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” on “howlifeworks.com”.

The article tells the usual story about SLS – Sodium Lareth Sulfate and consorts – stripping away the hair and scalp’s natural oils. Further down, there’s mention of 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.

In all fairness, the brand Wen doesn’t claim to be organic in any way. What captured my interest though, is how cunningly the readers’ attention is drawn to some (a few) amazing natural ingredients in the products: glycerin, chamomile, rosemary, calendula, and cherry bark – all while never providing a complete overview of all ingredients used.

Effective Safe Natural

So, the big question:

How natural is Wen shampoo, really?

Intrigued, I clicked on the link and went to the official Wen hair care website. A full ingredient list (INCI) is what I’m looking for, not a shortlist of plant-extracts that are part of the formula. Probably (excuse my scepticism) a very small part.

On their website:

  • Where is the full list of ingredients?

Nowhere to be found. Why not? I am definitely looking at the official Wen website. When a brand has nothing to hide, it is usually proud of their formulations. The more a concoction is all-natural, the more eager a brand 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 – again, probably in rather low amounts – that’s a red flag.

  • 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.

The answer by Wen is: “Chaz is committed to including natural herbs and botanicals in all of his products.” It’s a simple yes-or-no question, which doesn’t get answered at all. The phrase used in the place of an actual answer to the question 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. Instead, Wen serves us with a nice political quote, which refers to only a few of the ingredients.

Over time I have grown seriously allergic to the word ‘including’. Whenever skin and hair care descriptions use the word ‘including’, or ‘with’ – beware. The natural, botanical 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 website, which could have tipped me off. (Quote: …he started experimenting with various ingredients, including natural herbs and botanicals, that he knew…)

  • 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. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing enthusiasm for a product with the world, don’t take a writer’s word for it. Nothing beats checking labels. If an article doesn’t provide full disclosure about a product’s ingredients, it may be worth doing just a little extra research to find out more.

Wen Hair Care Products’ Ingredients (All of them!)

Here are the ingredients for one of Wen’s conditioners:

Water, Organic Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Pomegranate Extract, Rosemary Leaf Extract, Chamomile Extract, Marigold Flower Extract, Wild Cherry Fruit Extract, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Cetyl Alcohol, Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Sweet Almond Oil, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Menthol, Glycerin, Amodimethicone, Polysorbate-60, Fragrance, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Citric Acid.

Here’s a nourishing mousse, one of different flavors:

Water, Bamboo Water, Polyquaternium­55, Polyquaternium­11, Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Aloe
Vera Leaf Extract, Bamboo Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract, Green Tea Extract, White Tea
Leaf Extract, Rooibos Red Tea Extract, Black Tea Leaf Extract, Acai Fruit Extract, Goji Fruit
Extract, Rosemary Leaf Extract, Passion Fruit Flower Extract, Sugar Cane Extract, Lemon
Peel Extract, Chamomile Extract, Seaweed Extract, Marigold Flower Extract, Wild Cherry
Fruit Extract, Cinnamon Extract, Mandarin Orange Peel Oil, Orange Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Bergamot Fruit Oil, Caraway Fruit Oil, Clove Leaf Oil, Palmitoyl
Tripeptide­1, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide­7, Panthenol (Pro­Vitamin B5), Glycerin, Carbomer,
Polysorbate­20, Butylene Glycol, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Aminomethyl Propanol,
Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG­12 Dimethicone, PPG­2 Hydroxyethyl Coco/Isostearamide,
PEG­8 Dimethicone, PEG­8 Ricinoleate, PEG­40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Phenoxyethanol,
Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance.

Here is a volume spray:

Water, SD Alcohol (Ethyl Alcohol), Acylates/Hydroxyesters Acrylates Copolymer, Witch Hazel, Bamboo Water, Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Bamboo Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract, White Tea Leaf Extract, Rooibos Red Tea Extract, Black Tea Leaf Extract, Acai Fruit Extract, Goji Fruit Extract, Marsh Mallow/Althea Extract, Seabuckthorn Fruit Extract, Rosemary Leaf Extract, Rice Syrup Extract, Seaweed Extract, Sweet Almond Fruit Extract, Sunflower Seed Extract, Marigold Flower Extract, Wild Cherry Fruit Extract, Cinnamon Extract, Mandarin Orange Peel Oil, Orange Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Bergamot Fruit Oil, Caraway Fruit Oil, Clove Leaf Oil, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide­7, L­Valine, L­Threonine, L­Proline, L­Isoleucine, L­Phenylaline, L­Histidine, L­Alanine, L­Serine, L­Arginine, L­Aspartic Acid, Glycine, Panthenol (Pro­Vitamin B5), Glycerin, PEG­12 Dimethicone, PEG­8
Dimethicone, PEG­8 Ricinoleate, PCA, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Carbomer, Polysorbate­20, Aminomethyl Propanol, PEG­40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, DMDM Hydantoin, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Fragrance.

