Sunday, March 7, 2010

Greenwashing "Alice in Wonderland" Shampoo

Although the title character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland isn’t made a queen, Mia Wasikowski’s wild, abundant tresses provided the crowning glory for a natural beauty. Such hair may be possible for the rest of us, but not by tumbling down a rabbit hole. We know from women’s magazines that a natural look isn’t born, it is made. And, thanks to the green marketing gods, Disney has licensed the Alice in Wonderland brand to a tie-in beauty product in a pretty pink bottle: Organix Rejuvenating Cherry Blossom Ginseng Shampoo.

The tagline: Indulge your hair in nature’s wonderland.

The problem: Despite the implicit promise of the brand name and the company website,, Organix shampoos are not organic. And, they contain some hair-raising, man-made ingredients.

Why it matters: There are two good reasons.

1. We shouldn't be duped by misleading, greenwashing claims. Consumers are demonstrating a willingness to pay a premium for greener, healthier personal care products: Despite the recession, the market for organic personal care grew by 19% in 2008, according to the Organic Trade Association, and the “natural” cosmetics marketplace has been expanding at an annual 13% rate, compared with a 3% average annual increase for the conventional cosmetic sector.

USDA Certified Organic, a meaningful and regulated seal on food products, expanded to personal care products in 2005. Products bearing the USDA label have been vetted by an independent third party as meeting the National Organic Program’s standards. In order to be certified USDA organic, a shampoo or cream must contain 95 percent USDA certified organic ingredients.

The company website says that Organix Rejuvenating Cherry Blossom Ginseng Shampoo contains organic rice milk, but does not authenticate this ingredient as certified organic. And in any case, it’s only one ingredient out of 18.

Nor should consumers be taken in by the claim “natural,” which is meaningless, according to Consumers Union’s eco-labels project.

2. Organix shampoos and many other “natural” personal care products contain toxic, synthetic ingredients that can expose a very vulnerable target audience—preteen girls—to chemicals that have been linked to early onset of puberty, obesity, and some cancers, and others that can provoke allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

Aside from rice milk and bamboo extract, the contents of the “Alice” shampoo are not disclosed, and the product is so new I couldn’t find it in stores. But a sister product, Organix Nourishing Coco Milk Shampoo, contains several ingredients deemed hazardous by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, including the following:

* DMDM Hydantoin, an allergen and irritant that can be contaminated with formaldehyde, classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

*Fragrance, a catch-all term that allows manufacturers to conceal perfuming components, which are protected as “trade secrets.” These commonly include phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to genital deformities in human infants, asthma in children and obesity in adults.

*Cocamide DEA and Cocamidopropyl Betaine, sudsing agents linked to allergies and immunotoxicity

Organix Nourishing Coco Milk Shampoo also contains Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, one of the class of ethoxylated compounds that have recently given rise to concern because they can be contaminated with 1, 4 dioxane, a carcinogen. In 2007, EWG found 1,4 dioxane in 28% of the 27,000 personal care products they tested. In 2008, tests by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) found 1, 4 dioxane in 40% of products labeled “natural.”

In conclusion, let me emphasize that Organix is only one of many companies making implied greenwashing and other spurious health claims; see the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and OCA’s “Coming Clean” reports for many more examples. But these and other products aimed at young teens should be carefully vetted, as discussed in EWG’s recent study of adolescent girls’ exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals in cosmetics. Greenwashing is not only a rip-off if you pay more for the product based on green claims, but it can be dangerous by misleading people into using precisely the kinds of ingredients they are seeking to avoid.

For more information on green cosmetic labels, see my related blog entry . For regular monthly product and lifestyle updates, please subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter on the home page at . Share in the dialog by becoming a fan on's Facebook page and following us at

Thank you!



Susan said...

Yes, there is a lot of greenwashing going on. It is amazing to me how little truth there is in labeling, especially for personal care products. I enjoyed hearing you on the Leonard Lopate show, which is how I found you and this article.

I didn't see any reference to miessence products on your site and wonder if you know about them. They are certified organic to food grade by the ACO (they are made in Australia), USDA and IFOAM. I have been more than pleased with the results and happy that the company works with the wisdom of mother nature and not against her.

Keep up the good work.

GreenFemme said...

Dear Susan,

I agree with you about Miessence! The company is on my top picks list in the Personal Care chapter of my new book, Do One Green Thing.

For more about the book, which just came out March 16, plse see my home page at


Anonymous said...

Greenwashing extends to the products who use the ingredients rating in the Skin Deep database for the bulk of their marketing. There are many ingredients and products in the database rated with a "ZERO" because of one single fact...the ingredients have not been evaluated yet.

In these cases, "ZERO" does NOT mean non-...toxic! Or safe, or beneficial. It just means the ingredients have not been evaluated!

It's like going to college and being given an A+ for attendance alone and not taking a single test.

GreenFemme said...

Good point, and one which EWG's scientists have sought to bring forth more clearly. There are, though, and I don't think we disagree, some products that are definitely rated as high hazards and others that are rated green, or low risk, that one can pretty much bet on being just that.