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Reading Labels by Emma Rohmann

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So, you’ve decided that the ingredients in conventional skincare and cleaning products aren’t for you. You try to read labels to figure out what the better options are, but that’s easier said than done! Especially if you’ve been caught buying something that turned out to have not-so-great ingredients after-all – despite how great the label made it sound.

You’re definitely not alone. Being a conscious consumer can be a challenge! For starters, cleaners aren’t required to disclose any ingredients. And while body care products must disclose all ingredients (except for what’s in “fragrance”), the ingredients are often written in their latin or scientific names.

This is why I don’t love the advice to “not use products with ingredients you can’t pronounce”.

The good news is, with a little practice you can avoid falling victim to greenwashing and turn label-reading into your super power. Here’s how.

  1. Ignore the front of the package.

This is where brands will put all the good-sounding language that will fit on the label. Marketers know what colours will resonate with a particular emotion, what fonts will get you to read, and the words you want to hear. And it’s important to note that terms like “natural”, “organic”, and “non-toxic” are not regulated.

This isn’t to say that all marketing efforts are malicious, but it’s important to remember that a package’s job is to get you to buy it. Your job is to figure out if you should.

One common strategy is to list what’s not in the product. And the more, the better, right? But that’s just a distraction to what’s actually in the product, so take these lists with a grain of salt.

Another common labelling strategy is to emphasize “plant-based” or “naturally-derived” ingredients. This can also be a distraction as many synthetics started off from a natural source, but have been processed beyond recognition (and sometimes with potentially toxic processing agents). Plus, petroleum products are technically “naturally-derived”, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy – or green.

  1. Look for certifications - with caution.

OK, so while the front of the package might grab your attention, hopefully you now know you shouldn’t take it at face value. This is why some brands go through the cost and effort to get 3rd party certifications – to help show you that they’re doing what they say they’re doing. But there are a few things to be aware of before relying solely on certifications.

  • Leaping Bunny, B Corp, Fair Trade, Biodegradable, Gluten-Free, and other certifications or statements are great, but don’t necessarily mean the product is free from toxic ingredients.
  • Common 3rd party certifications for body care or cleaners include EcoCert, COSMOS, USDA Organic, Green Seal, and EcoLogo. These are definitely a step in the right direction, but don’t guarantee ingredients are as healthy as you might expect.

So in case you haven’t guessed yet, the next and most important step is critical, no matter how great the product looks on the surface.

  1. Read the ingredients.

To really decide if a product is right for you, you’ve got to turn the package around and read the ingredients – on body care at least. For cleaners, you may need to check out the manufacturer’s website for the ingredients. If they don’t disclose them, don’t buy it.

My favourite label-reading app for body care is Think Dirty. And for cleaners, you can search EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (though it’s only got US products).

Logan and Finley has a great collection of non-toxic products for you and your home. From Routine deodorant (which also comes with rave reviews from many people – a tall order for natural deodorants!) to Sapadilla dish soap, there’s a wide range of options to help you make the switch over to healthier products, simply. Pop in the store to take a look!

Emma Rohmann is and environmental engineer, green living coach and the founder of Green at Home and we love it when she explains stuff to us! Check out her website for more information on this and other green living tips.

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