We’ve all seen it before – brands making claims and promises that invariably fail to deliver. These subtle (and not so subtle) marketing tactics have been around for years and are usually what determines the success of the product. However, as consumers are becoming more savvy and reading between the lines, marketers are becoming even more clever when it comes to marketing a product. 

Enter Greenwashing. This is a term used to describe when a brand makes claims to be green and natural through their marketing, yet when you delve a little deeper, chances are there is more effort put into the perception rather than the actual practice. It’s when a brand promotes their products using unsubstantiated or misleading claims that lead the customer to believe that their products are natural, green or organic (when it’s actual fact, they’re only partially, or in worst cases, not at all). 

Brands are strategically choosing words on labelling based purely on marketability and because the governing of this practice can be tricky, some brands are getting away with it. 

Terms like ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘naturally derived’, ‘green’ and ‘dermatologist approved’ are all claims that are seemingly everywhere on skincare labels but sit in a grey area of confusion and unsubstantiated claims.


A term seen on a lot of beauty and skincare products and for those that are mindful about what they’re putting on their skin, the word ‘natural’ can be the thing that gets the purchase across the line. However, unfortunately the term natural is often misused, and in some cases can mean that only a small percentage of a product’s ingredients is plant based or what was originally ‘natural’, has now in fact gone through a production process which now results in a less-than-natural form.

‘Naturally derived’ 

In essence refers to ingredients that are derived from nature but the process means that it is then delivered in an unnatural form (so it sounds natural but may be laden in chemicals). The phrase basically implies that components once came from a natural source but they have been altered in some way, usually delivering a chemically laden form of the original ingredient. 

‘Dermatologist approved’

Sounds great in theory because who wouldn’t want to buy a product which has been endorsed by a professional, however unfortunately the case is normally that the dermatologist has been paid a nice little fee to promote the brand and its products. Which then means there’s usually little, if any, standardised testing gone into the product (meaning it could potentially be harmful for the skin).

Brands are strategically choosing words on
labelling based purely on marketability

‘Toxic chemicals and #8217;

Many natural brands make a lot of noise in regards to the toxic chemicals that aren’t contained in their products, such as parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, sulphates etc. This is a great way of shifting the focus to what’s not in their products, rather than discussing what actually is. A lot of the time these same brands contain ‘toxic chemicals’ or substitutes which are either as bad or even worse. An example of this is when brands will replace a fragrance with essential oils which have the potential to be far more sensitising to the skin than the fragrance (this is just so they can claim the ‘natural’ high ground). It’s like adding chlorine or arsenic to your product and saying they are good for us because they are natural.

‘Free from’ 

This is a great tactic employed by marketers to shift the focus from what’s actually in the product. We’ve seen the labels stating ‘free from parabens, sulphates etc etc, and yet chances are the product still contains toxins. Also know that many brands don’t include a full listing of their ingredients. Usually what can be left out is the synthetic emulsifiers and preservatives. Whilst there are mandatory standards in Australia for ingredients labelling, some ingredients can be called something else, or under a banner term (such as mentioned earlier when talking about fragrances). 

What else?

In addition to important words and phrases used on product labels, you may also want to consider why you are buying the product. Just because it’s a ‘cult product’, has the cool factor or comes with pseudoscientific claims, doesn’t mean it will be right for your skin. Marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to make you want to buy a product and remember that they do a great job at it! Don’t believe everything you read and if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

By Ross Macdougald, Cosmetic Chemist and founder of Australian brand Biologi, the only 100% active organic plant serum in the world. www.biologi.com.au