And lastly, a styling creme:

Water, Propylene Glycol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclotetrasiloxane, Phenyl Trimethicone,
Dimethiconol, C13­14 Isoparaffin, Polyacrylamide, Bamboo Water, Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Aloe
Vera Leaf Extract, Bamboo Extract, Green Tea Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract, White Tea Leaf Extract, Rooibos Extract, Black Tea Leaf Extract, Acai Fruit Extract, Goji Fruit Extract, Wild Cherry Fruit Extract, Rice Syrup Extract, Rosemary Leaf Extract, Chamomile Extract, Lavender Extract, Marigold Flower Extract, Seabuckthorn Fruit Extract, Cinnamon Extract, Seaweed Extract, Mandarin Orange Peel Oil, Orange Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Bergamot Fruit Oil, Caraway Fruit Oil, Clove Leaf Oil, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide­7, L­Valine, L­Threonine, L­Proline, L­Isoleucine, L­Phenylaline, L­Histidine, L­Alanine, L­Serine, L­Arginine, L­Aspartic Acid, Glycine, Panthenol (Pro­Vitamin B5), Glycerin, PCA, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Ethylhexylglycerin, Carbomer, Polysorbate­20, Laureth­7, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

While I am not a baking-soda-and-vinegar type at all, this stuff contains way too much chemicals for me. Plant extracts are there, but drowned in a chemical soup.

Regardless of some nasty chemicals on the ingredient lists of many of Wen’s products, what I’m aiming to point out here is how easily a brand can use the names of plants and botanical extracts to market their products smartly, surfing the ‘green’ wave. And how it is almost just as easy 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 (or skin care) than a squirt of botanicals.

How to Successfully Identify All-Natural Organic Hair Products:

Three simple rules will help you 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. Don’t be fooled by semantics. “With” and/or “including” something? That’s great – what about the rest of the ingredients?
  3. Check the source for objectivity. “Hi, my name is John Doe, founder of Wen, and I advise you to use Wen shampoo.” Uhmm, yeah… of course you do, Mr. Doe.

In Summary

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

What they are doing however, is quite funny. They write a 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. Their products do not contain any SLS indeed, and they do contain the mentioned herbs. But also many other synthetic ingredients.

Wen’s products 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 to just a few mixed-in plant extract. By putting the spotlight on these plant names, and by targeting just one or two “evil” ingredients, such as SLS, the products still contain many other less desirable ingredients.

Well, this was fun.

For an all-natural shampoo, or even better, an organic shampoo, we definitely need to look elsewhere. There are many places to find real natural and organic hair care.

Natural & Organic Hair Care Tips

Miessence shampoo is absolutely natural, and largely organic, without any concessions. The Miessence foundation makes a respectable impact, fighting for environmental causes. A bit pricey, but lovely. Wouldn’t recommend these products if you’re in Europe, since for some odd reason they are priced much higher to European customers.

Just Natural makes effective, safe natural & organic hair & skin care. They have a huge selection of all natural hair products, with stuff for each and every type, age, style, twist… you name it! Made in the USA, they proudly declare.

I love the brand John Masters, which can conveniently be found on Amazon. I fell head over heels for this shampoo with conditioner. It smells like creme brulee, one of my favorite desserts.

Whether you’re located in- or outside of the United States, you may enjoy checking out LoveLula. It’s a brilliant online “warehouse”, full of both new and well-known, higher end and affordable skin & hair care, all with free worldwide shipping.

Don’t be shy, please share your favorite natural and/or organic hair care products below! :-)

4 Comments

  1. This was very helpful as I too was looking for the full ingredients list due to several food & chemical allergies. Yeah, the Wen products don’t fit the bill for me. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Glad it helped! :-) Which hair care products are you using now, or which are you favorite?

      Reply
  2. So is Wen a safe product to use or should I be concerned about all the alleged law suits for hair falling out! I have been using it for about 4 yrs off and on and I am 64 and my hair is thinning but I think its age related

    Reply
    • Hi there :-) Well, I’m not going to tell you what you should or should not do 😉 – the law suits are interesting at the least, and I would not use Wen personally, but there must be some happy customers too or else I suppose they would no longer be in business, right?
      This article was mainly to illustrate the usage of terms/words to play the “green” card while certain use of language easily leads one to believe a product is totally natural, when all that is really said is that there is a drop of natural extract in it – nothing more.
      So in response to your question, I suppose trying out a different product to see if your hair keeps thinning could be one idea, if you are in the mood to be adventurous. If you are perfectly happy with Wen’s performance, the only other reason to switch would be for something with more natural ingredients. I guess that’s what I would do, try something. You can always go back to Wen, if that appears to be a disappointment, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. :-) Keep me posted!

      Reply

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