Lush is a brand with a rabid following of fans across the globe. Founded in 1995 in the UK, the brand currently has over 900 stores worldwide.
With such explosive growth, the brand must be doing something right. Let's take a look at the brand and their policies to figure it out.
Branding and Marketing
Lush's slogan, featured in their logo and marketing materials is "Fresh Handmade Cosmetics". While that doesn't outright say that the brand is all-natural, it certainly implies it.
The marketing of the brand is meant to give the impression that the ingredients are natural, the brand is clean, eco-friendly and conscious. Some fans of the brand believe that Lush is actually free of synthetic ingredients, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
According to the brand's US website, 35% of Lush products are "naked", or plastic-free. These products are universally solid, water-free products that eliminate the need for preservatives.
The plastic-free products include shampoo and bath bars, soaps, bath bombs, and water-free shower gels.
Unfortunately, that means 65% of Lush products have plastic, so they have a long way to go before eliminating plastic from their entire supply chain.
What Lush Gets Right in Packaging
All of their pots and bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, and the carrying bags and gift wrap are made from 100% recycled paper.
Lush does run a program where you can return 5 full-sized product pots to a Lush store, and in return, you'll get a free face mask. The returned pots are remolded into new plastic pots. You can also return sample-sized pots for recycling, but this won't count for a free face mask.
Clear plastic bottles used in Lush products are recyclable in local recycling programs.
In February 2021, Lush UK launched their "Bring It Back" program—a recycling program where shoppers in the UK and Ireland can bring plastic packaging back to the store to receive a 50 pence/cents toward a Lush purchase.
This is a pilot program that will run throughout 2021, where the company will review and decide whether to continue it or not.
Are Lush Products Organic & Natural?
Lush doesn't outright make the claim that their products are all-natural or organic, but somehow the brand has developed that reputation. To make a long story short: no, Lush isn't a fully organic or natural company.
The brand doesn't use many organic ingredients in their products, and not every ingredient they use is natural, either.
You'll find synthetic fragrances, preservatives, SLS and more in Lush products. We feel as though the brand's aim is to give the impression that they're all-natural and eco-friendly, but that's not the full truth.
The Problem of Palm Oil
The use of palm oil is controversial. It's said that palm oil is the cause of 8% of the world's deforestation between 1990 and 2008. (source) It's the world's most highly-consumed vegetable oil and it's used in products ranging from cosmetics and skincare to food products.
Palm oil is contoversial because forests are burned to clear areas where palm trees can be grown—most often illegally. Doing so destroys the areas where wild plants and animals live, affecting animals like orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The burning of mass amounts of trees also pumps huge amounts of carbon dioxide and black soot into the atmosphere.
87% of the world's palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, where huge sections of tropical rainforest have been burned down for palm plantations.
Lush uses a lot of palm oil in their products, and as a result, there has been a heavy push back against the company for this reason.
However, the brand claims to be making strides toward removing palm oil from their products. (source) They've created an in-house alternative to palm oil and are actively removing it from their line of products.
However, they have a long way to go, and they openly admit that removing palm oil from the large number of products they offer is a difficult process.
Lush maintains a transparent list of ingredients that are derived from palm oil for those that wish to avoid using products with palm oil.
Lush is a cruelty-free company, meaning that none of their products or the ingredients are tested on animals at any point during the production process.
About 80% of Lush's products are vegan, but some ingredients they use—like lanolin, beeswax, and honey—are not vegan.
Parabens: A Dirty Secret
Lush liberally uses parabens in their products. Parabens are a chemical preservative that is linked to endocrine system disruption—they act like a very weak estrogen in the body.
There is some concern that parabens can cause breast cancer. A 2004 study of 20 women with breast cancer took samples of tumor tissue and found parabens in 100% of the samples. While this study is heavily criticized, this is enough for us to recommend avoiding parabens.
There are much safer preservatives available and many companies have moved away from parabens to better preservatives. We should push LUSH to stop using parabens and switch to better, safer preservatives like sodium benzoate and phenoxyethanol.
You'll find parabens in LUSH products like: shampoos, conditioners, cleansing Lotions, eye creams, shaving cream, lotions, masks, scrubs, eyeliners, moisturizers, eyeshadows, mascaras, and toners.
LUSH products are loaded with synthetic fragrance. Essentially every product they sell has synthetic fragrance, and this is an issue.
The problem with synthetic fragrance is that "fragrance" can be used as an umbrella term to hide the exact chemical makeup that goes into the fragrance.
Sometimes it takes hundreds of synthetic chemicals to make a fragrance, some of which could be harmful to human health or the environment.
On Lush's website, when you see the ingredient "fragrance" in black, it means it contains some synthetic ingredients. However, the brand will not disclose what those ingredients are.
You'll find synthetic fragrance in many Lush products like: bath bombs, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shower gels, shaving creams, bath oils, and deodorants.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
SLES is another controversial ingredient in Lush products. SLES may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a chemical linked to cancer. (source)
You'll find SLES in some of Lush's shampoos, shampoo bars, show gels, bubble bars, shower jelly, bath bombs, shower creams and soaps.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
SLS is a skin, eye and respritatory tract irritant. It's also toxic to aquatic organisms. (source)
You can find SLS in some Lush products like their soaps, shampoo bars, conditioners, solid conditioners and hair treatments.
Ingredients that start with "PEG-" (Polyethylene Glycol) can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, a possible human carcinogen and known human carcinogen respectively.
You'll find PEG compounds in some Lush products like: shampoos, shampoo bars, bath bombs, bath oils, and facial scrubs.
Lush uses a lot of petroleum-derived synthetic dyes in their products. You'll find them with names like Red 4, Blue 1, Yellow 8. Lush states that they use these artificial dyes because the shades they use are simply not possible to create with natural dyes.
There is some concern that artificial dyes can cause negative health effects on the human body. More research needs to be done on these dyes to determine if they're all truly safe or not.
Lush's bath bombs are the biggest offender here, but you'll also find synthetic dyes in their soaps, lipsticks, face masks, bath oils, massage bars, shampoo bars, shower jelly, scrubs and shampoos.
The main issue with mica is human rights violations. The majority of mica comes from India, where an estimated 22,000 children—some as young as five years old—spend their days mining mica for 20 to 30 rupees per day: about 30-40 cents. (source)
As of January 1st, 2018, Lush made the decision to go completely mica free, which is commendable. In 2014, the brand began using only synthetic mica, but in 2016 they discovered that some of the synthetic mica they purchased contained natural mica.
We're happy to see that Lush took the initiative to completely remove mica from their products because they couldn't guarantee it wasn't the result of child labor.
It's difficult for such a large company to do everything right, and Lush does seem to be trying to do better in some ways.
The biggest issue with the brand is their use of synthetic ingredients like their fragrances and and iffy preservatives like parabens. There are alternatives to these ingredients that the brand could be using, but instead they're telling people that these ingredients are perfectly fine to use.
Whether you believe that is up to you, but at Glowing Nest, we never recommend products with parabens or synthetic fragrance.
All in all, Lush is guilty of greenwashing. The image most people have in their head of the company is one of a clean, natural and eco-friendly brand, and they're surely not as clean as they'd like you to believe.