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S is for Sham: Sephora's "Naturally Gorgeous" Standard

Before presenting the Emeral Awards for Best Natural Shampoo, Conditioner, and Hair Treatment tomorrow, I would like to deliver a brief public service announcement.

As you may have noticed, few of the products mentioned in the Emerald Awards series have also won best of green awards in the major newsstand magazines. Those products are primarily sold at Sephora and carry this retailer’s own “natural seal.” Go to the website, and they will acknowledge that no universal standard exists, leading them to create their own seal because “we felt we had to take the initiative to define what natural means in terms of our environment. What is natural beauty? We have defined the term as it relates to Sephora, and products must live up to that definition to be considered natural.”

This definition of natural is, at best, a broad one. In fact, it earned Sephora the honor of being named one of the four “biggest ‘green marketing’ scams” by TerraChoice, the group behind sinsofgreenwashing.org. Beyond that, however, I found much greater concerns than their lax standards.

Let’s take Tarte’s Vitamin-Infused Lipgloss as an example – and yes, I do like to pick on lip products because we EAT them. If you peek at the ingredients list, you immediately notice that most of the ingredients are decidedly synthetic. What is more disconcerting, however, is the presence of petroleum-based chemicals (e.g., polyethylene) despite the product page claiming the lipgloss is FREE of petrochemicals!

Skeptical? Here’s a more obvious example of the questionable claims going on at this most beloved of beauty emporiums. Cargo’s PlantLove lipstick has been all over the press as the best “green” lipstick on the market. Head to the product page on Sephora.com and you will see a list of ingredients you will supposedly NOT find in this lippie. Parabens are on the list, yes? Now click on the “more information” link, select ingredients, and lo’ and behold, you will see 3 parabens. I’m not sure what else to say.

While in New York City, I popped into a Sephora and asked the saleswoman what their standards were for the natural seal. She promptly handed me a postcard featuring the Big Green S, pointed to a list of 8 groups of chemicals (parabens, synthetic fragrance, petrochemicals, and so forth), and said, “Our products with the natural seal contain less of these chemicals than most other brands. Wanting something a bit more specific, I asked, “Can you be more specific?” I’m subtle that way. She replied with absolute confidence that, “the products cannot contain more than 5 of these.” “So they can contain 5 of these 8 chemicals, and still get
the natural seal?” I asked, clearly alarmed. “Yup!” the lovely young lady replied sunnily, oblivious to my incredulity.

This week, I called Sephora’s customer service line to speak with a Senior Beauty Advisor and asked her about the standards. Her reply was that she had no additional information other than what was on the website. I received the phone number for their marketing department and was instructed to send an email with my request. Which I did, and have not heard back. In response to an article on Slate.com discussing Sephora’s big green scam title, however, they stated: “Our natural brands are committed to ensuring that their products meet all applicable guidelines as well as our internal standards. While there is no regulatory definition for ‘natural’ cosmetics, the products we offer in this category are made primarily from natural ingredients.”

I hope to snag an interview with Jamie Anderson, Sephora’s “chief of beauty patrol” who is in charge of setting and maintaining the natural standard. Until then, I have to conclude that the Sephora Seal for Natural Products is a hoax of the most transparent kind.

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for The Emerald Awards for Best Natural Haircare!

UPDATE: Cargo has contacted me with an updated list of their ingredients, and they are apparently working with Sephora to change that information on the website. So here is the new ingredients list. Now if ALL of the other brands bearing the Naturally Gorgeous seal would reveal that they, too, are free of the nasty chemicals listed in their products, too…..

Anyway, thank you, Cargo, for the clarification!

INGREDIENTS: RICINUS COMMUNIS (CASTOR) SEED OIL*, PRUNUS ARMENIACA (APRICOT) KERNEL OIL*, HELIANTHUS ANNUUS (SUNFLOWER) SEED OIL*, CERA CARNAUBA (COPERNICIA CERIFERA (CARNAUBA) WAX)*, OLEIC/LINOLEIC/LINOLENIC POLYGLYCERIDES, HELIANTHUS ANNUUS SEED CERA (HELIANTHUS ANNUUS (SUNFLOWER) SEED WAX), EUPHORBIA CERIFERA CERA EXTRACT (EUPHORBIA CERIFERA (CANDELILLA) WAX EXTRACT), HYDROGENATED APRICOT KERNEL OIL , HYDROGENATED STEARYL OLIVE ESTERS, HYDROGENATED APRICOT OIL UNSAPONIFIABLES , PRUNUS ARMENIACA  (APRICOT) KERNEL OIL UNSAPONIFIABLES, TOCOPHEROL, THEOBROMA CACAO (CACAO) SEED BUTTER*, CAMELINA SATIVA SEED OIL*, OENOTHERA BIENNIS (EVENING PRIMROSE) OIL*
(+/-) CI 77891 (TITANIUM DIOXIDE), BETA VULGARIS (BETA VULGARIS (BEET)), CI 77491 / CI 77492 / CI 77499 (IRON OXIDES), CI 77019 (MICA), CI 75470 (CARMINE).

* ingredients proceeding from organic farming.
 



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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.

Comments

  1. I could not agree with you more and have written Sephora about this specific subject. I ended up hearing from Jamie Anderson and her email is Jamie.Anderson@sephora.com if you would like to contact her with a complaint.

    This is a copy of the letter I wrote:

    Dear Sephora Customer Service,

    I am someone who is very interested in natural and organic products, so much so, that I have a blog called Scent Hive dedicated to this topic. I am concerned about the accuracy of the product descriptions on your website regarding this issue, and I will give you a few examples, although I fear it is throughout the natural/organic part of your website.

    Under the Korres Lip Butter description, it states there are no petro-chemicals, yet I have to wonder about Polybutene, Trimethylolpropane Triisostearate, Polyethylene and, Propylene Carbonate. Are you 100% certain those are not derived from petroleum?

    The Boscia description for the Oil-Free Daily Hydration SPF 15 also says no petro-chemicals, but Butylene Glycol is 2nd on the ingredient list and is a petro-chemical.

    Also, taking a look at the “Behind the Brand” in the Carol’s Daughter section, she states that she would never use synthetic preservatives. Yet, in her Tui Leave-In Conditioner there’s DMDM Hydantoin which is a synthetic preservative that releases formaldehyde. (It’s also in several other of her products) Also, in several of the hair products there are PEG ingredients which are petrol derived, and you state there are no petroleum ingredients in their products.

    This is really misleading and confusing for the public when we are trying to make educated decisions about what we buy and put on our bodies. It is more than just a marketing plan/trend for many of us.

    Additionally, your “Naturally Sephora” label isn’t very informative. What exactly does “fewer to no” mean? It should just mean “no”. And then when it says “no” it should really mean “no”.

    Thank you for your time and I hope someone gets back to me with a response to my concerns. Something needs to be done about these inaccurate product descriptions.

  2. Thanks Terri,

    I guess I’m not supposed to duplicate the letter here, but if you email me I can give you more specifics. Basically she thanked me for my “callouts” and said they contacted those companies and said that they rely on their “brand partners” for reliable information. I’m not too sure about that and I can tell you why if you’d like.

    ~Trish

  3. it also looks like the “real” green brands that Sephora once had or had some products of are actually pulling product because of their non-committment to actually wanting green companies – not mention that many of the “green” brand or brands that they claim to be “green” really aren’t – especially the mineral lines!

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