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Greenwasher Exposed: Josie Maran?

“The simple truth is that many beauty products are advertised as natural or organic when their ingredients are far from it. Many companies produce these “so-called” natural or organic  products by adding a few herbal extracts to a synthetic soup of polymers (plastics), silicones, petroleum (and its derivatives), artificial fragrances and colors, and other potentially harmful substances. They then market the product by focusing on the few clean ingredients, while disregarding the rest, hoping the consumer will do the same. The public is becoming more aware of this unethical marketing strategy (often called “greenwashing”), but unfortunately the practice is still widespread.” – Kirsten Binder,

Last week, while in New York City, I purchased Josie Maran’s Earth Day Essentials kit. I had heard so much about her line from various friends and makeup artists – not to mention numerous beauty magazine and blogs – that I wanted to experience what everyone was raving about.

While sitting in the subway train, I glanced over the ingredients of the lip gloss, intending to give that one a whirl right away. But what to my wondering eyes should appear, but POLYBUTENE as the first ingredient on the list. I’m certainly no chemist; I don’t even make my own skin care products at home (yet). Nonetheless, I had read enough to be nearly certain that polybutene was a member of the petrochemical family. I put the gloss back in my bag until I could do a little more research. To put it mildly, what I found was much worse than I anticipated. 

To be completely honest with you, I had set out on this project hoping to write a post with a positive spin on it, like “A Green Guide to Josie Maran cosmetics.” After all, it is no secret that some of the products are more natural than others. I planned to emphasize which products were truly natural, give credit where it’s due. 

Furthermore, I don’t want to be thought of as some crusty old lady sitting on the couch with her whisky sour and clove cigarettes (I’m more of a wine and chocolate person, truth be told), muttering to herself about taking down any brand that tries to market itself as natural. For the record, I’m not militantly anti-synthetic. But every company that dishonestly represents itself to the consumer as natural compromises the integrity of the entire industry, and I am indeed against that.

Back in Minnesota, after about 2 hours going over her ingredients lists and reading through the articles recently published about her, I could no longer bring myself to put a positive spin on the post. Her products are so riddled with synthetics, with so many little tricks to throw even the savviest consumer off the trail, I’m only impressed with her ability to secure the reputation of having a natural line in the first place.

“Josie Maran Cosmetics are free of parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, and talc.”
– “The Green Glamour Queen,” an article about Josie Maran:
Organic Beauty Magazine, February 2009.

Venture on over to Ms. Maran’s website, and you will find a page that contains the ingredients for each product, with cute little symbols that signify what is or is not in the product. Do your homework, and you will likely be as perplexed as I am with what appear to be a gaggle of inconsistencies (I don’t want to call them lies, because I am secretely hoping I’m totally wrong and Josie will magically appear and clarify what appears to be blatent misinformation).

Let’s begin with the plumping lip gloss I mentioned earlier. The symbols on indicate that it does not contain petrochemicals or artificial fragrances. And yet the first ingredient listed, Polybutene, does in fact appear to be a petroleum-based chemical. Simply Google “Polybutene” and any word with it, such as “manufacturer,” “purchase,” or “origin,” and you will get a long list of petrochemical companies that map out the chemical structure of the product and then list the other polymers (read: adhesives) they manufacture. My ingredients reference resource, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, confirms its petro-origin, adding that it is also found in lubricating oil, sealing tape and cable insulation. Mmmmm, cable insulation.  

If only that’s where it ended. But the first 5 ingredients listed for the gloss are all synthetic and, as far as I can tell, derived from petroleum. And then there’s the Vanillyl Butyl Ether. Translation: synthetic vanilla scent. Again, don’t take my word for it. Google Vanillyl Butyl Ether, and you will see for yourself that it is a chemical that produces a lovely yet artificial vanilla scent. While I understand that it is unimaginably difficult to make top-performing cosmetics without using any synthetics, I’m fairly certain natural vanilla scent cannot be classified as a necessary evil when determining where to make compromises.

I could go on, but what’s the point? Synthetics are prevalent in every product in my new little Earth Day Kit (the irony of which nearly precipitated an anneurism), with the obvious exception of the 100% Organic Argan Oil. Even worse, on the side of the kit’s box, every one of her symbols (with their meanings) are listed, easily leading the consumer to believe that every product found inside is organic, natural, and free of synthetic fragrance and petroleum-based chemicals. Take out the little boxes of product, look at the symbols (which are different from those listed next to the same products on the website, by the way), and finally you will get an accurate representation. But my goodness does that seem like an awful lot of work just to get to the truth.

So here’s my plea: Someone, anyone, who might know Ms. Maran personally, please ask her what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on. Because from where I sit on my blue couch with my pinot noir and Ghirardelli 60% Cocoa chocolate chips, she is not so much a eco-entrepreneur as she is a gorgeous woman with a brilliantly successful but thoroughly deceptive, pseudo-natural cosmetics line.



Written by Terri Bly

Terri Bly is the founder of The Nature of Beauty, LTD, an all-eco website, shop, and spa. She is a freelance writer, currently residing in Minneapolis.


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