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Greenwashing and Vaporware – Naturally (OpED)

Bob Root, Keys Scientist and Founder

I have been involved with the natural products industry for nearly twenty years.  in the formative years, I attended and spoke at every Skin Deep forum, every Safe Cosmetics gathering and attended/exhibited at Natural Products Expo.  It does not make me smart, but I sure have seen it all.  Haha; My twenty five years in Tech before that does make me a glutton for punishment.  There are a lot of industry similarities.  None the less of which is Greenwashing and Vaporware.

Natural Skincare Generally Unregulated

The natural skin products industry has never been regulated since the invention of the snake oil salesperson. The industry operates under the ‘GRAS’ banner, which means “Generally Accepted As Safe.” Simply, this means that there is a lot of good in the industry and some bad. Low to no rules mean too much room for those wanting to take advantage of a tolerant needy crowd.

In my book, Chemical-Free Skin Health, I suggested that YOU, the masses, can change the industry by voting with your wallets. What you buy, the industry will follow. What you don’t buy the industry reformulates so you will buy. All these organizations that ask for donations to change government policy are mostly bunk, in my view. Honestly, thinking that an NGO will change the way government officials view “natural” is probably a fairy tale at best. But, the bleeding hearts prevail by using FEAR tactics. False Expectations Appearing Real!  This is basic first principle thinking.  Create Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) and it opens wallets.

Greenwashing and Vaporware Dissected

The side effect of loose and no rules brings out productive innovation, but it also brings the charlatans out in force. Remember that what has changed the industry over the last few years are companies recognizing that your money talks and their bullshit walks. That is voting with your wallet, and thank you for doing that. Natural food and natural skincare are mainstream in grocery stores because of your buying skills. We now see natural in the main grocery aisles and often at premium eye-level positioning. You did that by buying the real deal natural products, and those companies deserve your loyalty.

The bad news is that all with the innovation comes those trying to ride the wave without paying it forward—the Charlatans. You know them by their slick Facebook and social media ads with what sounds like claims but are not in the eyes of the FDA. Their skillset is words and not research on ingredients.

I Lived Where Washing & Vaporware Were Perfected

I spent most of my corporate life in tech and in Silicon Valley. The “Valley” honed vaporware and trend washing to an art form. I know it all too well. In the natural products industry a few years ago, it was mostly “Greenwashing!” Meaning that they said and looked green but were not. A green bottle with a white top and a daisy on the label or little brown ferries dancing on a brown kraft label did not make the propylene glycol in the product any more natural. That is why “Search for the Cause” invented the “Dirty Dozen” chemicals as a wake-up call to the public that manufacturers were greenwashing. Faking it. This brings all new meaning to the middle manager crisis of the mid-90’s telling people to “fake it until you make it.”

Thankfully, greenwashing by large manufacturers has diminished now that they are producing cleaner products. Not so true for some small manufacturers using very exotic chemicals to instantly reduce and hide those wrinkles. Generally, anything that does something swift is a shock to the skin, and a very high percentage are fake.

So What Is Vaporware?

Vaporware is a separate state entirely but can go hand in hand with greenwashing. Generally, it is the opposite condition of greenwashing where makers add a tiny percentage of an ingredient and make big claims that they are using it in their product. For example, from the late 20-teens to now, Aloe Vera and Shea Butter were the ‘hot ingredients’ in products. In the ’20s, it is CBD. The industry-accepted rule is that if a product includes greater than or equal to 1% of an ingredient in a product, it “should be” listed on the label. Vaporware is the opposite in that a manufacturer can put 0.001% aloe, Shea, or CBD in a product and then claim it is in the product. A tissue company once claimed it had “A Hint of Aloe'” in its product. Nice marketing words, but what does that mean. You certainly cannot put 1% Aloe in a tissue. Another facet of Vaporware is using cheap inferior ingredients instead of the good stuff. Most pro-natural manufacturers know that they can buy an almost synthetic over-processed Shea butter or go to the women’s tribes in Ghana, as we do, to buy the freshest, purest, and pharma-grade varietal. Spoiler Alert! We pay a premium for quality Shea butter. And it works.

So, there you have it. Greenwashing is faking it and Vaporware is exaggerating it.

Lastly, junior marketers think they are smarter than you and can use words to confuse and build their brand message. So, once again, it is your job to vote with your wallets by buying from companies that have integrity and not big advertising and marketing budgets.  Be wary of all the celebrity skincare – beware greenwashing and vaporware

BTW, I am in no way asking for the FDA to regulate this industry; I am asking you to regulate this industry by buying smart. You do better when you know better.