Herbal Essences Brand Review: Are They Clean & Conscious?
Herbal Essences is a massive brand best known for their shampoos and conditioners, but also offering hair care products like masks, hair oil, and styling products.
Founded in 1971, the brand is one of the most popular shampoo and conditioner brands, available in virtually every drugstore aisle across the world.
Like many large personal care product brands, Herbal Essences has noticed the growing demand for clean and conscious brands and products. As a result, they’ve made strides to entice this rapidly-expanding market to buy their products.
But is the brand clean and conscious? Large corporations have a bad reputation with greenwashing and misleading customers, so let’s take a closer look.
At Better Goods, we rank brands on our three pillars: ingredients, sustainability, and animal welfare.
Brands are rated on the three pillars as follows.
– This ranking is for the best of the best. Only exemplary brands will receive a ranking of best for any category.
– This ranking is for brands that are typically quite good, but don’t go above and beyond like our best choices.
– This ranking is for when we find something we find iffy. Not a good sign.
– This ranking is reserved for the worst of the worst.
Herbal Essences Bio:Renew
The Bio:Renew line is where things really start to get questionable. It’s clear from both the name, packaging and marketing that Herbal Essences is aiming to give the impression that this line of products is cleaner and more natural than their standard lineup of products.
“Our full bio:renew shampoos and conditioners use botanical ingredients sourced from REAL plants. Finger-printed, and identified by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.”
You might be under the impression that this line of products has safe and clean ingredients, but as you’ll see in the ingredients section of this review, this is not exactly the reality.
We believe the brand to be engaging in greenwashing. Let’s explore why.
Ingredients (Rating: Avoid)
Both the standard Herbal Essences line and the Bio:Renew line leave much to be desired in the ingredients department. Virtually all Herbal Essences products are filled with ingredients that we recommend avoiding.
This is not an exhaustive list, but we looked at the ingredients lists of 15+ Herbal Essences products, and where’s what we found:
Fragrance – This common ingredient is a big issue, and at Better Goods we never recommend products with undisclosed chemical fragrance. Fragrance can contain a large number of potentially harmful ingredients, none of which need to be disclosed due to “trade secret” protection laws for manufacturers. Fragrance can be found in virtually all Herbal Essences products, including those in their Bio:Renew line.
Parabens – While the Bio:Renew line is free of parabens, these potentially-harmful preservatives are found throughout the standard Herbal Essences lineup. Many brands are steering away from parabens due to consumer demand, as they have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer.
Cyclohexylamine – This ingredient is found in several products from Herbal Essences. It’s labeled as unsafe for use in cosmetics in the EU. In June 2021, this ingredient was banned for cosmetic use in China, along with formaldehyde (carcinogen),
Ethoxylated ingredients – (PEG-40 castor oil, polysorbate-20) which can sometimes be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, potential carcinogens.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate – These surfactants (what gives shampoo the foam you expect), sometimes known as SLS and SLES, are the target of much controversy in recent years. Many brands have reformulated products to remove these ingredients that are damaging to the hair and scalp over extended periods of use. SLS and SLES have also been linked to irritation of the eyes, skin and lungs. SLES can also sometimes be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen.
For the above reasons, we give Herbal Essences an ingredient rating of Avoid.
Sustainability (Rating: Avoid)
Like many large consumer personal care brands, Herbal Essences is involved in several sustainability initiatives under the name The Herbal Essences Sustainability Program. Let’s take a closer look at them to see if they mean anything or not. These are taken from the brand’s website.
Renew The Forest – In April 2021, Herbal Essences pledged to partner with The Nature Conservatory to plant one tree for every purchase of two select products from the Bio:Renew line. The company isn’t transparent about the results of this, so it’s unclear how many trees were planted thanks to this initiative. The Nature Conservatory reports that it costs approximately $1.50 – $3 USD to plant one tree.
We hate to denigrate the charitable donation of anyone (or and brand) but this is a very small effort for the company and clearly a token effort to garner praise from eco-conscious shoppers.
