Like many customers before me, the Willy Wonka-esque bright colors and delicious smells filling every Lush Cosmetics’ shop lured me in. Fizzy bath bombs, organic and natural labels, and misleading promises dulled my usually logical senses.
Lush Cosmetics is not as “alternative” or “natural” as you think. They, just like any multi-million dollar company, are manipulating you with insanely smart marketing strategies.
I have no excuse for allowing myself to be duped. But please understand, cute things that smell or taste good weaken me. When I discovered Lush (this is now an almost 8-year-old experience, but the lesson still stands true) I was disillusioned with big companies and their ingredient choices.
Therefore, I was making my own products such as deodorant, moisturizer, and laundry detergent. But frankly, I’m lazy! I was pumped when I learned there might be a company that would make the “natural” products for me. In case you haven’t heard of them, Lush Cosmetics is a bath, body, and skincare company claiming to be ethical, natural, and cruelty-free. You can find them here: http://www.lushusa.com/
When I visited the store, a few things overwhelmed me:
The overpowering cacophony of fragrances that burned my nose hairs.
The TOO NICE and overly aggressive salespeople. They’re like if the Stepford Wives and the Spartan cheerleaders from Saturday Night live had children.
The bright white words plastered everywhere, shouting, “Natural” “Homemade” “Organic” “Fresh” “No Animal Testing”!!!!
I quickly skipped around the store like a child on her first Easter Egg hunt, snatching up bath gels, deodorant, shampoo bars, bath bombs, and salt scrubs. In the midst of my $200 purchase, my gut was quietly tapping me on the shoulder asking, “Are you sure about this? There’s something fishy going on here…First of all, neon ain’t natural.”
To which I responded with, “BATH BOMB CUTE SMELL GOOD. SHUT UP.”
After two days of using the products, my gut spoke up again in the shower. I was giddily lathering myself up with the Rose Jam Bath gel feeling like a lady in a commercial.
This time I couldn’t ignore it as it said, “Um…this stuff lathers up CRAZY good. And your skin has been kinda red and dry lately. Read the label or I’ll give you horrible gas in the middle of your date!”
The investigation begins
Fearful of my gut’s gas threat, I read the label, and sure enough, found the following ingredients nestled cleverly betwixt the “natural/organic/homemade” ingredients:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium cocoamphoacetate
- Fragrance (this doesn’t seem scary, but it’s one of the most potentially irritating and toxic concoctions used in products)
- Propylene Glycol
- FD&C Red No. 4
- Perfume (MORE FRAGRANCE)
- Lauryl Betaine
- Methyl Ionone
My gut shrugged and said, “I freaking told you so.”
I started investigating Lush Cosmetics, and found numerous articles from people who discovered they were not as natural as they claimed. Here is an example for your reading pleasure: The Ugly Truth About Lush.
Lush tricks you into believing their products are superior because they’re “natural” while using known and potentially irritating synthetic ingredients and magically not lying about anything at all.
Nothing they’re doing is technically wrong or illegal. Just like it’s not illegal to slap the natural label on chicken after pumping it with hormones, antibiotics, and arsenic.
There is no legal definition set forth by the FDA or USDA for the term “natural.” Therefore, any company can use it however and whenever they want.
Quick chemical lesson
Chemicals make up literally everything in this world, such as people, animals, water, and trees. When people like Food Babe make statements such as, “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever” she’s basically telling y’all to stop breathing, drinking, and eating.
But “natural” doesn’t alway equate with good or safe. There are toxic chemicals in nature, such as arsenic, toxic mold, lead, radium, and snake venom. To make things even more confusing, synthetic chemicals sourced from natural products (i.e. a synthetic flavor created from a blueberry molecule) are considered natural.
Ok, so you got it? I just wanted to check in and make sure.
Quick review: There are chemicals everywhere and in everything. There are natural chemicals safe and good for us and natural chemicals that make us itchy or kill us. The key thing to remember is the dosage and frequency of use determines whether something is toxic, harmful, or carcinogenic.
Research has shown that some chemicals are potentially harmful, irritating, toxic, and/or carcinogenic. And some of those ingredients such as fragrance, synthetic colors, parabens, and sulfates are the very ingredients Lush Cosmetics use in their products.
So what the heck is my issue with Lush?
I don’t care that Lush chooses to use those ingredients. It’s not illegal or necessarily “bad” and people still openly debate whether the ingredients in question are harmful and to what degree.
What makes me dislike Lush, is their purposefully misleading marketing strategy to promote their products in a subtly deceptive way.
Let us use an analogy to explain better what they’re doing:
Your dear ol’ grandma tells you she just made you a bowl of her famous homemade chicken noodle soup.
What she actually did was heat a can of soup called, “Granny’s Famous Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup.” She’s technically not lying, but she’s not delivering what a normal person of reason would expect based on her statement. And she knows she’s manipulating your perception to believe her soup is better and more special than it actually is.
What a sneaky lil’ granny.
This is what Lush is doing when they mix in synthetic ingredients with their “natural” ones while only promoting their “natural” ingredients. They remain honest by putting them on the ingredient label, but they anticipate that you either A. Aren’t going to understand what the ingredients are or B. That you won’t check.
They also know that natural doesn’t mean jack squat legally, but it means a lot to you as the consumer.
Then they saturate their store, ads, and website with promises of natural ingredients, ethical-sourcing and testing, and sharing that Bob from Minnesota packaged your item. It’s the ol’ magician technique of distracting you so you don’t see how they are tricking you.
What does Lush Cosmetics have to say about this?
They are completely honest with the types of ingredients they use. If you dig deep enough under the bold and glaring statements of “LOCALLY SOURCED. ORGANIC. ALL NATURAL. MADE BY STEVE IN HAITI HERE’S A PIC OF HIM.”
But they dance expertly around their synthetic ingredients by calling them “safe synthetics” and explaining the natural origin of the synthetic ingredient, along with pictures of fruits, oils, and nuts.
Some examples taken directly from their website (my responses in bold):
- “Sodium cocoamphoacetate is an organic compound derived from coconut oil.” So is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which is a known irritant.
- “They (parabens) are used globally and are permitted by every world health authority (500 independent safety studies have been carried out over the decades). Scare-mongering ‘studies’ into their potentially negative effects have now been widely debunked.” This is a false statement. Five different parabens are banned in the European Union. The CDC states that, “Human health effects from environmental exposure to low levels of parabens are unknown.” Therefore, parabens are banned in certain countries and health risk has not been officially debunked.
- “Coumarin is a chemical compound, occurring naturally in some essential oils and absolutes, such as tonka bean and lavender.” Essentials oils can be EXTREMELY irritating and harmful. Google it.
And before y’all start yelling about how the FDA claims sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens are safe, can we just take a moment to reflect on how many times scientists, the FDA, the USDA have been wrong? If you need examples: Here ya go.
The lessons are as follows:
Do not believe everything you read and understand that the word “natural” doesn’t always mean safe and/or good for you. There is no legal definition and can therefore be used to describe literally anything.
Don’t let companies fool you. Always ignore the marketing hype and check the ingredient labels.
Chemicals are everywhere. You can’t avoid them. The dose and the frequency of use determines their toxicity.
So do your homework and decide if you’re willing to look past Lush’s marketing strategies and use their products. If you want to stick with Lush, know that you could buy the same types of products minus the synthetic colors and fragrance for way cheaper at Walmart or CVS. But hey, maybe that’s what you like about Lush! The bright colors and smell-deadening synthetic fragrance!
NOTE: This is an old commentary (not a review) of the marketing practices of Lush Cosmetics. Lush Cosmetics has since removed focus from being natural and organic to fresh, ethically-sourced, and vegan/vegetarian. I’m assuming this was in response to complaints. I’m keeping this article available in case people want to know Lush’s history of marketing.
A much better, updated, and thorough review of Lush Cosmetics and their products can be found here: Is Lush Ethical and Sustainable?