Personal Care

Making the Grade

Last week, I was talking to a friend about why I buy from socially and environmentally conscious companies. Not necessarily exclusively, but whenever possible. When he said he didn’t quite agree with me, I was floored. Not because he disagreed with me per se, but because I thought I understood his purchasing habits. It turns out that my friend was having an existential crisis about what constituted a “good” business. I know it sounds strange – of all things for a father of two young boys to have a crisis about – but, this was it. He explained that he didn’t quite trust labels and saw multiple angles to consider when buying. For example, a product could be “ethically made,” but it might have traveled thousands of miles to get to you. In that case, what was worse – your carbon footprint, or buying something that’s not “ethical”? Also, even though organic products don’t use certain pesticides, they DO still use organic pesticides. Some of these can be even more harmful to the environment and our health than their non-organic alternatives. I can see why my friend was having an existential crisis after all…

Put a label on it

I completely understood where my friend was coming from. I don’t think it’s going to change my purchasing behaviors overall. Instead, it made me even more invested in understanding labels. Labeling is one of those things that is not really regulated except in some cases, like organic. As a result, you don’t always get the full picture of what a product is all about. When something is labeled as “natural,” what does that mean? Pretty much nothing, according to Consumer Reports, who petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. to ban the use of the word. When you see a certification label on a product, how do you know what it stands for?

There are so many stamps and certifications on this product. What does it really mean?

I knew this was a controversial topic, so decided to do a bit of research for myself. Not surprisingly, our motivations have a lot to do with how we read labels. For example, a study by the National Institute of Health indicated that people motivated by environmental conservation were highly susceptible for falling for “green” labels. Eek! It’s also no secret that those of us who are interested in products that are certified, such as B Corporations, often pay more for the products we love. Yet, according to The Guardian, certifications don’t always have the impact that we think they do. A product labeled Fair Trade Certified, for example, may not go as far as we think it does in alleviating poverty. Labeling and standards also vary immensely between countries. Did you every wonder why beauty products and pharmaceuticals that are approved in the U.S. are not available in Europe? Even our regulatory agencies don’t have the same standards. It’s no wonder that international standards and labeling is almost impossible to achieve.

With all of this in mind, what can we as consumers do? Should we just throw our hands up in the air and try not to purchase anything ever? Clearly, this is also impossible – and defeatist. What we can do is continue sharing information when we learn more about products and companies we love. I hope that, by reading this blog, you are a little bit more informed than you were before. We can also petition our governments to enforce standards, just as Consumer Reports successfully did. In addition, we can continue to support those companies that are going the extra mile to be transparent, such as LXMI. Finally, we can do a bit of research on our own to educate ourselves about certifications. The Ecolabel Index is a great source of information about the 464 ecolabels in 199 countries across 25 indusries!

Whatever we do, it’s reaffirming that consumers everywhere are waking up to the need for better labeling and standards. It’s no surprise that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 highlights the need for sustainable consumption and production, calling on business, consumers, policy makers, researchers, scientists, retailers, media, development cooperation agencies, and others to make this happen.

Mindful challenge update

On a separate, but related, note, I wanted to share an update on the mindful challenge that I presented to you a few weeks ago. I asked you to find one new and more sustainable source for a product that you needed to buy. I took this challenge myself. I was about to run out of favorite shampoo a few weeks ago. Instead of buying it again, I challenged myself to find a product that was more sustainable without risking the quality. After a bit of research, I stumbled upon a company called Shea Moisture. They are a Certified B Corporation that was established in 1912. They specialize in natural and organic products, especially shea butter. It’s funny writing this after talking about how loosey goosey the word “natural” is when it comes to labels. However, they actually define what they mean by that. Specifically, this shampoo doesn’t have parabens, phthalates, paraffin, mineral oil, DEA, petroleum, formaldehyde, and propylene. To learn more about why those ingredients are harmful, check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It’s one of my favorites for deciphering the ingredients in personal care products. Shea Moisture is also invested in Community Commerce, meaning that 10% of their sales go to women-led businesses, communities that supply their ingredients, or the Sofi Tucker Foundation (which also supports women’s entrepreneurship).

I chose their 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Shampoo to try out. I was drawn to this particular shampoo because I use coconut oil quite a bit as a part of my haircare. I have fond memories of sitting at my mother’s feet as she doused my long hair in coconut oil the night before I was meant to wash it. It was quite the production. I’d have to cover my pillow in towels and smelled of coconuts for days (which wasn’t too bad, in retrospect). The oil left my hair incredibly moisturized and silky. While I still do a similar treatment once a month or so, I also look for products made with coconut oil to try to replicate the effects of the oil treatment without all of the mess.

Upon shampooing, I loved how much “slip” there was to this product. It covered my hair very quickly and lathered well for a shampoo without any Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Once I washed it out, my hair felt simultaneously clean and moisturized. I followed it up with my usual moisturizer and added a few drops of squalene oil to my hair. After blow-drying, my hair felt soft. Its moisture levels were on par, if not better, than my usual shampoo. I did try the corresponding moisturizer, but I didn’t like it at all. My hair felt stiff and frizzy after using it. I’m glad that I tried the shampoo in combination with my usual conditioner because it made all the difference. For now, I do plan on making this my “go-to” shampoo.

Have you tried the challenge for yourself? If so, what have you discovered. Please write in and let me know!





5 thoughts on “Making the Grade

  1. I remember having a discussion about the effect of product labeling during a college seminar. The prof cited studies regarding how consumers experience differential levels of satisfaction depending on packaging, even when the packages contained the identical product. I remember how much this outraged me – consumers pay more for fancy packaging, thereby enjoying the product more, but they don’t realize their enjoyment of the item is not actually coming from it, but from its wrapper! That sort of deception troubled me immensely. I am sure I am susceptible to it, and not sure what to do about it. There are just so many complex aspects to consuming products ethically.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s so true that we are all probably susceptible to marketing tactics on some level. Personally, it makes me want to learn more about what’s really behind a label and identify information sources I can trust. It means investing more time to educate myself in the short run, but I’m hoping that the payoff is worth it in the long run. I also hope that this blog can become a resource for consumers everywhere.

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