Reduce Manufacturing Waste
“Our Iowa City Beauty Care facility is certified Zero Manufacturing Waste to Landfill… this means through composting, recycling, and energy recovery programs, our products and waste are diverted from landfills”
It’s unclear what the above quote even means. What is the Iowa Beauty Care Facility—is it a factory? And how many factories does the brand have? The quote above also is written very vaguely—what does it even mean? It’s written as though it’s saying a lot but it’s not clear how much “products and waste” are diverted from dumps.
This one isn’t as bad. From 2010 to 2016, Herbal Essences reduced water consumption by 20%. Reducing water waste is always a good thing, but this is the year 2022 and it sounds as though there have been no improvements on this front in 6+ years.
Beach Plastic Bottles For a Cleaner World
Herbal Essences has partnered with TerraCycle to create a recyclable plastic bottle made from 25% beach plastic.
We can say that every little step counts, but this also gives the impression of a token gesture and not a meaningful sustainability initiative. We were unable to find statistics on how many Herbal Essences products are sold around the world, but Statista reports that over 10 million US residents use Herbal Essences products at least 1-3 times per week. It’s safe to say that the brand is pumping out millions of virgin plastic shampoo bottles into the world every month.
It’s also not clear if all products will be packaged in the new bottles or only a certain product. Judging by the image, it looks as though this might be a single SKU of product getting the beach waste bottle—a further disappointment that makes this look like more than nothing but an empty gesture.
Because the brand’s sustainability initiatives are nothing substantial, we give Herbal Essences a rating of Avoid on sustainability.
Editing Their Own Wikipedia Page?
Reading Herbal Essences’ wikipedia page starts to give the scent of something rather stinky (and we’re not talking about the chemical fragrances used in all of their products).
The wikipedia page for the brand is surprisingly terse and consists of only 250 words, nearly 1/3 of which is dedicated to the brand’s sustainability strategies. There’s no proof that this was written by Herbal Essences’ PR team, but it certainly raises suspicions.
Animal Welfare (Rating: Iffy)
As reported by Cruelty-Free Kitty, it’s unclear if Herbal Essences is a cruelty-free brand. Their products are available in China—a country that enforces animal testing for most foreign products. This also means the brand is forced to fund animal tests for their own products if they wish to market to the massive—and rapidly-growing—Chinese market.
For this reason, we give them a ranking of Iffy for their cruelty-free status.
The brand uses many non-vegan ingredients like honey and beeswax, making it a decidedly non-vegan brand. This means an instant Avoid rating here.
All things considered, we rate Herbal Essences as Iffy in regards to their cruelty-free and vegan status.
Our rating scale ranges from “Best” (for having the best practices) to “Bad” (for having unacceptable practices). We rated as follows.
|INGREDIENTS||Avoid – Herbal Essences is not a clean brand nor do they claim to be. The products contain ingredients we recommend avoiding.|
|SUSTAINABILITY||Avoid – Sustainability is not a priority for this brand. Most products are packed in plastic and there are few meaningful initiatives in place.|
|ANIMAL WELFARE||Iffy – It’s unclear if Herbal Essences is a cruelty-free brand, and it’s decidedly not a vegan brand.|
Overall Rating: Avoid
Herbal Essences is guilty of greenwashing and is a brand that falls short in a lot of areas. Their sustainability initiatives are not substantial, and their animal welfare policies are questionable. Additionally, their ingredients are not clean even with their Bio:Renew line, which is supposed to be clean and conscious.
All of these factors contribute to an overall rating of Avoid.
Better Alternatives to Herbal Essences
Instead of using Herbal Essences, read our extensive research and buyer’s guides for natural shampoos and conditioners. We researched, reviewed and rated over 40 shampoos and conditioners from different brands, so you can find the perfect product for your needs.
If you have sensitive skin or wish to avoid specific ingredients, we also list all ingredients for every product we reviewed.