LUSH: Is it truly ethical?

When you think of LUSH you think of colourful bath bombs fizzing amongst your bubble bath and face masks enriched with fresh ingredients. Offering a selection of handmade products made with ethically sourced and fresh ingredients, LUSH has earned a reputation for being an all-natural brand. But whilst natural ingredients are used, what most people don’t know is that many LUSH products are also formulated with toxic ingredients and harmful synthetics. LUSH is just one of many beauty companies who are claiming green credentials. But how transparent are they really being? Emma Hull investigates the truth about LUSH ingredients and the rising issue of greenwashing amongst the industry.

LUSH is a cosmetic retailer that offers ethical hair, bath and beauty products. With creams, shampoos, lotions, scrubs, soaps and its best selling bath bombs, it is known for it’s a large selection of scented products. Founded by Mark Constantine, a herbal trichologist and Liz Weir, a beauty therapist in 1995, LUSH is now sold in 49 countries around the world.

It is a brand that prides itself on using fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, essential oils and ingredients that are ethically and sustainably sourced. And with its strict cruelty free policy, it is commended for its ethical initiatives. Its recycling program encourages customers to recycle their LUSH pots by introducing a give back system. Customers can bring back five black pots and be rewarded with a free face mask. To continue to reduce output of waste on the environment, many of LUSH’s products are also package free, including its soaps, bath bombs and shampoo bars. In 2007, LUSH also launched the ‘Charity Pot’ campaign which donates 100% of the profits to small grassroots organisations working in the areas of animal welfare, human rights and environmental conservation. Since the launch, LUSH has donated to more than 850 grassroots charities in over 42 countries.

These ethical initiatives and fresh handmade products might make you want to run out and buy an earthy looking face mask; but whilst we applaud the initiatives they have in place, further investigation into its ingredients, might make you want to think again.

In a survey conducted by PURE, 85% of readers believed that LUSH Cosmetics is a natural brand due to its marketing techniques. But whilst LUSH does not claim to be naturally certified, its tagline ‘fresh handmade cosmetics’, use of natural ingredients and ethical initiatives has nevertheless earned itself the reputation of an all-natural brand. We decided to investigate LUSH products to find out just how green they really are.

Despite its eco packaging and organic claims, LUSH currently only has one certified organic product, the massage bar. Unfortunately, we found that although natural ingredients are used within the rest of LUSH’s products, many also contain harmful synthetics such as SLS, parabens and parfum, that wouldn’t even pass natural certification.

The parabens used in its products are synthetic preservatives that will help to preserve the products. But whilst it may ensure your moisturiser lasts a little longer, a study conducted by the Journal of Applied Toxicology detected that parabens can mimic the female hormone oestrogen and can risk the influence of oestrogen on breast cancer. A further look into the ingredients finds EDTA. Found in its shower soap blends, ETDA is often used to dissolve lime scale, and is medically used to treat mercury and lead poisoning. Astonishingly, 51 LUSH products also contain Polyvinylpyrrolidone, which is used in making glue sticks and added to batteries. Its popular shower gels and hair moisturisers have even been found to contain Benzyl Alcohol, which is used as a paint solvent and also toxic to new-borns.

Particularly looking at its shampoo bars is concerning. On first inspection, the shampoo bars such as the Jumping Juniper and Soak and Float may give you a great lather, but its down to a foaming agent that has been linked to major skin irritation, hair loss, cell damage and even studies that show a link to cancer.

Using Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, otherwise known as SLS is a chemically toxic surfactant that causes the shampoo to lather, but whilst it may help the shampoo to lather and clean your hair effectively, studies have shown links to hair damage and your long term health.

According to a report conducted by the American College of Toxicology on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, animals exposed to SLS suffered eye damage, laboured breathing, severe irritation and even death. In fact, the report also states, “Studies have indicated that SLS enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, the liver, the lungs and the brain from skin contact. Widely used as a cleaning agent, SLS is found in commercial shampoos, garage floor cleaners and even engine degreasers. Listed as the first ingredient and at 90% concentration, it poses a serious question. How can LUSH portray themselves as green, yet still use ingredients that have been linked to serious health threats?

We contacted LUSH cosmetics to find out its stance on using SLS in regards to the harmful effects it has been linked to, and why SLS is still being used in its shampoo bars. Janey, from Lush Customer Care responded, explaining that SLS is a safe synthetic surfactant that is used in soaps and shampoos. “The SLS we use comes from vegetable oil source and has a long history of safe use in cosmetics.” She adds, “We use SLS as a surfactant as we have found it so far to be the safest and most effective and for this reason we continue to use it in our products.”

What is interesting is the response suggests that SLS is a safe agent to use, despite the serious possible health risks medical studies have reported.

To further, in a blog post on its website entitled “don’t stress SLS” which attempts to calm consumer concerns on the synthetic; it states that SLS, does have a “potentially toxic effect on aquatic organisms”. As LUSH implements the non-animal testing policy and markets as cruelty free, what impact does this have on LUSH’s cruelty free status? Janey admits, “We do acknowledge the impact of sulphates on aquatic life, and we are working to stop using SLS in our products. We have phased SLS out of our products before, and swapped it for Sodium Coco Sulphate, but this did not give our customers the effect and lather that they wanted from their shampoos, shower gels and bubble bars so we went back to SLS.” It is concerning to see that a brand that suggests it is fighting animal rights and environmental conservation would prefer to use components that are toxic to marine eco systems over another natural agent.

It is evident that whilst a brand may pioneer natural ingredients and ethical beauty it is still important to do your research and understand exactly what you are putting on your skin. Unfortunately since there are no regulations about what is “natural,” the term is often used as a marketing tactic, even though many of the products also containing dangerous ingredients.

Angie Jaeger, an integrative nutritionist, explains that green-washed marketing has serious implications on the natural and organic industry. “Marketing, in general, is dangerous. It has tapped into very primal aspects of our psyche on top of being virtually everywhere, in plain sight or not. This makes it very difficult to be educated consumers. I do believe that we have let marketing take too many liberties on us as consumers, and green washing is no exception.” She adds: “Much like the term “healthy”, just because a product says that it is “green”, does not mean that it is actually safe for you or the environment.”

This implication of green washing is not only causing confusion amongst consumers but also the credibility of certified brands. Kelly Duran, founder of natural brand, Kiss Me Honey Lip Balm says, “Green washing is a way of lying to your buyer, its very frustrating considering it takes time, dedication, money, to obtain certain certifications such as USDA, cruelty free etc. But larger companies have so much revenue that their customers are thinking they are purchasing great products. I feel the laws need to be stricter.” She adds: “What even gets me more riled is the companies who support breast cancer and their ingredients cause breast cancer.”

Unfortunately, there are many mainstream brands that have lost sight of their mission over time and we, as consumers, have allowed it to happen. Hearing words like “all natural”, “natural ingredients”, “hypoallergenic” and many others have given consumers a false sense of security as it relates to the products they trust

Looking at a brand such as LUSH, it does have ethical initiatives that we applauded, but its marketing tactics have allowed many to believe its products are natural. As we habe explored, LUSH is just one example of how we, as consumers, must begin to ask more questions about the ingredients that are putting on our skin. Reading the labels and finding brands that are transparent with its ingredients is just one way consumers can tackle the rising greenwashing issue amongst the natural and organic industry.

Originally published on PURE.