If you’re asking, “Is Tarte makeup really all natural?” the short answer is “No.”
I am fed up with people being mislead into thinking that Tarte Cosmetics is an authentically green, natural cosmetics brand.
If you’ve been buying Tarte because of your cruelty-free or vegan ideals, prepare to be pissed off.
I’m not into brand-bashing or fear mongering. I’ve always done my best to keep Green Beauty Team a positive, well-researched resource for natural beauty solutions.
That said, the first time I ever called out a cosmetics brand for greenwashing, was on The Green Divas Radio Show — and boy did it feel good!
After that my list of the biggest greenwashing cosmetics brands went viral within minutes of posting! This post will inaugurate a series of articles to go deeper into why each brand made it on my list. I’m starting with the brands folks seemed to be most surprised/upset about, and in this case the one that makes me the most upset: Tarte Cosmetics.
(Please read my disclaimer at the bottom of this article.)
How Tarte Cosmetics is Greenwashing
Tarte Cosmetics beats the drum that their products are formulated without, parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, and gluten, and that they are cruelty-free.
All of that is commendable, but Tarte is still blowing smoke. Can we just pause at sodium lauryl sulfate? It’s a foaming agent used in soap, not used in makeup. So why are they even saying it’s not included?
Cruelty-free: The lie that gets my blood boiling
If you thought you were buying Tarte as a cruelty-free, no animal by-product brand, then you would be mistaken.
Their highly praised “Natural Beauty Cheek Stain” includes carmine! Hello, that’s crushed beetles!
What else aren’t they disclosing?
Let’s not pass over the ingredient “parfum/fragrance” listed on the cheek stain with no indication of what the source is, so that means it probably contains pthalataes like every other undisclosed fragrance on the market.
The other shades in the cheek stain category contain propylene glycol, a petrochemical derivative. Gee no mineral oil, but this is OK? Very shady. [Read why propylene glycol is on our toxic list]
Not so non-toxic afterall
Let’s look at their famous “Amazonian clay 12-hour full coverage foundation SPF 15”. It begs for you to believe it’s green! It’s got a nice leaf and a bamboo cap to make you think it practically came straight off a tree.
Add in Tarte’s trademarked phrase all over their marketing materials “high-performance naturals” and you have a package that is totally misleading about what’s inside the formula.
That, my friends, is the epitome of greenwashing.
The SkinDeep database gives this item a high toxicity rating of 7 out of 10. Now before y’all get all crazy telling me how EWG isn’t an accurate source of information, it is only one piece to this greenwashing web of deceit.
Below is the ingredient list for one of their popular shades in this formula. Let me know how long it takes you to get to all those naturals (after water)…ready go!
Smoke and Mirrors: Amazonian Clay
You’ll see a huge focus on Amazonian Clay as their star ingredient, which totally distracts the customer from digging through the “mud” of what else is in Tarte’s products.
That kind of got me wondering if it’s sustainably farmed clay that’s not hurting our eco system in its procurement.
I couldn’t find any info out on their website, so I sent an email to their customer care. As of publishing this article I have yet to receive a reply from the brand. I will update with their response as soon as I have it.
Tarte Cosmetics keeps changing their story
Tarte wasn’t even founded as a natural brand.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Troy Surratt, an incredibly famous makeup artist who helped launch Tarte. At that time he was no longer part of the business and I asked him point-blank if Tarte started out being a natural brand –without hesitation, he said, “No.”
I managed to find an old ingredient list for Tarte’s lipstick from October 1, 2002 on Makeup Alley [source].
WOW! Animal byproducts, formaldehyde releasers and parabens abound!
Early press releases of the brand’s founder Maureen Kelly say nothing about her slant towards natural [source]. The only mention of being green is her lack of experience in starting a cosmetics brand. In subsequent articles you’ll find her being praised for knowing exactly what the consumer wants. I think it’s safe to say she cashed in on the green, natural bandwagon as early as possible for profits, not for ethics or she’d have done this all very differently.
Their slogan used to be, “Tarte is the leader in earth engineered™ beauty offering the widest selection of natural cosmetics full of skinvigorating™ ingredients including our proprietary t5 super fruit complex™.”
They seem to be big on trade marking phrases that sound fabulous and mean zero. In fact, my guess is they had to strike the claim that they offered the widest selection of natural cosmetics because it’s just false.
Around that same time period, Paula Begoun, a highly respected long-time cosmetics industry reviewer, offered this statement in her initial analysis of the brand and their marketing claims [source]:
Ironically, despite Tarte’s attention-getting marketing concept, their products aren’t any more natural or healthier than loads of other products. We take particular issue with the company’s claim of being preservative-free, synthetic dye-free, and talc-free. Not only are these ingredients not a problem for most people, but also many of Tarte’s products do contain them! What is that about? Didn’t anyone at Tarte read their own ingredient labels?
We are beyond understanding how a cosmetics company can base their advertising on what their products do not contain, yet fail to realize, or just won’t acknowledge, that their products in fact do contain them…
Smack! She called them out big time.
Need more proof?
Just in case you still need more convincing that Tarte is not telling the whole story on how natural they really aren’t, check out these current ingredient lists:
Amazonian Butter Lipstick ingredients:
A site I really like for accurate ingredient data is CodeCheck.info. If you use google chrome you can use the automatic translate option to convert everything from German to English.
Codecheck.info tells us that some of the green-listed safe ingredients here are still “not suitable for natural cosmetics.”
Also it points out that Myristate is probably palm oil, which as many of us already know, is quite controversial due to its production and related destruction of the rain forests.
Complexion Enhancing Lipstick ingredients:
What’s happening today in the brand
As of 2014 the brand was bought out by Kose, a Japanese company.
Tarte has since changed their marketing lingo and further refined their ingredients, but they have a LONG way to go before they are truly the natural brand they present themselves to be.
I’m all for brands cleaning up their act and hope that more will do the same, but not if it involves blatantly lying to the consumer for a boost in profit margins.
So what do you think about all this? Were you shocked or not at all surprised? Will you buy Tarte in the future? Leave a comment below!
My disclaimer: The information presented is my opinion based on *a lot* of research. When a company gives incredibly strong suggestions to the consumer that they are green/natural (through packaging ploys, sales material, or even making full ingredient lists hard to find), I take issue. You might disagree with my perspective on what constitutes greenwashing. That’s cool. There’s no real definition for it anyway. I just ask that keep your comments classy and constructive. Do your own research on each brand’s ingredients and decide for yourself what is good enough for you. This series is not as much about shaming as it is about bringing to light subjects allowing us to be more informed consumers and hopefully encourage brands to be more truthful in their marketing practices and formulations.