beauty products

The Ugly Side of Beauty Industry- Greenwashing and Labelling Loopholes


As a booming business, the cosmetics industry was valued at $130.7 billion in 2016, a figure that only shows signs of growth (with a CAGR between 4.7% -5.3% from 2017-2023). Often displaying its ability to remain resilient as an industry, even when the economic climate has been observed to be seemingly unfavorable, it continues evolving with the changing times and the needs of the contemporary customer.

However, the beauty and cosmetic industry’s promising future is fuelled by multiple sustainability issues, challenges regarding transparency and traceability, detrimental environmental effects, and tremendous ethical concerns. The most outstanding of these issues have been explicated in pursuit of a wholesome understanding of the industry and the far-reaching consequences of its choices.

Poor Regulation of Label Terms leads to misleading marketing and Green Washing. In today’s world, it is a common sight to have cosmetics labeled as “Safe”, “Clinically Proven”, “Organic”, “Dermatologist approved” and other similar titles. Unfortunately, these words provide no guarantee regarding the safety of the products.

They have often proven to be merely marketing strategies that lead to Greenwashing, helping the companies deceive the consumers. A research that was published in the Journal of Global Marketing and Fashion, 82% of such claims are bogus. Undoubtedly, it is a great marketing technique as it helps attract a large consumer base. Still, it is highly unethical as the companies show them off as “Green.” In reality, they are just using the consumers’ sentiments to make profits instead of providing them with the product they claim. Factually speaking, the FDA (Food and drug administration) has no authority for the pre-marketing label approvals. The
ultimate authority to label the product lies with the manufacturer itself. The companies exploit the loopholes in the federal law system and make these seemingly attractive and safe claims without any proper regulations. Some brands use the term “Chemical-Free” for their products.

If one speaks scientifically, everything is made up of chemicals; even water is a chemical, and therefore it is practically impossible to make the product without having any chemical composition. The problem comes when the substances are known to be harmful, but false “labeling” is practiced by them, just to take advantage of a lack of regulations in place. Many cosmetic brands use “False Imagery” to deceive their customers into believing that their product is green and organic. Green Marketing is growing at a magnificent speed since 2016, and the consumers do realize these tactics of cosmetic companies as they are becoming aware of the impact of these products on their health and environment as well.

They are no longer able to differentiate between which company is genuine and which is not. Merely calling themselves green is not enough for the companies, rather they should make sure to achieve something which has a significant impact on the consumers. They should market on facts and be more transparent to the consumers by mentioning all the relevant information on the labels.

The consumers should look for official EWG (Environmental Working Group) seals like “EWG Skin Deep” which assures that no unacceptable or restricted elements are used in the products. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, 1945, and Labelling Declarations by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) regulate the usage of cosmetic products in India.

However, there are limited guidelines which aim to regulate the full prescription of active ingredients as it is usual cosmetic type formulation. Also, there is no detailing about the formulation and chemicals used in cosmetic products, since the cosmetic sector is not under stringent control as a result of which labeling loopholes are common occurrences and sometimes intentionally done, by the manufacturers.

Story Written by Shivangi Naberia