Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reading the labels: Free From marketing.



As awareness of cosmetic ingredients has grown so have the list of companies aiming to remind us of the ingredients they don't include in their formulations on their sites and packaging, personally I have mixed feelings about this and it's something I have wanted to address on the blog for a while.

The plus side to brands using this kind of logo on the front is that at first glance you can tell if the brand avoids some of the ingredients you do, I know when you first get in to the habit of reading labels it can be completely overwhelming and so for some this can be helpful, on the other hand I think we need to remember that ultimately it's what is in the products that is the most important thing. I will often hear stories of someone buying a product based on these Free From messages or the fact that the rest of the range usually has ingredients they are happy with only to get a nasty shock when they turn the bottle and realise that there are exceptions to every rule. If there is one thing I have learnt and one message I can pass on it's this: If you are seriously about avoiding certain ingredients whether it be for ethical reasons like veganism or health reasons such as allergies you will always have to read the ingredients list! Free From does not automatically mean, sustainable, ethical, natural or organic either so if one of more of these is important to you then you have to ensure the company also has the same values you do. 

Free From marketing is just like any other form of marketing, it is open to brands interpretation. Nail varnish is an area that often catches my attention, the "3 free", "4 free", "5 free" marketing has been happening for a while now, but what does it actually mean? Essentially companies are trying to tell us they have avoided some of the chemicals traditionally used and that may not have the best reputation, but as I have previously said ultimately it is what is in the formula that counts. I have seen companies claiming to be 12 free to include things like SLS but is SLS an ingredient usually found in nail varnish? I have never seen it yet, although I am happy to be proved wrong. Formaldehyde, Toluene and DBP are regularly referred to as the main "3" and camphor and formaldehyde resin are often excluded from four and five free formulations. Taking a closer look it's easy to see why the issue is so confusing, essentially companies can mean different things when saying they are "5" free and so you will always have to investigate further.

There are plenty of companies out there who's formula's could be classed as 5 free (or more as there is no real definition here) but they are not keen to associate themselves with a Free From market as they frankly don't need to, Chanel are a good example of this but there are plenty of others too. Nail polish ingredients lists are some of the hardest to read due to the long and chemical sounding names so it's tempting just to rely on the marketing, but this may mean you are missing out on using one of your previously favourite brands because you automatically assume you can't use them any more or that you try one that boasts Free from status but actually the ingredients in the product are less than ideal.

I don't think there is any right or wrong way for brands to market themselves as long as that marketing is genuine, however for me Free From marketing is something I look at as part of a wider brand ethos not the be all and end all. Your ingredients lists are going to tell you a lot of the information you need, then it is great to check for organic, vegan or fair trade certification depending on your needs. Don't be afraid to approach companies and ask questions if their marketing is confusing, ultimately they need to know what customers want and if they are not making things clear enough then they can make changes. A great and informative website is always a plus so explore those too. 

If a brand is making a claim like paraben free on the front, what are they using instead? If it's a preservative system you are happy with then great, if it's not then move on to another brand. We can get so fixated on the list of ingredients we should avoid we sometimes forget that things move quickly and new ingredients are coming out all the time, it's important to find what works for us. 

It's worth remembering that brands also update formulas, I have seen brands boast no animal ingredients that have recently introduced them in a single formula, it's tricky but we have to allow for human error and if you spot something that doesn't add up for you let the company know. 

Do you find Free From marketing helpful? Have you been caught out with brands who have some products which are Free From and some that are not? 

Ana x 
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14 comments

  1. Sometimes I think that marketing in general is rather unhelpful when you are trying to figure a product out! People like to use catch phrases and sound bites that often mean absolutely nothing at all. Nail varnish is such a bucket of warms, Beautycalypse has a few very interesting posts on them and has clarified a few things for me. I tend to stick with a few companies that I like and they seem to have more than enough colours to satisfy me, it is one area I am happy not to experiment much. I love this new series, excited to see what you will bring up next. Xx

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    1. I agree with the sound bites, some of the press releases I read leave me scratching my head! Also agree about Nath, she is the nail polish queen, in truth I don't know anyone else with the patience to decipher all the ingredients lists the way she does! Glad you like the series I am aiming to get a little controversial ;) Xx

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  2. I totally agree with what you are saying here. I don't even pay attention to free from claims, I go straight to ingredients list. Unfortunately, not everybody is like this and they think that if something doesn't have one type of ingredient or another is good for them and they would buy it. My sister is a great example. She would buy cosmetics with no parabens convinced the product is great for this reason, but I have to point out to here some other not so great ingredients. Bless her, she doesn't know much about natural cosmetics, but she is learning!
    Petra
    www.behealthynow.co.uk

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    1. I think it is people who don't read the ingredients who are likely to assume free from claims mean more than they do, when I first switched I used a high street brand claiming free from status they were definitely a better choice but not the best, it is all about about being informed. Thanks so much for your great comment! Xx

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  3. Thank you for bringing up this issue. It's frustrating that the FDA (in America) does not regulate ingredients, like simply allows them to pass by, often without any requirements for specific labels. We need to bring awareness to the toxins, greenwashing, and mislabeling in our products. Before I ever try a product, I always do thorough research on the ingredients.

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    1. I have to say in Europe our labelling is more strict than the US but it is still something to be aware of. The problem with greenwashing is that it has no definition either so it is subject to individual interpretation, so looking at specific ingredients and researching further is always needed! Xx

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  4. I find it very frustrating and confusing as a consumer when so many brands have their different interpretations of what they mean by 'free from'. It would be great if there was just one universal understanding of it! I'm glad you pointed out updated formulas too because I've spoken to a few brands recently who are wanting to market properly towards more 'green' consumers but feel that they won't get a look in because their formulas were well known for having parabens etc x

    Evelyn @ We Were Raised By Wolves

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    1. There are few definitions in the cosmetic world, natural and organic can all be subject to interpretation. I think I wanted to try and raise awareness that "free from" is only a small part of what to look for. I think that it's sad that brands feel that way, I think there has been some very exaggerated greenwashed claims thrown at brands that actually have a lot going for them but don't meet some peoples ingredients standard. I welcome any brand looking to change, we will see a lot of brands ditching phenoxyethanol too in the next couple of months, it's the change that keeps things excited. Great comment Evelyn thank you! Xx

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  5. Hi Ana,

    This is a really interesting post - I've never considered "free from" a problem but you're totally right - it's always better to check the ingredients, and see what is really inside. Thanks for the heads up!

    Besma (http://www.curiouslyconscious.com)

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    1. Thanks Besma, labelling is a topic that often confuses people so I thought it would be a nice one to address! Xx

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  6. Great post Ana! I'm not 100% savvy on ingredients and I'm likely to get reeled in by claims on the front if I don't know any better otherwise. xx

    Ramblings of a Beauty Bird | Beauty Blog

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    1. I think a lot of people will feel the same so I am glad you found it interesting Xx

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  7. Great post! I feel like this is another way of greenwashing with some brands too. "Paraben free" and a green bottle makes it look like a natural product when in fact, they've just used another preservative instead & everything else is the same as any other brand. It's always best to look at the full ingredients list, just to be sure :)

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    1. Full ingredients lists are really the only thing you can count on everything else is subject to interpretation sadly Xx

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