Is Neutrogena’s New Naturals Line Legit?

Many of you have inquired about Neutrogena’s new line of “naturals” so we decided to investigate. We’re always happy to see mainstream indicators of the clean revolution, but we’re also wary of big companies putting out lines that allege to be natural when they’re not. So let’s take a look.

We noticed Neutrogena’s television ad, which features the very pretty Kristen Bell and points to the line’s very pretty website that makes explicit claims about what is not in these five products: no harsh chemical sulfates, parabens, dyes, petrochemicals, and—most notably to us—phthalates. Sounds great right? Let’s look a little further.

A review of the ingredients raises some red flags (or at least suspicious eyebrows). Three of the five products contain fragrance; and while it’s impossible to know what is in any given fragrance formulation without taking it to the lab, we know that many, many, many (most?) fragrances do indeed contain phthalates.

1. Phthalates, as some of you know are, hormone disruptors, and they’ve garnered a lot of negative attention, for good reason. When pressed, Neutrogena told us that their fragrance formulations do not contain phthalates. That’s possible, but we can’t verify it. We do applaud any company that eliminates phthalates, but there are plenty of other ingredients used in “fragrance” that remain a mystery—which we do not like. It leaves way too many questions open for us.

2. As for the sulfates claim, that one checks out—sort of. Sulfates are a buzz word right now, and we have seen lots of companies taking it out and then advertising about it. But what about the replacement ingredients? What is being used instead? Well,  the second ingredient in their face wash—water is the first—is a surfactant called cocamidopropyl betaine. While this  ingredient can be derived from coconut, it’s nonetheless a stripping cleansing ingredient that is shown to irritate skin and can be contaminated with other chemicals. Neutrogena says contamination was due to an older manufacturing process that has been rectified. Great stuff. But it’s still a foaming, stripping agent, and we personally generally try to avoid those on our faces.

3. Last but not least we asked them about propylene glycol (found in their face and body bar), which according to the world’s largest producer of the stuff, Dow, is made from propylene oxide and water. See the graph here. Because propylene oxide is produced from petroleum, we’d classify propylene glycol as a petrochemical. Neutrogena’s response to that was: It is not found in nature and thus not a petrochemical nor a natural product. It is a synthetic material. For a brand with “Naturals” in the name, this made us LOL, but it also made us want to slam our heads into a wall.

Some of the other ingredients in the line are unknown to us, and we’ll have to go through them one by one (um, where is our army of interns?!). That said, there’s no question that these products are cleaner than most of what’s out there—and the lip balm appears to be entirely clean. Kudos for that!

Nobody would be happier than us to see a truly clean line put out by a big company, and we don’t want to hate on positive movement. But at this time, we cannot recommend this line in good conscience. We’d like to encourage Neutrogena to go all the way: Ditch the fragrance, the PG and any other mystery ingredients and embrace this message from your own site: “Transparency is at the heart of Neutrogena® Naturals.”

We’ll be the first ones to champion you then.

Image from their site

29 Responses to “Is Neutrogena’s New Naturals Line Legit?”
  1. candace says:

    I am soooo glad you took a look into this. This add was staring up at me from the back of my Real Simple and I was excited for a bit at the possibility of a brand recognizable clean product. I’m glad to know the truth. Our bodies deserve better.

  2. comagirl says:

    Many years ago, I had a dermatologist advise me to never use pore-clogging Neutrogena products, (not even the handsoap). Many an aesthetician has advised the same. Because of this, I’m not really one who would even attempt the “natural” line.

    Neutrogena has one of the most distinct fragrances around. I assume it is their trademark to smell “medicinal”, but my current skin care line is fragrance-free and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  3. lisa cressey says:

    thanks for the review! good to know!!

  4. shannon says:

    Thanks for looking into this!

  5. Steph says:

    Im going to be optimistic and consider it a step in the right direction. In regards to finding affordable cleans products, I quite like green beaver. Using locally sourced and created Canadian products sends my heart a pitter patter.

  6. Alexandra says:

    I agree with Stephanie. Even if we wish they went all the way, I think it’s progress for sure.

