Behind the Label: Aveda Natural Beauty Products

Aveda is a pioneer in the use of natural ingredients – but are all its beauty products created equal?

The history of Aveda is one of sustainability firsts: the first beauty company to use 100% post-consumer recycled PET packaging, the first beauty company to manufacture with 100% certified wind power, the first privately-owned company to sign onto the CERES Principles, a groundbreaking 10-point code of corporate environmental conduct created in 1989.

But despite Aveda’s impressive eco-credentials, the company has its critics, who say that its line of haircare and beauty products isn’t as “natural” as marketing materials imply.

Aveda’s roots lie in the Himalayan region of India, where founder Horst Rechelbacher, a German hairstylist, traveled in the early 1970s. There, Rechelbacher was introduced to ayurvedic practices and developed an intense interest in holistic health and the use of natural, plant-based solutions. When he returned home, he developed a Clove Shampoo and Cherry Almond Bark Conditioner in his kitchen sink, and in 1978, he founded Aveda.

Today, the Aveda brand encompasses hundreds of natural products, including hair care, skin care, cosmetics, and “pure-fume.” The company was acquired by Estée Lauder in 1997 for $300 million, but it continues to operate as a separate entity.

The Good

Our mission at Aveda is to care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility, not just in the world of beauty, but around the world.

Aveda doesn’t just talk the talk; it walks the walk too. Over the past decade, Aveda has improved its environmental track record even more, increasing its purchases of organic raw herbal ingredients and organic essential oils from 20-25% of total tonnage to 89-90% of total tonnage. With its Green Ingredient Policy, Aveda aims to incorporate more ingredients that are defined by one or more of the following:

  • Sourced from organic, sustainable or renewable plant-based origins
  • Represent ecological and cultural diversity by being sourced from different habitats all over the world
  • Provide fair compensation to suppliers
  • Do not negatively impact the ecosystems from which they are sourced
  • Are biodegradable
  • Involve environmentally responsible processing
  • Are animal friendly 

To implement this policy, Aveda has partnered with the EPEA, an environmental research institute run by Cradle to Cradle co-author Michael Braungart. The company has also embraced other elements of C2C philosophy, which focuses on creating things that are “eco-effective” (good for people and the earth) rather than “eco-efficient (things that are simply less bad). Among Aveda’s fundamental principles are eliminating waste and creating good, using renewable energy, and celebrating diversity. A handful of Aveda products have received Cradle to Cradle® certification, signaling that they have been created with this rigorous approach to production.

Aveda has also pioneered a new way to trace the ingredients in its supply chain, which it calls Soil to BottleSM. Central to Aveda’s sourcing policy is developing long-lasting relationships with suppliers in certain communities, such as Nisarga, a firm based in Maharashtra, India, from which it sources turmeric and amla. Aveda also works with producers to source urukum and babassu from Brazil, argan from Morocco, rose and lavender from Bulgaria, sandalwood from Australia, and cistus from Spain.

The Bad

While Aveda is transparent about where its natural ingredients come from, what about everything else in the bottle? A beautifully designed natural ingredient glossary showcases the nuts, seeds, and herbs used in select Aveda products, but online ingredient lists for individual products are nowhere to be found.

Skin Deep, a cosmetics database run by the Environmental Working Group, has audited a select number of Aveda products, assigning health concern ratings from 1 (low hazard) to 8 (high hazard).

Aveda Control Paste Finishing Paste, which received an 8, was rated as having high health concerns for allergies and immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and occupational hazards, among other things. Its ingredient list includes:

Aqueous (Water, Aqua Purificata, Purified) Extracts: Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow) (Organically Grown), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Organically Grown), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, (Coconut), PEG-25 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Tribehenin, (Rapeseed), Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, (Coconut), Glycerin, (Coconut), Cetearyl Alcohol (Coconut), Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate (Palm), Fragrance (Parfum), Citral, Geraniol, Linalool, Farnesol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Eugenol, Limonene, Hydroxypropyl Guar, Disodium EDTA, Chlorphenesin, Methylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Annatto (Cl 75120), Mica, Titanium Dioxide (Cl 77891).

Even products with lower ratings had extensive ingredient lists, like Aveda Shampure Conditioner, which received a 6.

Aqueuos (Water, Aqua Purificata, Purified) Extracts, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Leaf Extract, Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) Leaf Extract, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Stearalkonium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Brazil Nut Protein, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Wheat Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol, Pathenol, Fragrance (Parfum), Cetrimonium Chloride, Distearyldomonium Chloride, PEG-100 Stearate, Polyquaternium-4, Glycerin, Disodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Benzoic Acid.

That’s a whole lot of extra ingredients for a product marketed as “pure.” But then, there’s the question of effectiveness: are natural ingredients alone able to achieve the effects that chemical products can? Stylist Manuel Villarreal told the Minnesota Public Radio that his salon recently had to switch from Aveda to other non-natural lines that style and hold better.

“Suddenly you realize [that if] you put in a little bit of chemicals, it works better. You have to go, I guess, to the dark side in order for it to work,” Villarreal told MPR.

The Questionable

Once you start looking closer at the labels, it becomes clear that not all of Aveda’s products are as simple as one might derive from its marketing. But each product has a different intended use, and as a result requires a different chemical makeup and ratio of natural to unnatural ingredients. This is to be expected. But it also means that you can’t assume that Aveda’s emphasis on natural ingredients extends equally across its product line. Some products are going to be more natural than others. To really go “behind the label” on Aveda products, you have to start by actually reading each label. If only Aveda would make that information more readily available to consumers.

SEE ALSO:

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Behind the Label: McDonald’s See What We’re Made Of Campaign

Behind the Label: Levi Strauss’ E-Valuate Program

Behind the Label: Chipotle, Food With Integrity

Behind the Label: West Elm Green

Behind the Label: TOMS’ One for One Campaign

Behind the Label: Design Within Reach

Image: Jessica Marati
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