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?

Edit – Europe has now written legislation to ban some free from marketing on cosmetics packaging including claims such as free from animal testing.

Ana Green

Written by Ana – A beauty industry professional who is passionate about product and helping people navigate the marketing hype in the beauty industry.