We recently coined the term “cleanwashing” to describe the practice of marketing a product as clean or non-toxic without supporting those claims. When buying cosmetics, it’s important to make sure you know how to read a label so you don’t get duped. (Though at Follain, our strict standards mean you never have to worry about this.)

How to Read a Label

1. Let’s start with the basics. The first thing to note is that the ingredients are listed from highest concentration to lowest. So, if there’s an ingredient featured on the front of the packaging, you’d expect it to be higher up in the list. If it’s at the very end, then you’ve probably been cleanwashed.  

2. Read through the ingredient list and look for toxic ingredients such as:

  • Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl)
  • Any ingredient beginning with PEG
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Mineral oil
  • Paraffin
  • Petrolatum
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate 
  • Propylene glycol
  • BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • Chemical sunscreens (look for oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate)
  • Fragrance/parfum (companies are not required to specify what chemicals they use in fragrance, and research shows that toxic ones are often included; however, we carry some products with fragrance that are also Ecocert certified, meaning their fragrances are natural)

If you see any of these ingredients listed on the back of a product, consider swapping it for a cleaner, safer option.

3. Remember that chemically derived ingredients can have many different names. For example, Toluene, a volatile petrochemical derived from benzene (a known carcinogen), is often listed as Toluol, Benzene, Methylbenzene, or Phenylmethane. It’s easy to get confused when an ingredient has many monikers, but you can always reference our restricted ingredients list for help.

Now, let’s take a look at an example of a real ingredient list from a cosmetic brand that has an air of being nontoxic. Although this brand is wonderful in terms of fighting animal testing and reducing their carbon footprint by going package-free, the majority of their products contain SLS, fragrance, propylene glycol, and parabens. We’ve bolded the bad stuff below.

Ingredients: Vanilla Water (Vanilla Planifolia), Almond Oil (Prunus Dulcis), Almond Milk (Prunus Dulcis), Glycerine, Fair Trade Organic Cocoa Butter (Theobroma Cacao), Fragrance, Fresh Dove Orchid Extract (Dendrobium), Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Triethanolamine, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Clean Ingredient Swaps for Cosmetics

Many conventional brands argue to the death about their products being safe, but our thought is this: When the safety of a product or ingredient is up for debate, why take the risk? There are plenty of clean, high-performing alternatives available. Here’s our list of clean swaps for some common toxins. 

Toxic Ingredient Clean Swap
Parabens and phenoxyethanol Radish root ferment
SLS Coconut- or palm- derived surfactants
Fragrance/parfum Essential oils
Dimethicone Broccoli seed oil
Oxybenzone Zinc oxide
Aluminum Baking soda or arrowroot powder
Parrafin wax Beeswax
Synthetic dyes and colorants Plant extracts (e.g.: beet root juice and indigo extract)

With these simple tips, you won’t have to worry about falling for cleanwashing again!