The Good, The Bad, & the Unhealthy

Bad Boy Burt

Lil bumble bee on a purple flower, dark aesthetic.

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When something becomes pretty popular I become suspicious.

Is it actually all that?

Burt’s Bees seemed to be one of those crowd favorites, so I wanted to see if the hype matched the product. Plus, I’ve bought some of their products in past like tinted lip balms or face washes.

Was I also being lied to?

So here’s the buzz on Burt’s Bees. (Yea, sorry I can’t help myself when it comes to puns.)

Burt’s Bees has grown rapidly since 2007 when Clorox purchased it for almost a billion dollars. Now it offers shampoos, baby products, and even makeup, but the brand wasn’t always a part of a major corporation. Nor did it start in the 2000s, it had really humble beginnings.

The brand originally formed in the 80s (yep, almost 40 years ago!) and only made candles. They later expanded to personal health care products in the 90s which is when their popular lip balms were created, and are still the company’s number one selling product. Even I’m a fan of the balm.

A decade later in the 2000s the company continued to grown, and even used profits to preserve land + build a relationship with The Nature Conservancy. …Which all sounds really simple and wholesome until the brand was bought by Clorox.

From there I became skeptical as to how clean and natural Burt’s Bees had become in the years after. Especially since the brand started to increase in product type, and the availability in stores. Most bought-out brands end up losing their small-business integrity, and original mission in favor of expansion.

With Burt’s Bees there were some good, and bad things I learned. Some of which I didn’t expect.

Earth Comes First

One of the truly great things Burt’s Bees has done since its creation is the continued advocacy for the planet. Here are some examples of the way the brand has stuck to its roots.

All products are cruelty-free, free of parabens, phalates, petrol-chemicals and sulfates.

Bees have always been their priority, so they have some different programs to help support our flying friends. Check out all the initiatives here.

The company has a recycle/take back program so customers can send back any Burt’s Bees container back to be recycled (3 or more per package) for free.

They’ve revived multiple awards for their zero-waste practices by turning all byproducts into biomass-fuels, electricity and cement.

Ingredients are sourced from sustainable communities where consumers can easily trace the supply chain.

**They even check the nature of the local political climate where they commit to gathering resources from.**

That’s a lot of good offered by just one brand, and they’re incredibly transparent about all this. Just click on their website to see any of the aforementioned details. So how can a brand with all these great practices, programs, and a transparent business model have any issues?

The Problem With Natural

All of Burt’s Bees products claim to be 99-100% natural, and adhere to NPA Standards (the Natural Product Association). However, there is a fundamental problem with using the term natural whether it be for a food or personal-use product.

Fact: “the Food and Drug Administration does not have a formal definition for the term natural.”

Neither does organic.

Because there is almost no regulation on either term, “natural” doesn’t actually have to be “natural”. Generally, it means that whatever is being advertised has had little processing done to it and few to no synthetic materials in it.

So yes, Burt’s Bees is primarily natural, but even they themselves admit they use the synthetic preservative on their website. Yay for transparency! But also… nay for the use of synthetics?

The synthetic they reference is called phenoxyethanol, but all you really need to know is that this isn’t the only ingredient concern that appears in their products.

While the health risks their products have rarely stray into cancer territory, they have reproductive/developmental issues as well as immunotoxicity, and allergies. Not the worst, but not the best. Especially when many of their products rate as a 3 or higher on EWG.

For those who need a quick rundown on the scoring system of the Skin Deep database, or want to check the risk of a product for yourself, you can check out my guide. (My rule of thumb is to not use any product higher than a 2.)

What’s Good?

There are about 6 products that score low on the database, of which have been checked and are Bona Fide Babe approved. Yup, literally all of their other products have health concerns. So here are the good ones:

Lip Balm, Peppermint

Lip Balm, All Weather SPF

Lip Balm Tin, Beeswax

Lipstick

Therapeutic Bath Crystals

Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash, Fragrance Free

Please note that just because these 6 pass the test does not mean other, similar Burt’s products pass. For instance the “Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash” passes at a 1, while their “Baby Bee Powder to Cream” rates as a 5. Or the lipstick is a 1, but the lip gloss rates as a 4.

I was happy to find out that the lip balms I’ve used, and liked before are ok, but that was it. Any other product, even the Baby Bee line, had questionable ingredients!

For those who are interested in specifics, the ingredients that raise the biggest concerns are:

Amylcinnamaldehyde – synthetic scent associated with contact dermatitis and allergies.

SD Alcohol 1 – a mixture of ethanol which is considered broadly toxic and linked to birth defects. Less toxic when not directly ingested, though still toxic.

Limonene – a solvent/ingredient (naturally) derived from citrus rinds. When stored or exposed to air it oxidizes and becomes a respiratory/skin irritant.

Check the Skin Deep database for the other ingredients/health risks present in Burt’s Bees products.

Ride or Die

Burt Schavitz - a thin, white-haired & beared, scruffy lookin' dude sitting on a motorcycle in black leather. Holding up a peace sign.
Burt Schavitz (the original Burt) via the Burt’s Bees Website

After doing the research on Burt’s Bees would I still buy and support the brand? Simply put, yes.

Prior to doing research I only looked into the ingredient/health risks of the products, and didn’t like the results. I wanted them to be safe, but the majority of their products just weren’t ok for regular use.

Babes should generally avoid all other Burt’s Bees product not explicitly listed here or given a 1 rating.

That said, what I learned is that Burt’s Bees is one of the most transparent brands on the market today (despite being owned by Clorox). They even admit to ingredient concerns in their own products!

Thoughtful business practices are apparent through every step of their sourcing from environmental to socio-political concerns. Their legitimate efforts to protect the bees is also a welcome effort, but unfortunately becoming a vital one too. And the free recycle program they offer is a truly commendable feature most brands don’t have. So stick with their classic lip balms because it supports you, an (overall) good brand, and the bees.

Bona Fide Babes can ride with bad boy Burt once in a while. 🐝

Information Resources

The Word Natural In Advertising

Federal Trade Commission on: “Natural”

Burt’s Bees Company

FDA Organic Regulations

Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

The Nature Conservancy

Federal Trade Commission on “Natural”

As always, be sure to reference the reviews of any product. Never take one person’s word as law because everyone is different! You’ll have different skin needs or desires which can be re-affirmed by other’s experiences.

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