‘You make me feel like a non-toxic woman.” Said no one ever.
One of the unexpected challenges we face, at Avoila, is that some words seem to be losing all meaning – including words like natural and green. It can feel like worlds of business and marketing are determined to make them meaningless.
This is an issue with real consequences for small, independent clean beauty companies like us, but it is also important for consumers. Research tells us that when we see these words – natural, green, organic – applied to a product, we put a higher value on it. I know I’m willing to pay a little more to a company that takes a considerate, responsible approach to product development. And the data tells me I’m not alone!
Which is why it’s a problem that some companies are cashing in on this.
Thankfully, I do think there’s a way that we, as consumers, can avoid getting tripped up by the misuse of these words.
Like most of us, when I hear natural I think of something good—something that’s connected to the earth and in tune with our physical nature. When I hear green, I think about sustainable practices and respect for the health of our environment. And, when it comes to my skincare and my beauty products, I want to buy those products that I can feel good about putting on my skin because they’re derived from natural ingredients that are not going to harm me. These days, I also prefer something that isn’t in a single-use plastic bottle. I haven’t always been this thoughtful, but I’ve become more discerning as I learn more.
Ok, back to the words ... When we were developing our brand and our flagship product, the word natural came up a lot. How could it not? We like to use ingredients that are ... well, natural. (This is where I want to look quickly over my shoulder to make sure no-one is there, judging me!) But, we don’t dare describe our products in such terms. Why?
We have been told, by more than one experienced expert in our industry to remove natural and remove green from anywhere on our website because they have become trigger words. Many consumers are becoming so distrustful of these words that just seeing them attached to a product makes us question the honesty of the brand.
So, it seems that not only has the word become meaningless, there’s actually a stigma attached to it.
We had to find other ways to describe the fact that we don’t put any chemicals in our products. Isn’t that crazy? There are SO many beauty companies that use chemicals in their products and yet it’s the clean beauty companies that are forced to find a new way to describe … natural.
Sure, you can argue that natural isn’t always synonymous with harmless either. Many companies do, and it’s part of how they can continue to weaken our shared understanding of these words. Arsenic, they’ll tell you, is a pretty good example of a natural substance that you wouldn’t want anywhere near you! Fair enough, but nobody puts natural on a product as a warning, they put it there because we believe natural is better.
When a brand slaps the word natural on a product, that’s a choice. They know we like natural things – they depend upon it, in fact. And, if they capitalize on our beliefs and desires to misdirect us, or cloud our understanding, well… that’s not cool. (It’s also against FDA guidelines – but they won't do anything without a consumer complaint. And, yes there have been lawsuits!)
So where does that leave us? For now, we, like many other brands, mostly use words like clean and non-toxic and plant-based to describe our products. And we note that our ingredients are organic and vegan. These are all great words! But … are even these words as clearly defined as we think? Maybe not for large corporate enterprises, but they are for the rest of us.
This is why I think, to avoid confusion altogether, the simplest way that we as consumers can avoid getting tripped up is by getting to know independent clean beauty.
This is a market where most companies are young, scrappy and largely unknown. That’s good for consumers because independent clean beauty companies have to invest in communicating about their ingredients to capture your interest and they have to be transparent about their production process to earn your trust and your business.
It is true that, for consumers, this approach does take a little more work. You may need to go to a brand’s website and look at the full ingredient list or visit your indie beauty shop and really inspect the labels. And you may need to look up words that aren’t familiar.
You can also invest some time to read the brand’s origin story, to find out the founders’ intentions and discover the mission behind the formulations. Many independent beauty brands were started because their founders themselves couldn’t find a product that they trusted and could use with total confidence. And most of them are happy to be open and upfront about their story and their approach.
To be honest, when I first heard about independent, clean beauty brands I was so excited, but I was also a little frustrated – I didn’t understand many of the ingredients that were being celebrated, like blue tansy or squalene, and some of the products I came across had names that looked like the very chemicals I was most trying to avoid.
That’s why when we were formulating our product, we only selected ingredients that we (everyday people) recognized, and already trusted. And if an ingredient wasn’t immediately recognizable (looking at you, tocopherol), we made sure there was a more familiar term next to it (tocopherol is simply a form of vitamin E, so we include that info.)
In the end, however you approach your skincare, it’s worth putting some effort into knowing what exactly is going on, and being absorbed into, your skin. Let independent clean beauty brands become your guide and you’ll be much better prepared to buy with confidence, regardless of the marketing words that others use. It’s a natural solution :)