A new era of sustainability is on the rise, with consumers wanting to be more environmentally conscientious. But faced with varied claims on product labels, it’s not always easy to know how to make the right choices, especially when it comes to hair care. Luckily, many brands today are injecting a form of eco-friendly ethos into their products, which can only mean good things for the future. From “all natural” to “cruelty-free,” from “fair trade” to “zero waste,” there is a multitude of things to consider, and it can be overwhelming for any conscientious consumer to go through. So to mark this year’s #EarthDay, we here at HairMNL want help you navigate the veritable list of the top terms found in eco-friendly hair care products today, in the hopes of making it easier for you to make informed choices that are great for you and mother nature.
What It Means:
When it comes to hair care, “Natural,” often in tandem with “non-toxic,” is a common descriptor, especially in Botanical hair products. Under the United States Food and Drug Administration, “natural” products could mean anything derived from non-synthetic ingredients and processes. It can also mean “containing food grade products,” like beeswax or honey. Admittedly, the term Natural is used fairly loosely in the cosmetics world, and those that claim to have 100% Natural ingredients often have a shorter shelf life.
Why It Matters: A natural revolution is eclipsing the bygone era of harsh chemicals in cosmetics (remember when they used radioactive creams?). Today greater demand is making the natural products industry more robust, pushing out synthetically derived ingredients and limiting the long term harm it poses on humans and the environment alike.
What It Means: Organic is an active ingredient derived from non-genetically modified plants or grown in a manner that is ecologically sustainable. So from the very root of the product, it did not use any pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Often these claims are best supported by a form of organic certification like the Cosmetic Organic and Natural Standard (COSMOS). These certifications are a good way to tell if a product is truly organic.
Why It Matters: Admittedly the standard for using the term Organic can go as low as just containing 1% organic compound, so it’s good to check the label to see if it indicates that a product contains a majority of organic active ingredients. Also take note that clay, water, and salt are not considered organic.
What It Means: These products contain no matter or derivative ingredient coming from an animal. It’s not only ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, and shellac that are excluded but also ingredients like beeswax and honey that come from animals as well. It is often assumed that vegan hair products are plant-based, but they can also contain synthetic alternatives to compensate for the animal ingredients.
Why It Matters: Vegan hair products are assumed to be cruelty-free. But to claim something is vegan is to describe a series of ingredients, not necessarily the process for obtaining them. For more on that, see cruelty Free.
What It Means: For a product to be cruelty-free, no element in it contains animal matter nor were any component tested on animals.
Why It Matters: Similar to Vegan hair products, cruelty-free does not mean synthetically free nor does it mean it's clean, safe, or even environmentally friendly. It only stipulates that no animals were harmed in the making of the product.
What It Means: Generally speaking “Clean” or “Clean Beauty” means these products are sulfate free, silicone free, paraben free or dimethyl phthalate free among many others. A clean product removes these chemicals and potential allergens from our shampoos, certain mineral oils, and even hairsprays. Although trace amounts can still be found in certain hair products, for those manufactured in the EU, these concentrations should not be over 0.01%.
Why It Matters: Clean hair products do not necessarily claim to be environmentally safe, instead, when a product claims to be clean, it is more likely to mean that it has fewer allergens present in its constitution.
What It Means: Products with a Fair Trade label mean that its ingredients are bought from producers at a fair price or were produced responsibly, without the use of despicable practices like child labor.
Why It Matters: Some of our favorite products like coconut, argan, apricot, and brazil nut oils as well as shea butter are often the subject of Fair Trade disputes, but that has slowly changed over the decades. With consumers now looking for the Fair Trade Mark to indicate that these ingredients were sourced responsibly.
What It Means: This latest trend in hair care is certainly empowering small local producers to get into the hair care game. As the name suggests, these products are not sold in mass.
Why It Matters: Small hair care and cosmetic manufacturers are often produced by local communities and when marketed well produce less waste than their industrial competitors leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Also because they only produce so little these products leave out chemicals that would extend a product’s shelf life, making them far more biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
Zero Impact Sustainable Package
What It Means: Aka Zero Waste is another growing trend in the hair care industry. Products like shampoo bars, and refillable bottles, are changing how hair care brands deal with the packaging waste the comes with each product sold. The use of as recyclable materials is favored in place of raw materials. At the same time optimizing their logistics to avoid waste associated with production.
Why It Matters: With plastic being so prevalent in our landfills and our seas, shampoo bottles and the like are causing a huge glut in waste management. Zero waste means companies can lessen the guilt of purchasing hair product by their consumers.
There you have it. That's our list so far. But we expect this trend to grow as demand for conscientious beauty products increase in the market. For now, we hope our list helps you celebrate #Earthday every day.