BY ANNIE RINGELESTEIN, STAFF WRITER

The world is in a climate crisis, and, as a result, sustainability is the newest consumer trend.[1]  81% of consumers expect the companies they support financially to implement programs or initiatives that aid the environment.[2]  Due to the rise of sustainability, more and more companies are greenwashing.[3] Motivated by increased profits from eco-conscious consumers, companies make “deceptive, misleading, and false representations” about the eco-friendly nature of their products.[4]  The problem has become so rampant that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released voluntary guidelines called the Green Guides to help marketers “ensure that the claims they make are true and substantiated.”[5]

Arbonne International is a multi-level marketing company that sells skincare, makeup, and nutritional supplements.[6]  They pride themselves on providing “plant-based ingredients” and “high clean standards.”[7]  Arbonne heavily markets its “Not Allowed List” of 2,000 ingredients that are banned from use in their products, and their advertising assures the consumer that their products are “pure, safe, and beneficial.”[8]  

A closer look at Arbonne’s products and their ingredients, however, demonstrates that their manufacturing practices do not fulfill their promises.[9]  Take the RE9 Advanced Smoothing Facial Cleanser as an example.[10]  Arbonne’s product information sheet heavily advertises the inclusion of botanical ingredients in the cleanser, but before any of these ingredients appear in the formula, there are at least ten different sulfates.[11]   Further, none of the advertised, plant-based ingredients show up in the formula until after an ingredient called “panthenol” which is usually used at concentrations up to 2%.[12]  While ingredients like sulfates, alcohols, and water make up a majority of the formula, all of the ingredients Arbonne uses to market their product make up less than 2% of the product.[13]

Moreover, while Arbonne’s “Not Allowed List”  may sound reassuring to customers, some of these banned ingredients include benzodiazepines, amphetamines, LSD, steroids, cannabinoids, opiates, and psilocybin.[14]  All of these substances are in some ways controlled or banned by the Food and Drug Administration, but thanks to Arbonne, consumers can rest assured their facial cleansers are free of street drugs.[15]  The “Not Allowed List,” then, seems to be a marketing ploy to deceive consumers into believing Arbonne is organic, sustainable, and mindful of toxic ingredients.[16]  

Consumers must diligently read ingredient lists before being tricked into spending more money on a product under the false pretense that it is eco-friendlier than the cheaper alternatives.[17]  Unfortunately, greenwashing will continue to escalate until the FTC hands down regulations with the force of law, until then consumers must take matters into their own hands to prevent it.[18]


[1] Global Consumers Seek Companies That Care About Environmental Issues, Nielson Global, https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2018/global-consumers-seek-companies-that-care-about-environmental-issues/ (last visited Oct. 19, 2020) (stating why consumers prioritize sustainability).

[2] Id. (showing vast majority of consumers expect sustainable practices).

[3] Id. (explaining prevalence of issue).

[4] Hill v. Roll International Corp., 128 Cal. Rptr. 3d 109, 111 (Cal. Ct. App. 2011) (highlighting why companies greenwash).

[5] See generally Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, 75 Fed. Reg. 63,522 (Oct. 10, 2010) (to be codified at 16 C.F.R. pt. 260) (explaining FTC’s advisory guides). 

[6] Our Approach, Arbonne Int’l, https://www.arbonne.com/discover/ (last visited Oct. 21, 2020) (overviewing brand).  Multi-level marketing companies are increasingly controversial business models, and many have been forced to restructure due to pyramid scheme allegations. Seena Gressin, FTC: AdvoCare Business Model was Pyramid Scheme, Fed. Trade Comm. (Oct. 2, 2019), https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/10/ftc-advocare-business-model-was-pyramid-scheme (explaining how MLMs act as pyramid schemes). 

[7] Id. (marketing themselves as organic and eco-friendly).

[8] Not Allowed List from Arbonne, Arbonne Int’l, https://www.arbonne.com/discover/promise/not-allowed.shtml (last visited Oct. 23, 2020) (overviewing purpose of list). 

[9] See RE9 Advanced Smoothing Facial Cleanser, Arbonne Int’l (2020), https://embed.widencdn.net/pdf/plus/arbonne/8fpqxh5uyy/811_us_eng-1.pdf (giving information on product).

[10] See id. (using product as example). 

[11] Id. (overviewing actual ingredients).  Sulfates are controversial skincare ingredients known to be harsh on the skin. Are Sulfates Really That Bad?, Lush, https://www.lushusa.com/stories/article_are-sulfates-bad.html (last visited Oct. 22, 2020) (overviewing sulfates and their use in cosmetic products).

[12] Id. (showing marketed ingredients make up less than 2% of product formula).

[13] See id. (highlighting Arbonne’s greenwashing).

[14] Id. (banning street drugs from use in Arbonne cosmetics).

[15] Schedules of Controlled Substances, 21 C.F.R. § 1308.11, et seq. (2019) (scheduling controlled substances).

[16] See Not Allowed List from Arbonnesupra note 13 (showing list bans things already banned by FDA). 

[17] See Global Consumers Seek Companies That Care About Environmental Issuessupra note 1 (explaining companies have advantage to appear eco-friendly).

[18] Greenwashing: What Your Clients Should Avoid, Am. Bar Ass’n. (Apr. 5, 2019), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo/publications/gp_solo/2011/september/greenwashing_what_your_clients_should_avoid/ (explaining FTC Green Guides are merely advisory).

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