Last Updated on January 10, 2023 by The Filtery
Walking into the Bath and Body Works store and trying all of their different scents is a favorite past time for many of us who grew up walking around malls. Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion! Warm Vanilla Sugar body spray! Eucalyptus Spearmint candles! It seems like the smells are endless… but are they good for you?
The rise in consumer demand for safer and more transparent skincare products and home goods is leading many people to start questioning the brands they used to love. Is Bath and Body Works safe? Does using their products put you at risk for negative health effects?
We’re going to look at Bath and Body Works’ ingredients, environmental initiatives, and animal testing policies to find out whether they can be considered a “clean” brand.
First, a Quick Note
We recognize that Bath & Body Works is one of those brands to which many people feel loyal. Maybe you have been using and loving Bath & Body Works products for years, and you might find comfort and joy in the scents they offer and the memories associated with them. Our goal is not to take away those joys, but simply to provide you with some information so that you can decide what’s best for yourself and your family. These days, so many people are dealing with things like asthma & allergies, autoimmune conditions, chemical sensitivities, cancer, and other chronic illnesses, which can be caused or exacerbated by the ingredients in our personal care and home products. We believe consumers deserve to know what’s actually in the products they buy and to be empowered to avoid them if they choose.
What Types of Products Are We Talking About?
When researching Bath and Body Works ingredients, we’ve looked at all categories of their products. That includes:
- Scented Candles (We actually have an entire article about whether or not Bath and Body Works candles are toxic, and why.)
- Wallflowers and Room Fresheners (You can read our article that’s specifically about Bath & Body Works Wallflowers right here.)
- Fragrances, Sprays, and “Aromatherapy” Products
- Lotions, Moisturizers, and Body Creams
- Soaps, Body Washes, and Bath Bombs
- Hand Soaps & Sanitizers
In fact, although they have different functions, these home and beauty products contain many of the same ingredients.
First Potential Problem: Lack of Ingredient Transparency
The first problem when it comes to Bath and Body Works’ products is that the ingredients for most of their products aren’t listed on their website.
Because of a new California law, you can now access the ingredients for their home fragrance products (candles, Wallflowers, and room sprays) if you click on the “Product Ingredients” link at the bottom of their website and use the search bar provided. That’s something!
But if you’re on an individual product page or in a physical store, you won’t be able to find the specific ingredients for those home fragrance products.
The ingredients for their personal care products like lotion and body wash are not listed anywhere on their website—neither on the individual product pages nor in a separate database. In order to find the ingredients for these types of products, you’ll have to either look at the back of the actual product in a store or find a photo of the back of the bottle somewhere else online (like on Amazon).
This just generally makes things more difficult and confusing for customers. Of course, just because a product’s ingredients are unavailable or difficult to find doesn’t automatically mean that product is toxic, but we believe consumers deserve to know what’s in the products they buy and use without going to a bunch of extra work!
We’ve gotten used to this when it comes to food. Most people believe we deserve to know what we’re putting in our bodies when we eat a meal or a snack. It’s necessary because of specific allergies and sensitivities, but it’s also helpful simply for the sake of personal agency and responsibility.
Why should it be any different for the personal care and home products that we put on our skin and breathe in through the air?
On top of that, consumers still don’t have access to all of Bath & Body Works’ ingredients, and that’s because of what’s called the fragrance loophole. We’ll talk about that next…
Bath and Body Works Ingredients: Top Ingredients of Concern
Even though Bath & Body Works doesn’t list the ingredients on the product pages of their website, you can still find them elsewhere online and/or on the backs of the bottles of the personal care products. So we’ve gone through Bath and Body Works’ products and pulled out the most common and potentially concerning ingredients.
Fragrance, of course, is what Bath and Body Works is known for. They’ve released hundreds of different scents, from the classic Warm Vanilla Sugar to Iced Raspberry Bellini to Twinkling Midnight Sky, and many, many more.
Almost every single one of Bath and Body Works’ products has the ingredient “fragrance” listed on the label. (If you can find one without it, let us know because we couldn’t!)
This ingredient is a big problem though. Because of what’s called the “fragrance loophole,” companies are legally allowed to hide about 4,000 different chemicals in their products under the simple umbrella term of “fragrance,” “parfum,” or “eau de toilette.” This is because fragrance formulations are protected as “trade secrets.”
Many of those ~4,000 chemicals are perfectly safe and harmless. But many others are known to be toxic to human, animal, and environmental health. Phthalates are one example. Most people have at least heard of phthalates by now, and are aware that they are known endocrine disruptors that can have negative effects on natural hormone function and lead to things like fertility problems, cancer, and more.
Other categories of ingredients that are allowed to be included in products under the “fragrance loophole” include carcinogens (like styrene, for example), volatile organic compounds (like formaldehyde and toluene), allergens (even naturally-derived ones like limonene and linalool), and other ingredients that can irritate those with pre-existing issues like allergies, asthma, multiple chemical sensitivity, eczema, etc.
This means that every single Bath & Body Works product (since they all contain “fragrance”) can potentially contain any number of these types of ingredients and you’d never know it (unless you actually tested it).
Ingredients like methylparaben and butylparaben are also commonly used as preservatives in many Bath and Body Works products. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors, which means that, like phthalates, they can mess with the natural hormone function of one’s body. For this reason, they’re associated with a number of negative health outcomes, including cancer and fertility problems.