  7. Jaime says:

    I was wondering about this too!
    And I love how you cant even comment/leave a review on the page because it has to be reviewed before posting!
    What crap!

  8. Katie says:

    Thank you for reviewing this product. I have been wondering how “natural” it really is.

  9. Teddy says:

    I don’t consider Neutrogena’s new line progress, I consider it hucksterism. Trying to cash in without providing an honest product. Boo – hiss. Companies who try to ingratiate themselves with claims of being “natural”, and in doing so, deceive the public, should be called on their stuff. Thanks for doing just that. You guys rock.

  10. merry says:

    I’m still on my first greener face wash I bought after reading the book (face boutique’s peachy clean:, though I got it off but it’s no longer on there, though other products from the brand are), and it’s third ingredient iscocamidopropyl betaine :( (second is sodium cocoamphoacetate). it does say it’s sourced from coconut oil, but… dang it. I AM breaking out a whole lot less since I started using it, so that’s good? I’m probably going to try leap organics, zum, or keys next. I just need something that plays nice with normal but acne prone skin!

  11. Rebecca says:

    I’m a bit torn…I’d like to believe this is progress, but I think I’m leaning toward what Teddy says. It does seem like cashing in on what Neutrogena sees as a trend, not true commitment to being clean.

  12. Anne says:

    Thanks for doing the dirty work! The $7 price tag was definitely flirting with me at CVS… but I had some reservations, and you confirmed them.

  13. Bella says:

    Thank you for this review. It seems ‘transparency’ has become
    A thing of the past. We need crusaders to push companies to adopt cleaner and sustainable practixes to give us junk-free products. Was at sephora to buy eyelash curlers and got free samples of two philosophy lotions. I know they are uber popular, but am sure their products are laden with unnatural stuff:-(. Just saying.

  14. Caralien says:

    It’s a step in the right direction, though I still make my own products.

    I’m just glad that I no longer have to explain myself to others when it comes to cleansing products–for decades (im 38), I’ve tried to tell people that sodium laurel/laureth sulfates irritated my skin and EVERYONE told me it was all in my head. Lol

  15. Ashlee says:

    Thank you for this great review, but since I work with a Natural Products line, it is upsetting to see a product automatically discounted because it has a smell. But I completely agree with you on the petrochemical issue with the Netrogena’s “Natural Line”. It’s an oxy moron.
    Please look at our JOON products and ingredients list at our website, While we do offer scented & unscented products, you will see our scents are from natural ingrediants, not perfumes or chemicals made in a lab. So it is possible to enjoy a nice scented Natural product, you just have to check wether the scent is naturally or synthetically derived.
    Look forward to reading more!

  16. Rebecca says:

    Ashlee, I don’t think there was any intent to say “scent” is bad. Rather, “fragrance” means something different and typically is either mysterious or downright bad. A scented product will list what makes the scent, for naturals that would generally be essential oils or hydrosols I think. Other products just say “fragrance” and do not specify what that is, and you may be left to wonder if it’s okay or not. Alexandra and Siobhan have supported companies that use the term fragrance (like Dr. Hauschka) when investigation shows it’s not nasty stuff.

  17. Samala says:

    In all transparency I must say I work for a company that has allied itself somewhat with this line.. however, I think it’s really short sighted to write it off as green washing or an attempt to cash in on a trend.

    There are still millions of US women who have zero knowledge of clean cosmetics and seeing products like this one pop up on the shelves of their large chain retailers might make a few pause and wonder what on earth the advertising copy is telling them. “Paraben and sulfate free? Petrochemical free? What on Earth are those and.. why should I care?”

    The more products we see get out into the mainstream that are still affordably priced the more options we have and chances we have of building not only access to such products but also a consumer base that is informed enough to want and demand them. I’m not saying Neutrogena is a bastion of community outreach for clean cosmetics – far from it – but any attempt to clean up an act should be seen as forward progress. I feel the same way for other progressive-but-imperfect brands like Boots’ organics line, Burts Bees, and Yes to Carrots.

