Is Physicians Formula Clean & Natural As They Claim? (Brand Audit)

5 min reading time

A massive and popular brand found in drugstores across North America and worldwide, Physicians Formula boasts 800k Instagram followers. They’re likely the most popular brand that pushes the angle of being safe and effective. But are these claims actually true?

Today, we’re taking a close look at Physicians Formula. They’ve been accused of greenwashing, but it is just because they’re a large brand? Let’s find out.

Is Physicians Formula Greenwashing?

Like many brands, Physicians Formula has some greenwashing on its hands. From the brand’s About Us page:

They also display further copy on the page:

At Physicians Formula, our scientists forage and our doctors screen thousands of natural, organic, and safe undiscovered ingredients from around the world to select those that are clean, effective, and high-performing, yet gentle on the most sensitive skin. We believe all skin deserves wellness, and fully commit to delivering that promise. With top physicians, our team combines unique, natural ingredients with science-backed technologies to create the most powerful form of “scientific naturals” – rigorously tested for safety and efficacy. Our scientists embrace the “good” with safe ingredients, and expel the “bad” by banning the use of harmful and questionable ingredients; our No-No list is 500+ strong and growing every day with our stringent research standards.

As you will see in the Ingredients portion of our audit, these claims are simply misleading. Don’t be fooled—Physicians Formula is not a clean beauty brand, no matter what their marketing might imply.

Furthermore, the brand recently launched its Organic Wear line, where you would expect the ingredients to be organic. While the main ingredients in all of the products in the line are organic, each contains several ingredients that aren’t.

For these reasons, we’re adding Physicians Formula to our List of Greenwashing Brands.

Ingredients (Rating: Iffy)

Physician’s Formula performs poorly in the ingredients department.

Looking at their ingredients, we find the following examples:

  • Artificial fragrance – The term “fragrance” is a blanket term that can hide up to hundreds of unknown chemicals that may have unknown impacts on our health. Artificial fragrances also often contain phthalates, a chemical linked to reproductive issues in men.
  • Chemical sunscreen – These UV absorbers have recently been found to absorb into the bloodstream with as little as a single application, and accumulate there over time. It’s currently unknown what effects this may have on the human body.
  • PEG (polyethylene glycol) ingredients – While these ingredients aren’t harmful in themselves, the technique used to process them can leave contaminants of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both potential human carcinogens.
  • Talc – Often used in powders, talc can be contaminated with asbestos, a human carcinogen.
  • Mica – While not an unsafe ingredient, the issue with mica is human rights issues. Most mica comes from India, where its harvested with child labor at slave wages. While it’s possible to source synthetic mica, there’s a prescedent for finding synthetic mica that actually contains real mica.

The Organic Wear Line

Physicians Formula has a specialty line of cosmetics they call the Organic Wear line. As the name suggests, the line contains a small number of partly-organic products, most of which are cleaner than the regular line. The products are not certified organic, however.

There’s a bit of greenwashing going on here, too. Although the line is called Organic Wear, there are several non-organic ingredients in all of the products.

We applaud the brand for offering this smaller product line that seems to meet the ingredient safety mark. For this reason alone, we move the brand up from a rating of Bad to Iffy in the ingredients department.

Sustainability (Rating: Bad)

Physicians Formula is a typical large beauty brand, using mainly disposable plastic packaging for their products. They don’t do much in terms of sustainability initiatives either.

The brand gets a rating of bad for this reason.

Animal Welfare (Rating: Bad)


Physicians Formula’s animal testing policy falls under the grey area. The brand was discovered for sale in mainland China, where animal testing is sometimes required by law. However, the brand claims that it can circumvent these mandatory animal testing laws.


Physicians Formula is not a vegan brand, although they do offer some vegan products.

Brand Ratings

Our rating scale ranges from “Best” (for having the best practices) to “Bad” (for having unacceptable practices). We rated Tarte as follows.

INGREDIENTSIffy – The brand’s standard line is full of ingredients we strongly recommend avoiding. We only give Physicians Formula an “Iffy” rating (rather than bad) here because they have an “Organic Wear” line that has better ingredients.
SUSTAINABILITYBad – Most packaging is plastic with no plans to reduce this in the future.
ANIMAL RIGHTSBad – The brand is not cruelty-free nor vegan, although they do offer some vegan products.

Overall Rating: Bad

Physicians Formula leaves a lot to be desired when audited based on our three pillars of conscious brands. Although they promote themselves as being natural and effective, they use many synthetic and iffy ingredients that we recommend avoiding.

They also use mainly plastic packaging and have been caught selling their products in China, which may expose them to animal testing.

For these reasons, we give Physicians Formula a rating of Bad.

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