“Plant Derived” - A Popular Way To Greenwash


Move over "All Natural" and "Organic" false marketing claims, there is something sneakier in town. You've seen the term, "Plant Derived" but what does it really mean? Products in stores or online often boast the words “plant derived” on the label, encouraging consumers to believe that certain ingredients or products are completely natural. Sometimes they are, but more often, the term is being used to deceive and consumers must become educated about ingredients.

How does a consumer know if a plant ingredient has been so chemically altered that it’s no longer natural at all?

Let’s say you’re at the store or online and find a shampoo from a brand that is natural and organic. You scroll down the ingredient list looking for the usual questionable culprits like propylene glycol, parabens, sulfates, artificial fragrance, etc, and don’t see any, that's great. Instead, you read ingredients with names like cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, and Sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate and an asterisk denotes that it's “*made from coconut.”

You’ve never heard of those ingredients, but the company promotes itself as natural and organic, so you trust that those strange sounding words must be completely natural, right?  Yes. Most people trust the company and believe it’s all natural, purchase the product, move on and never think twice or look at the ingredients list again. 

Let’s get a clearer picture of the meaning of Plant Derived: any substance produced by nature - made from a plant. That is the general definition and exactly why it’s being abused.

Today this term is used everywhere with a little asterisk to very often, falsely assure the public the ingredient is basically the same as that plant. There might not be an issue with the actual ingredient - it's the act of leading people to believe it's natural, when it's not.

The ingredient may have originated from raw plant material, yes, but it has been chemically altered so many times, that nothing is left from the original plant - it now has a completely different chemical structure.

Recently I looked at a seemingly very “natural” shampoo and read the ingredients. The second or third ingredient in the formula was cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, a synthetic surfactant and foam booster. The rich fatty acids come from the original source of the coconut, then the fatty acids are chemically altered several times with many different synthetic chemicals and converted into something entirely unnatural. This particular synthetic chemical is relatively safe, but can be drying and for sensitive types. 

The man- made chemical - “Sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate" is marketed as natural yet is an ethoxylated chemical made with carcinogenic “ethylene oxide" and has the potential to contain 1,4-dioxane contamination. 

The lines are blurred and brands advertise how their “natural” product outperforms other truly natural, clean products on the market but the reality is that they are using more artificial ingredients to achieve their result. 

Because there are no industry regulations, companies get away with misleading the consumer. Never has the notion of green washing (false claims used to present an environmentally accountable image)  been so prevalent than at present time.  The answer is up to how transparent brands want to be.


If they are safe synthetics, even better and yes, those do exist. Non toxic or not, brands have a responsibility to be upfront about what they are selling in the bottle and not lead the consumer to believe an ingredient is completely natural when it isn't. 

Pure unadulterated plant constituents work in synergy with the skin’s natural healing and regenerating process. Ingredients are not meant to be chemically broken up and altered - they are complete in their wholeness - toxic or not, synthetics will never have the bio alignment that allows and perpetuates balance in the body, skin, scalp and hair.

In order to avoid these false or exaggerated claims of a product being plant-derived or natural, always read labels and take the time to educate yourself by reading studies that have been conducted - not opinion based articles. 

A few synthetic chemicals green washing brands try to say are natural: coco betaine, polysorbate 20, cetyl alchohol, Sodium Hydroxypropylsulfonate Lauryl Glucoside Crosspolymer, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Coco-Glucoside Tartrate, Disodium Sulfosuccinate, Cyclomethiconal, Polyglyceryl-3 Palmitate -

Investigate chemical sounding names to find out if they are synthetics and/or unsafe - such as:  DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA which are used for sudsing or lathering, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) which are synthetic preservatives, DMDM HYDANTOIN, DIAZOLIDINYL UREA, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA, METHENAMINE, or QUARTERNIUM-15 which are formaldehyde releasing  preservatives, used in cosmetics and personal care items,  keep an eye out for fragrance or perfume which is added to many products from hair care to body lotions and cosmetics which indicate potentially toxic synthetic compounds have been added to the product.