    I cant convince the everyday public I work with to switch up to products that are clean-er for them if they cant get them at reasonable prices and in their communities. Suggesting to most of my outreach communities that they online order from boutiques for very high priced naturals just isnt possible. No one would listen and they’d go back to their Herbal Essences. It’s like suggesting that anyone who wants to eat better go shop only at Whole Foods for locally sourced organics instead of starting out with the local farmer’s market (that still uses petrochemical fertilizers and thus isnt perfect) or the supermarket organics (that aren’t local).

    It’s going to be an evolution to get to where this campaign would like to be with our personal care products, not an overnight revolution.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Hmm, this reeks of deception to me. Neutragena knows what it’s doing–they’re absolutely not stumbling around in the dark just trying their hardest to come up with a healthy product. They’re greenwashing, unabashedly, and creating a cheaper product by loading it with synthetic fillers–all the while crossing their fingers that they’ll dupe the public and giggle themselves all the way to the bank.

    Ah. Anyway.

    @Merry, Keys Island Rx Facial wash is pretty awesome. It sounds like we may have pretty similar skin. I’ve been using this cleanser for a few weeks now, and I am decidely impressed.

  19. Colin says:

    I don’t have anything to do with this particular brand, but I can speculate as to how it came into existence. The brand managers at Neutrogena were looking to launch some new products to keep their offering fresh. They probably had a brain storming session (i.e., chatted) and did some market research (i.e., sat on the internet looking at blogs and doing a bit of googling). They would find a few blogs where people talked about safe cosmetics. Who knows, it could even have been this one.

    A few meetings, possibly a trip or two to a trade show and a half dozen or so powerpoint presentations later they would have hit on their concept. The consumer is concerned about the safety of their cosmetics and they need to address those fears.

    At this stage they would have talked to the chemists in the labs, who would have looked back at them totally baffled and point out that their current products are perfectly safe. They might well point out that making sure things are safe is why they spend all that time reading research papers, which frankly aren’t page turners. There would then be some haggling while a consensus emerged about which of the many scare stories circulating on the internet it made most commercial sense to capitalise on without messing up the performance of the end product too much. (You have, incidentally, no idea what torture it is for the technical bods to have to play along with some of this rubbish. Why is an acetate ok but a sulphate not? Its like telling a chef he can’t use puff pastry because it is dangerous but flaky pastry is fine.)

    Eventually the final product would come out. Of course the final thing isn’t quite what anybody wants, but it will get past the supermarket buyers and onto the shelves which is the most important – indeed the all important – step. And it gives the advertising team something new to talk about. If a few people who are really into the natural story are disappointed, well mass market isn’t about pleasing everyone. If it is any consolation, the guys in the labs will be even unhappier.

  20. Siobhan says:

    Thanks for your valuable input Colin! Colin, for those of you who don’t know his blog or his tweets, is a beauty chemist who I recently emailed with about a post I’ll put up shortly. Always interesting to hear about the other side of things.

  21. Mo says:

    Seriously I think it is lousy for you green lovers to jam up the organics revolution by running in the other direction. Calm down – take an interest & stop feeling so bamboozed all the time.

    Lets just pretend for a second that Neutrogena really does mean what they say & who they seek to serve (you) and that they are the ones actually going the right way. I am pretty sure that this company does not think we are all a bunch of morons, and would just accept a fragrance as an ingredient if it flew in the face of their effort to build a green line from the ground up.

    I am a big fan of fragrance – it makes everything a little more yummy – and I am glad they are not going to a no flavor beauty remedy. I want natural & I want yummy & they are doing right by me.

    I doubt that full green can happen overnight and in a not green world that relies on a chain of not green suppliers – I’d say this is what we need to applaud. I say Go Neutrogena – keep up the investment in R&D in this area – and I for one will support your effort by buying your products (I have the lip balm on my desk in front of me).

    I for one understand that if we want efforts like this to succeed we need to support them. If we stop buying – guess what – we will not be enough market share to keep these things in development.

  22. Cakie says:

    Neutrogena also tests on animals, or at least is a part of Johnson & Johnson, which does. That means AVEENO (which people think is natural and its not!), and any other item that J & J manufacturers is part of it and will continue as long as people buy it and do not know.

    Thanks for looking into this new line and letting us know to pass and let them do a bit better job!

