Thought Leadership

5 times beauty brands were accused of greenwashing and the lessons we can learn

Published on
May 24, 2023
Tim Slater

At a time when 66% of consumers would pay a higher price for a product when it aligns with their values, it’s crucial for brands to communicate their sustainability credentials effectively. 

But as beauty brands rush to advertise their ‘green’ product innovations, a growing number are falling short of shoppers’ and regulators’ expectations — and paying the price.

For sustainable beauty brands and retailers wanting to avoid the commercial and legal repercussions of misleading green claims, we’ve pulled together some concerning examples from 5 recent high-profile greenwashing examples in the beauty industry. Read on to learn valuable lessons from greenwashing companies in the beauty and cosmetics sector.

5 beauty companies accused of greenwashing

A screenshot of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about Bondi Sands 'greenwashed' sunscreen

1. Bondi Sands’ sunscreen lawsuit

In May, reports emerged that Australian beauty brand Bondi Sands had been hit with a lawsuit for falsely advertising its sunscreens as “reef friendly”.

Whilst the Australian beauty brand’s products are indeed free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, they were found to include other harmful ingredients, including avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The brand vowed to “continue to evolve our product formulations with direction of both local and international authorities”. They have also made significant changes to how they define “Reef Friendly” on their website, including the disclaimer that their term “Reef Friendly” is ‘not defined or regulated by authorities.’

What we can learn from Bondi Sands:

  • Vague and ambiguous claims are often a sign of greenwashing companies. Make sure your terms are clearly defined, and that these definitions are easily accessible to shoppers.
  • Use third-party certifications where possible: relevant certifications here include ‘Protect Land & Sea’ and Biorius’ ‘Reef Friendly’ label.

2. L’Oreal greenwashing accusations over ‘sustainable’ bottle

L’Oréal was recently called out for claiming its Elvive Full Restore 5 shampoo pack was ‘more sustainable’, without supporting the claim with any clear context. As the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF) flagged, the claim does not amount to a meaningful comparison because shoppers are not told what it’s more sustainable than.

The same product prominently features the claim ‘100% recycled plastic bottle’. However, as the CMF also points out, the small print reveals that the bottle’s cap is not in fact made from waste materials.

What we can learn from L’Oreal:

  • Whether you’re comparing a new product to an old product, or comparing yours to a rival brand’s, remember to specify what you’re comparing explicitly and make sure the products you’re comparing are like-for-like.
  • Only make ‘100% recycled’ claims when all parts of a product's packaging are made from waste materials. In this instance, L’Oreal could instead have claimed that their packaging is partly recycled.
A screenshot of an article in Cosmetics Business about SKKN's greenwashing controversy

3. SKKN’s refill controversy

Just days before the launch of Kim Kardashian’s new skincare line, the brands’ refill initiative was met with criticism from online shoppers for failing to reduce packaging waste.

Kardashian features in a video on SKKN’s Instagram channel demonstrating how to refill the new cleanser. The video, which appears to show a solid pack being replaced into an apparently unnecessary outer layer, provoked anger amongst shoppers. “Personally I would just buy the refill, the container doesn’t do anything, it’s just waste,” wrote one customer, whilst another added: "These greenwashing companies know no bounds."

Elsewhere, in an example of vague terminology, SKKN’s website describes the products as ‘grounded in an ethos of sustainability’.

What we can learn from SKKN:

  • To distinguish yourself from greenwashing companies, make sure refill systems or other packaging marketed as sustainable demonstrably minimise your products’ environmental impact.
  • Brands should be very careful with vague words like ‘sustainable’, ‘eco’ or ‘environmentally friendly’, which rarely help the shopper make informed decisions.

Click here to read our roundup of 5 greenwashing examples in the food and drink space

4. Head & Shoulders’ recyclability claims

Head and Shoulders was recently singled out for marketing their Ocean Clean Bottle as recyclable. 

As part of a public investigation into greenwashing companies, the CMF inspected Head & Shoulders' website and found that whilst all their bottles can be recycled, they are still working on making their caps recyclable. Given that some parts of the packaging are not recyclable, the claim that it was “recyclable” could be deemed to mislead shoppers.

What we can learn from Head & Shoulders:

  • Leave no room for shoppers to misinterpret your recyclability claims. As the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority advises in the Green Claims Code, “businesses must not claim, or otherwise give the impression, that a product is ‘recyclable’ if it is not, or if only parts of it are and others are not, preventing recycling”.
  • As with the L’Oreal greenwashing example, Head & Shoulders should have considered marketing their bottle as partly recyclable.
A screenshot of an article on Fox 11 (Los Angeles) about Lilly Lashes 'cruelty-free' mink lawsuit

5. Lilly Lashes sued over ‘cruelty-free’ mink

Lilly Lashes, the California-based cosmetics brand stocked by Sephora, Ulta Beauty and, is being sued for alleged false advertising after marketing its mink lashes as “cruelty-free”, a claim it has now removed from its packaging.

The new lawsuit, which is being contested by Lilly Lashes, follows a campaign by PETA in 2020 urging the same brand to drop fur lashes. PETA’s own investigations into the inhumane treatment of animals on fur farms cite cramped wire cages, extreme psychological distress and untreated wounds and illnesses.

What we can learn from Lilly Lashes:

  • Brands using animal fur in products should strongly consider switching exclusively to fake fur alternatives. Kering banned fur across all of its brands last year in a strong sign of where the industry is moving.
  • If you want to talk about how animals are raised in your supply chain, Textile Exchange offers certifications for responsible wool, down, mohair and alpaca. These certifications will help to differentiate your brand from others who may be making unsubstantiated claims about animal welfare.

Greenwashing companies risk alienating today's consumer

As shoppers become more and more attuned to greenwashing in the cosmetics industry, greenwashing brands stand to lose valuable credibility and brand trust. To quality-check your brand’s own sustainability claims, visit the Provenance Framework, our free-to-use rulebook to help brands avoid greenwashing in product claims. 

Do you want to boost conversion and brand trust with proof-backed sustainability claims on ecommerce? Learn how Provenance’s sustainability marketing technology can help your brand.

Tim Slater

Tim Slater is the Marketing Lead at Provenance. He works closely with our Impact team to translate their expertise into actionable content that helps brands minimise their impact on people and planet and avoid greenwashing.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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