plethora of cosmetic packaging, is absolutely not defined by any cosmetic government body. It’s not because the formula of a product is advertised as 100% natural that this product is not without risk”, warned last November Yves-Noël Grin, a notorious consumer’s advocate, and guest on the radio of a national television channel.

Moreover, the deputy editor in chief of the reference media “Bon à Savoir” regrets missuses of the “organic product” term. “It is also not defined by law. All the consumer can do is make sure that the product is certified “organic” by a serious organization, but the problem is that artisans or small brands often cannot afford to pay these certifications. It is therefore difficult for consumers to find their way around.”

The same goes for the vegan trend, exploited by marketers to attribute virtues that are unfounded. “The designation vegan is not framed by law, so you have to make sure there is a serious certification. Be careful not to misunderstand this statement: The absence of ingredients of animal origin does not mean the absence of a chemical harmful to health, “continues Yves-Noël Grin.

Global opacity

One can start to understand that the guarantees are almost inexistent for consumers who are sinking in fuzzy terms. Further proof with “dermatologically supervised testing”, which gives the impression that the brand has conducted a whole battery of tests under the supervision of a dermatologist, tests which validate the product’s claims. No, this is simply a mandatory regulatory process to bring the product to the market, a certification which is completely independent from the product’s efficacy.

“Everything is opaque: how many people were tested, which professional was commissioned, how the tests were carried out, enumerates the consumer ‘s advocate.

In 2019, several Swiss politicians called for a stricter framework for these allegations, but the Federal Council estimated that the ban on deception which will come into force from May 2021 will be sufficient to resolve the issue. While waiting to see the results, consumers must be vigilant and select companies that put transparency at the center of their efforts. The Age Tech is not an “all-natural” brand, however its promises – based on facts and science – go far beyond the dermatologically tested mention….




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