  23. Mely says:

    Thanks for the information. I have the face wash and scrub but am very upset at the reason why their not 100% natural and seem to give out a red flag about the ingredients> i became upset at the fact that they don’t mark the last two ingredients and why the heck does fragrance need to be an important ingredient to make the product work and my God its a really strong smell. In my own opinion I think you should never trust a company marketing a natural line when they have other things full of crap ingredients that are bad for us. They can try all they want but I gave these soaps to some one else that though they were cool and don’t really understand why its best to get stuff with no chemicals. At least its better then most other stuff in their line but still not great. I think if a beauty like want to be really natural they start from their first product and continue from their. Any product with extreme means of advertising isn’t all that great. Its the people that use it that tell you the truth. I use kiss my face, and Nubian Heritage products and love them as for my face products I use a homeopathic acne wash called nelsons pure and clear. I almost sent them an email voicing my concerns and opinions but instead I decided to just teach my friends and people I know to beware of conventional brands that market natural products its just a decoy.

    Thanks for this post it was exactly what I had in my mind about these products and this apply to food too. Is natural really what they say it is. Just remember to read the ingredients list and but organic as much as you can .

  24. Sarah says:

    I’m 17, and a few months ago, I was really new to the “clean cosmetics” world. I came across Neutrogena Naturals, recommended by the magazine Whole Living. I saw that it was available close by for a very cheap price, and it had the buzzwords “paraben-free”, etc, so I sent my mom out to buy some for me. I really should have taken a look at the ingredients list beside my freshly printed out “Toxic Ten”.

    I’m still on the hunt for an inexpensive facial cleanser. I would go the no-cleansing route but I do wear makeup regularly.

  25. Kaleigh says:

    It blows my mind that so many people who “support” the idea of cleaning up the cosmetics industry are so fast to shoot down a big company that could pioneer the process of making clean beauty a more widely accessible priority. Though I think it’s important to research and never stop asking questions and demanding more sustainable and responsible products, this is progress worth supporting and investing in.

    I’d like to echo what Samala said and add that, as a resident in a smaller city where luxury green beauty products aren’t as readily available to me as they are to many of you, committing to cleaning up this aspect of my life is time-consuming and pricey. If you really want to see change happen on a noticeable level where survival of the fittest might truly revolutionize the industry, you have to keep the average consumer in mind and step into his shoes and consider the Neutrogena Naturals line from that place. By condemning this line to a negative, dishonest reputation we are intimidating potential converts and, from a marketing perspective, leaving them hopelessly attached to their dirty products because buying a much cleaner but still slightly flawed Neutrogena product is still dirty and also more expensive than saying “fuck it” and sticking to your $4 dirty face wash. Buying the Neutrogena Naturals face moisturizer without harsh chemicals, dirty ingredients, or animal testing is far more responsible and a huge step in the right direction opposed to buying your old St. Ives collagen elastin moisturizer which claims to be natural but is much, much dirtier.

    Everyone has to start somewhere and big changes will only happen if the community involved is large enough to make an impact. Supply and demand is real. The supply will only become available in proportion to the demand. If expensive products in fancy boutiques are the only endorsed suppliers for naturals, all hope that natural and sustainable become commonplace is essentially a lost cause.

  26. Mar says:

    I have just looked at at least 3 face wash natural products (which are affordable) and Neal Yard’s Shampoo and cocamidopropyl betaine is in all of them. I also found out that cocamidopropyl betaine can be a safe ingredient if it’s plant-derived. I am so confused! I mean not all of us can afford brands like Kahina and Tata Harper which are for people who associate expensive with effective.

  27. Elissa says:

    Thank you for the article! I have been wondering this also. I just started selling amazing products with a company called Arbonne. Our products do not claim to be all natural but that is because we use some man made materials to replace any animal products. All of the man made products we use have been thoroughly researched to make sure they are beneficial and in no way harmful. Plus it is the best line of products i have ever used. All of my clients agree as well. If anyone is interested in learning more let me know. We can do an online information party so you can learn more. Email me at

  28. Barbara says:

    Hi! This article is awesome. Has anyone heard of think dirty app? this is exactly the kind of stuff they aim to let consumers know! if not

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