Obviously, I’m obsessed with hunting down Sneaky Stuff and calling these companies out. Ecover, Burt’s Bees, Earth’s Best…lots of “natural” giants fall short when it comes to producing truly safe products.
For the most part, though, Sneaky Stuff is made by companies that avoid some of the most well-known toxic chemicals, like phthalates and parabens. More importantly, these companies are generally moving in the right direction, removing chemicals as evidence mounts about their toxicity, and–probably most influentially–as the media draws attention to the dangers of these ingredients.
Then there is the sneakiest of the Sneaky Stuff. I’m talking about those companies that enjoy a reputation for being green and clean, who throw around terms like “plant-based” and “earth-friendly,” but whose ingredients are identical to the mainstream brands that are always being torn for their toxic ingredient list. Here are my picks for the sneakiest stuff of all:
If you ignore the ingredients it uses, Aveda could be considered a “green” company. It is a leader in the field when it comes to raising awareness about recycling, alternative energy, and sustainable practices.
Owned by Estee Lauder since 1997, Aveda was founded by Horst Rechelbacher, who says: “[A chemist] convinced me to use preservatives and phthalates because they were “safe”…They work under all conditions to make the products stable…So the chemist makes it stable and says it is safe.” (Source: No More Dirty Looks, by Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt)
UPDATE: I stand corrected! It seems that Aveda has very recently made some formula changes. While there are certainly still chemicals of concern in their products, they have gotten rid of phthalates and will soon be rid of parabens. I received the following email from a rep there:
Yes, Aveda fragrance is 100% natural essential oils with no synthetics. Aveda products are phthalate-free. Aveda has been actively researching plant-based alternatives to parabens and phasing in the removal of parabens from its formulae. We no longer manufacture any products formulated with parabens.
Owned by L’Oreal, Kiehl’s doesn’t provide a comprehensive list of ingredients anywhere on their website. When browsing through various products, you’ll notice that you can only see “key ingredients,” which of course features whatever plant extract is found in miniscule amounts in that product. You’ll have to actually get your hands on a bottle of Kiehl’s to see that it contains phthalates, phenoxyethanol, parabens, chlorphenesin (a neurotoxin that is restricted in Japan), triethanolamine, sulfates, various penetration enhancers, alcohol, and oxybenzone, among other bad stuff.
The Body Shop
Also owned by L’Oreal, The Body Shop was super popular among my friends when we were in junior high in the ’90s. I thought I was a sooo earthy when I slathered myself in the cloying mango body butter. Of course that scent was not a result of actual mango oil, but rather phthalate-ridden fragrance. In addition, Body Shop products contain benzyl alcohol, parabens, and artificial colors.
Still, the Body Shop proclaims: “We believe there is only one way to be beautiful: nature’s way.”