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Wen Hair Care versus Organic Shampoo: Clever Marketing Tricks & Greenwashing

Always on the lookout for the next best organic shampoo, I was browsing online and came across an article titled “Why Shampoos Are a Waste of Money”. (link to article)

The article was telling the usual story about SLS – Sodium Lareth Sulfate and consorts - stripping away the hair and scalp’s natural oils. Further down, the text metions a legendary hair dresser who turned to natural, plant-based ingredients to formulate his own line of hair products, after being unhappy with the ways regular shampoos left his clientele’s locks.

Chaz Dean is the name of the inventor of this (I quote) ‘radically new’ and ‘revolutionary’ range of hair care products. Now in all fairness, the brand Wen doesn’t claim to be organic in any way. What captured my interest is how they draw the readers attention to some amazing natural ingredients in the products: glycerin, chamomile, rosemary, calendula, and cherry bark.

Effective Safe Natural

So, the big question:

How natural is this Wen shampoo, really?

Intrigued, I clicked on the link and went to the official Wen hair care website. Because no matter how much plant-extract names they’re trying to woo us with here… I’ve become too much of a sceptical to be blinded by some natural bling-bling. A full ingredient list (INCI) is what I’m looking for.

On their website:

  1. Where is the full list of ingredients? Nowhere to be found! Why not? It’s definitely the official Wen website that I’m looking at. When a brand has nothing to hide, it usually is proud of their formulations. The more a concoction is all-natural, the more eager the brand usually is to show off the ingredients of their synthetics-and-chemical-free potion. If you can’t find the ingredients anywhere on a company’s website, it doesn’t matter which magical botanicals the product features - that’s a red flag.
  2. In the Frequently Asked Questions section of Wen’s website, on number one: “Is your Cleanser/Conditioner product all natural?” Great question, that’s exactly what I would want to know as well! The answer by Wen is: “Chaz is committed to including natural herbs and botanicals in all of his products.” And here we have a great example of a statement that does not answer the question. It’s not a lie, but it effectively diverts the attention. Very political. Straight forward, the answer to the question would be no, based upon the actual ingredient list, which I managed to find on some other website. Wen leaves us with a nice political quote, which refers to only a few of the ingredients. Another red flag is the use of the word ‘including’. Whenever skin and hair care descriptions use the word ‘including’, or ‘with’, be aware to take that literally. The natural, botanical extract names following those terms are a part of the product. And often a very small part.Actually, the same phrasing was already used in the article linking to Wen’s, that could have tipped me off. (…he started experimenting with various ingredients, including natural herbs and botanicals, that he knew…)
  3. The third red flag is perhaps a bit obvious, but in my enthusiasm I didn’t even notice it right away. The article mentioned in the beginning is sponsored by Wen, as the small print at the bottom of the page lets us know, when you look close…

Ingredients

For the complete ingredient list of three Wen hair care products, please check out this blog post by jillypoo.

The lady writer has highlighted a few silicone ingredients in her article, which she wants to stay away from. I think she’s being nice. I’m finding quite a few more chemicals which I’ve banned from my natural organic hair care routine a while ago!

Regardless of some nasty chemicals on the ingredient lists of many of Wen’s products, what I was trying to point out here is how a brand can use the names of plants and botanical extracts to market their products smartly, surfing the ‘green’ wave. And how easy it is to burst that bubble. When you want to wash your hair with a natural, organic shampoo, don’t be fooled by a few plant extracts. There’s a lot more to the creation of a natural, organic hair care formula than a squirt of botanicals. (This is just as true for natural organic skin care and cosmetics!)

 

Successfully Identify All-Natural, Organic Products

Three simple rules to know what you’re buying:

  1. Always, with any kind of product, demand full disclosure of ingredients. It is your right as a customer to know what you’re rubbing on your body.
  2. Be alerted by semantics.
  3. Check the source for objectivity. “We from Wen advise to use Wen shampoo.” Uhmm, yeah… right.

In Summary

In all fairness, Wen isn’t claiming to make “all-natural hair care”.

What they are doing however, is quite funny to me. They write this little article, pointing a big finger at one ugly ingredient, which they have banished from their product line. Bravo. They add a pinch of plant names. Awesome. Their products do not contain any SLS and they do contain the mentioned herbs. But also… many other synthetic ingredients. Wen’s concoctions in their integrity are far from all-natural. The brand surely is doing a terrific job diverting the consumer’s attention from the main ingredients of their products with some smoke and mirrors. By putting the spotlight on a few plant names and by targeting just one or two ‘bad’ ingredients, such as SLS, while the products still contain many other ‘bad’ ingredients.

Please note that the word ‘bad’ here is an expression of my personal opinion – me being an all-natural and organic cosmetics passionado. I do however base my opinion on what I learn about the health effects of ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s database, PubMed and other sources. As much as it is just an opinion, it has been formed by reading the results of scientific research.

For an all-natural shampoo or even better, an organic shampoo, we definitely need to look elsewhere.

But hey, don’t forget to have fun while discovering these clever marketing tricks and greenwashing-secrets! After all, isn’t it kind of hilarious?