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Jen Boynton headshot

L'Oreal Takes Eco-Certification Mainstream

By Jen Boynton

On Tuesday, L'Oreal achieved silver certification from the nonprofit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute for its Biolage R.A.W. (Real - Authentic - Wholesome) haircare line, the company announced at the Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit.

L'Oreal says its R.A.W. shampoo and conditioner are made with "the highest levels of biodegradability." The shampoo is 99 percent biodegradable, the company said in a news release.

I always tread carefully when I read percentage-based health claims, as I worry about what sort of toxic heebie jeebies lurk in the remaining ingredients. Jay Bolus, president of certification services for MBDC, the company behind the Cradle-to-Cradle design framework, explains:

"Just because something is water-based or water-soluble does not necessarily mean it will biodegrade. But even if it does, the question is: What does it degrade into? Are the degragants more toxic than the parent compound?

"In the case of L’Oreal, we determined that the formula is close to 100 percent biodegradable and it degrades into compounds that are nontoxic."

That's good news for our skin and the waterways where greywater from the shower may eventually drain.

Biolage R.A.W.  contains a laundry list of natural ingredients including quinoa husk, honey, coconut oil and kaolin clay. The shampoo and conditioner are composed of 77 percent and 95 percent natural-origin ingredients respectively.

Of course, just because something is natural doesn't mean it's healthy. Bolus explained how the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute measures product wellness:

"All ingredients, regardless of their origins, are assessed against the 25 human and environmental health criteria in our methodology. Some natural materials (e.g. plant extracts, essential oils, etc.) are a complex combination of substances and have to be assessed slightly differently than a pure substance. But in any case, all ingredients go through a rigorous screening/assessment process."

Natural ingredients are often environmentally preferable because they usually come from "rapidly renewable resources," rather than from oil or other non-renewable petrochemicals, Bolus said.

Notably, while the R.A.W. line received a silver certification overall (a 3 out of 5 on the Cradle to Cradle certification scale), the products actually received a platinum score on the Material Health Assessment, which evaluates impact on human and environmental health -- arguably the most material issue for a personal care product.

The Cradle to Cradle product certification examines products across five categories:

  • Material health: The toxicity of the ingredients in the product,

  • Material reutilization: The volume of recycled content and product recyclability,

  • Renewable energy and carbon management

  • Water stewardship

  • Social fairness

Each product receives a rating in each category as well as a list of recommendations for improvement. Companies have two years to demonstrate improvement against the listed recommendations or they won't be allowed to re-certify.

L'Oreal's recommended improvement areas are increased renewable energy and water stewardship. The firm now has the opportunity to improve its decontamination process so that the effluent water is clean enough to be reused in the manufacturing process.

Image courtesy of L'Oreal (press use only) 

Jen Boynton headshot

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton