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In this video, Chelsea dives into the purposely-misleading "green" labeling that has infiltrated our lives, from the "clean at Sephora" line of products to what it can really mean when an item is labeled as "cruelty-free."

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Hey, guys.

It's Chelsea, from The Financial Diet. And this week's video is sponsored by Wealthfront.

And if 2022 is the year you finally start investing in your retirement-- and it definitely should be, since the sooner you start, the better-- you should check out Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a robo-advisor that makes it super easy to get started, regardless of how much you know about investing. Wealthfront first assesses your risk tolerance and then builds you a personalized portfolio that their software can constantly monitor and manage for you.

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You just need a few minutes and $500 to open up an investment account, and they'll take care of the rest. Wealthfront's annual management fee is just 0.25% of your assets annually. And right now, TFD viewers can get their first $5,000 managed for free.

So if you open an account with our link and grow it to $10,000, your monthly management fee would be just about $1. Click the link in our description to check investing off your New Year's resolution list. So it's January guys, which, as your favorite Aquarian, is, of course, the most important month of the year.

But it's also a year at which radical and unsustainable and often counterproductive lifestyle choices, which often just amount to weight loss masquerading as other things, are basically taking over the culture. It's all over social media. It's become sort of a normalized part of how we're supposed to start the year.

And there's often a ton of focus on radical changes with little focus on how these changes actually play out into sustainable lifestyle choices. And aside from the ever-popular losing weight, a lot of these big January overhauls also happen to coincide neatly with turning into a better version of ourselves or wanting to think of ourselves a certain way. We often talk on TFD about the phenomenon of spending in the interest of trying to become a different person.

And similarly, buying a certain type of product or adhering to certain labels can give you that same jolt of, I'm the sort of person who does this, even if it's not necessarily true. Whether it's radical elimination diets, sobriety, new physical activities, going vegetarian or vegan, going zero waste, a lot of the discourse in January tends to follow some of these narratives. And I recently did a video all about how dangerous some of these diets can be.

Now, of course, this isn't to say that it's not a good thing to start the year wanting to do things differently or, in some cases, better. But we've been around now long enough to know that, in general, anything you're doing that is a hard-core shift from your norm for 30 days, with no actual plan to keep it going beyond that, tends to work against us in the long term. But what often makes these changes harder goes well beyond the fact that they're unsustainable because even if we manage to adhere to our resolutions 100% in the month of January, we often might be being misled in terms of what we're actually buying, consuming, or switching to.

Because as trends like clean beauty, veganism, eco-friendliness, zero waste, and going organic have become far more popular, capitalism has done what capitalism always does best. It's caught on and it's working overtime to trick you. They want to give you products that make you feel like you're doing less harm or making better choices for yourself, but they don't actually want to do all that much on their end to ensure that it's true.

And with an increasing amount of popular labels out there like "organic," "natural," "small-batch," "certified B-corp," "cruelty-free," and others, a lot of this becomes so muddy and confusing that half the time you're not even really sure why you're buying something. Does a shampoo have to be cold-pressed? We know sulfates are generally supposed to be bad, but why?

Does cruelty-free mean something is actually ethical? And what the hell is eating clean? None of you can tell me.

So, long story short, here is how to navigate the very intentionally tricky world of labeling so you can find sustainable swaps that work for you while developing a good nose for sniffing out the BS. The first is animal cruelty. So, happy Veganuary, everyone.

And this is coming at you live from someone who once switched to a mostly vegan diet for a short time that was clearly just intended to lose weight and really didn't look into that much actually how to go vegan in a healthy or sustainable way. A lot of people out there, maybe even you, like to try out plant-based or vegan diets in January. And many of the broader elimination diets involve some kind of animal product reduction component.

And some people also use these Veganuary times to try out other non-edible products that also often use animal products or animal testing, like makeup, soap, and household products. And there has been a huge explosion in the popularity of such things, even for people who don't necessarily eat vegan. Many people find it easy and preferable to swap to things that are cruelty-free in their, let's say, beauty regimes.

And in response to this increasing demand, there are more quote, unquote, "cruelty-free products" available than ever. However, as it becomes more popular and a clearly interesting marketing tool for otherwise completely uninterested-in-ethics companies, that means there's a lot more BS to watch out for. One quick distinction to make about a product with regards to animal testing, which you can usually find on their website, is whether the no animal testing policy refers to the product itself or the various components and ingredients of the product.

For example, a tube of lipstick might not be tested on animals, but the company might have commissioned another company to test one or some of the ingredients on animals. And usually, if a company is in the clear for both, it will say something along the lines of, "X Company does not test its products on animals, nor does it commission others to test ingredients on animals." You also want to watch out for lines about not testing on animals except in countries where it is required by law, which means that the company sells its products in mainland China and thus does put them through an animal testing process there. Another tricky label to watch for that's become very popular in recent years for cosmetics and personal care is "vegan formula." Basically, the "formula" here is doing a lot of heavy lifting as it will usually mean that, yes, the product is free from animal-derived ingredients, but it was still likely tested on animals at some point.

This has been used for brands like Herbal Essences and more recently Rimmel, which claim a product has a "vegan formula" while their testing policy is not consistent with those practices. The best symbol to look for that is actually meaningful and accurate is the Leaping Bunny certification, which is generally more strict and reliable than a PETA certification. But, all of this kept in mind, remember that a Leaping Bunny certification may mean that a product is kind to animals but nothing about whether or not it's kind to humans.

For example, while CoverGirl recently went cruelty-free and started releasing vegan products, its parent company Coty is one of the many beauty companies where, despite its workforce being primarily women, men in C-suite positions habitually out-earn their female counterparts, making female representation exponentially more concentrated at the low-earning end. And keep in mind that there is also always a global impact to ingredient sourcing, whether that's from animals, plants, minerals, or other sources. According to an analysis by risk assessment company Verisk Maplecroft, common cosmetics ingredients such as shea nut, silk, avocado, tin, copper, cocoa, candelilla wax, and others all have a moderate to high risk of involving human rights abuses due to the exploitative nature of the industries that harvest them.

Now, this is not to shame anyone for their choices because, aside from the whole "no ethical consumption under capitalism" thing, it can be practically nearly impossible to ensure that a product that is coming to your doorstep involves no cruelty or exploitation to anything along the way. But it is still important to remember that "cruelty-free" terminology is not created equal, and just because your product might have it, doesn't mean it's actually true. I have to shout out my sister here, who is a homesteader and farmer, and is working towards building some of her own products.

One of her biggest pet peeves in life is how inconsistently these labels are applied and how much the agricultural workers involved in these products are often totally forgotten when it comes to the term "cruelty." But pivoting a little bit from the animal to the vegetal here, another big one is the "clean" and "organic" labels, which my sister has also launched into many a rant on. Just as being cruelty-free doesn't necessarily mean that a product is nice to humans, it also means that it's not necessarily nice for the environment or your skin. There's a lot of labels floating around in this space right now, and the problem is, not a lot of those labels are regulated.

Both the FDA in the US and Health Canada have no guidelines for the term "natural," while the USDA defines "natural" pretty loosely, to basically mean that there are no artificial ingredients or colors. Now, this can be very tricky because equally unregulated is what goes on to our skin. In the US, the FDA'S regulatory powers over cosmetics is not nearly as strong as its power over foods.

That's why, in 2019, when the FDA announced that several products sold in Claire's stores contained asbestos, it could only issue a warning and not actually order a recall. Claire's reportedly removed the products anyway, but essentially it's left up to the retailer to decide. What the [BLEEP].

And speaking of retailers playing regulator-- which, that always works out, historically, so well-- several years ago, Sephora introduced the label, "Clean at Sephora." "Clean" is another term that is increasingly gaining popularity despite little consensus in what this actually means. According to Sephora's own Cindy Deily, VP of skincare and merchandising, the label means that brands comply with company criteria, which is focused on brand positioning, transparency in formulation and sourcing, and the avoidance of certain ingredients. "Our clean criteria goes beyond common marketplace terms such as natural, organic, or green, and offers a range of innovative products and brands." And since the introduction of the label, the "formulated without" list has expanded to more than 50 no-no ingredients, up from 13. While you are free to abide by this list if you want, there are two key things to remember here.

One is that this label comes from Sephora itself and not any kind of regulatory body with actual oversight, like the FDA or the USDA. And two, is that there's still actually no consensus, even from the dermatological and science communities, about what "clean" actually means in this context. One of the most common complaints is that the clean beauty movement vilifies relatively benign ingredients such as parabens.

We all know that we want paraben-free products, but do we actually know what that means? Parabens are a type of preservative that has been accused of everything from harming reproductive health to potentially even causing cancer. However, some scientists have pointed out that some of the testing for effects of parabens have been spotty.

Things like parabens being injected into rats, versus applied topically, which they typically would be with cosmetics. And also that the amount of parabens and other preservatives in cosmetics is often so minuscule that there's really not a chance that they could harm us. Essentially, in the case of a lot of harmful ingredients, it's not the ingredient itself but the amount of concentration.

And speaking of which, some of your favorite "clean" products may contain certain components in much higher than optimal concentration. Things like, for example, essential oils, which in high amounts can increase sensitivity and skin damage, never even minding that everyone's skin is different and therefore going to be sensitive to very different things. I was for a long time on a retinol regimen.

And, as I've mentioned in previous videos, the best thing I ever did for my skin was to stop listening to whatever the trendy products are or what someone at a Sephora might tell me, and actually go to an actual dermatologist so they can tell me what the hell is up. Because the second I started talking to her, she was like, what are you doing using retinol? You have rosacea.

Get it together. Thank you, Dr. Greene, for shaming me.

In any case, these are products that are hailed as holy grails for some skin, yet for others can be actively detrimental or aggravating to underlying conditions. And just because something is natural doesn't mean you might not personally be allergic to it. Labels like "gentle on skin" don't really work because everyone's skin has different levels of sensitivity.

The best way to determine what ingredients your skin does and doesn't respond well to is through a dermatologist. But in general, if your current drugstore soap isn't making you break out into rashes and dry spots, it's probably fine. The demand for clean products can increase the demand on certain ingredients or components which are notoriously bad for human rights violations.

Marketing like, "This bronzer is made from 100% natural cocoa. You can actually pronounce it!" You know what else I can pronounce? Child labor.

In some cases, synthesized ingredients are actually the more ethical alternative when you count human labor and environmental impact, even something as simple as vanilla. The almighty "gluten-free" has become increasingly popular in both food and cosmetics labeling. And it is actually very useful for people with celiac disease.

Those who suffer from the rare but painful autoimmune disorder don't just experience symptoms when eating food contaminated with gluten, but can also experience symptoms if their shampoo or lotion happens to contain gluten. The problem is, if the gluten-free food craze of about five years ago proved anything, it's that if it's on a label, we immediately assume it's important for everyone. Hence, in 2016, Americans spent an estimated $15 billion on gluten-free foods, despite only about 0.1% of people in Western countries having celiac disease, and other intolerances might only be as high as 6%.

So for the tenth of a percent of Americans who might need a gluten-free shampoo, it's great that there's a label for that. But for the remaining 99.9%, don't get caught paying a premium for that label. I will say, though, that my childhood best friend's mother has celiac disease, and all through growing up, her ability to eat was so chaotic and so limited, even any restaurant, any product bought pre-made, it was a nightmare for her.

And that woman has been living her best life since the gluten-free craze. So at least there's that. Lastly is the greenwashing of brands.

Some brands don't actually have any commitment to being "clean" in a meaningful sense of the word, but leverage their marketing to imply that they do, through things like very minimal or Old World-looking packaging, or keywords such as fresh or handmade. Some of these include Kiehl's, Aveeno, Origins, and perennial millennial favorite, Lush. Although these brands are often assumed to be natural, they commit a number of cosmetic industry sins.

Some test on animals, some use palm oil, some use mica, and so forth. And we're not saying that any of these factors make these brands inherently bad, especially since there's no universal consensus on whether or not "clean" beauty is actually better for you. But a lot of these brands, like Kiehl's and Origins, charge a fairly significant price for their products.

And if something is using logos with pictures of beautiful trees to parade as something that it's not, you should know before you go to spend $35 on it. Essentially, the second you start to dive a little bit deeper on some of this labeling or marketing or packaging, you start to realize that it's very difficult to separate what actually has meaningful impact versus what is just branding. And just because something might be better in one respect, like not testing on animals, doesn't mean it's better in the other, such as treating their workforce fairly, from the corporate office to the actual farms where some of these products are being harvested.

And I don't want to end this on a bummer. As I said in the opening, often these radical shifts are unsustainable because humans are really not designed to work like that. Our brains are much better at integrating small, incremental changes that are sustainable and which we're able to keep up on an indefinite basis.

And working towards refining your consumption habits to be more in line with your values is important for everyone. But thinking that you can make a meaningful impact by simply opting into a radical shift in your purchasing or eating habits for the month of January, only to kind of redound back to whatever the hell you were doing before in February, is not the right way to go about it. Targeting a few products or habits at a time that you can start slowly swapping out is a much better way to go about it, and that can be done at any time of the year.

And if one of the things that you've been wanting to lean into this year is investing more, and you should, I highly recommend you start it by checking out Wealthfront, at the link in our description. As always, guys, thank you for watching. And don't forget to hit the Subscribe button and come back every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for new and awesome videos.