Artificial Colors & Dyes
You’ll find many artificial colors and dyes (listed on labels as things like “FD&C Red No. 40” or “FD&C Yellow 5”) in Bath and Body Works’ products as well. The most commonly used colorants are made from coal tar and/or petroleum and can be contaminated with carcinogens.
We need a lot more independent research on the potential health effects of these types of dyes, but many of the studies that have been done so far have linked them to hyperactivity and/or hypersensitivity in children and cancer/tumor growth (from DNA damage and cell mutation).
Commonly used in cleansing products like soaps and shampoos, sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is another group of ingredients to watch out for.
SLS is an irritant and can cause or exacerbate things like rashes, dry skin, or eczema for some individuals. For many people, it’s harmless as long as it’s used in the right concentrations and washed off after use. However, those with skin sensitivities may want to experiment with getting rid of SLS to see if it helps them.
Many manufacturers started replacing SLS with SLES because it is less harsh on the skin. However, due to the way it’s manufactured, it can be contaminated with carcinogens (more on that below).
These two ingredients are definitely not the “worst” in terms of potential toxicity, but they are worth being aware of for some individuals. If you’re looking for personal care products that are free from sulfates, here are some related guides you might be interested in:
This ingredient (along with other similar isothiazolinone preservatives) is commonly used in cleaning products like hand soap, shampoo, and body wash. Methylisothiazolinone is not only a skin irritant and sensitizer, but it’s also suspected to be a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor).
There are limits to the amount of isothiazolinone preservatives that are allowed in personal care products (which vary by country), so like SLS, it’s not problematic for everyone. But again, those with skin sensitivities might want to watch out for it.
Bath & Body Works products also contain plenty of ethoxylated ingredients. This includes SLES (mentioned above), as well as “PEGs” and other ingredients with “eth” in the name.
“Ethoxylation” refers to the way these chemicals are processed. They’re commonly used in all sorts of makeup and skincare, along with cleaning and beauty products. They function as thickeners, softeners, perfume “dispersants,” penetration enhancers, and more. It’s practically impossible to avoid ethoxylated ingredients 100%, but many conscious consumers may still want to be aware of them.
The main concern with ethoxylated ingredients has to do with potential contamination of two ingredients used to manufacture them: ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Ethylene oxide is an irritant that’s known to cause multiple types of cancer and infertility. And 1,4 dioxane is also a known carcinogen. Since these ingredients aren’t added intentionally, but rather are contaminants, they won’t be found on any ingredient labels.
Not only that, but as “penetration enhancers,” they can also increase the how much of other ingredients your body absorbs, which means they can make other bad ingredients (like phthalates, for example) even worse.
Ethoxylated ingredients aren’t the “worst,” but they’re not great either.
Most of Bath and Body Works’ candles are made with paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum. When it’s burned, paraffin releases toxins in the air. We won’t dive deep into this part here in this article because we’ve got a separate article about it here.
Is Bath and Body Works a Sustainable or Eco-Friendly Brand?
Most people would not consider Bath and Body Works to be sustainable or eco-friendly, as many of their materials and ingredients are toxic to ecosystems, do not biodegrade, and cannot be easily recycled (so much plastic!).
Bath and Body Works has, however, implemented some minimal sustainability initiatives, such as recycling programs in their stores and eliminating PVC containers.
What About Their [Viral] Return/Recycling Program?
In the fall of 2021, some posts went viral on TikTok about how you can return Bath and Body Works empty candle jars (or any other products, for that matter), and the company will refund you or give you new products.
This content has led some people to believe it’s a part of Bath and Body Works’ recycling program… but it’s not. Bath and Body Works doesn’t have a program in place to recycle customers’ used candle jars or other products. The reason the company’s store employees are taking back customers’ products is actually a part of their general return policy, which says that “if at any time you’re not completely satisfied with the quality of our products, you may return them.” This policy is technically not supposed to be for almost-completely-used-up products, even though some people on social media were using is that way.
Is Bath and Body Works Cruelty-Free?
Does Bath and Body Works test on animals? Unfortunately, it’s hard to say. Here is what their website says:
“Bath & Body Works does not test any of our products, formulations or ingredients on animals. Period. All of our personal care products are produced in North America, Europe and South Korea.”
However, this statement is controversial because of the fact that Bath and Body Works sells products in China. Chinese law requires that any products manufactured outside of the country be tested on animals before they’re sold to its citizens. An older version of the company’s statement (pictured below) explains that any products sold in China will be produced there too, thus eliminating the need for animal testing.
So, what happened with the products being sold in China, and why did Bath and Body Works remove this information from their animal testing statement?
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to gain our trust and we cannot confidently say that Bath and Body Works is a cruelty-free brand.
Is Bath and Body Works Vegan?
Although Bath and Body Works does carry some vegan products, they are not a vegan-friendly brand due to the lack of clarity on the animal testing front.
It’s also worth noting that Bath and Body Works does not have any statements on their website regarding vegan and/or animal-derived products or ingredients.
Where are Bath and Body Works Products Made?
According to their website, most of Bath and Body Works products are manufactured in the USA, Europe, South Korea, and China (they say that less than 1% of their products are made in China).
However, they do add that “Specific manufacturing information is proprietary because we own the rights to the product and formula.” Usually, the word “proprietary” is a yellow flag because it basically means “secret.” Companies will often use the fact that they don’t want other brands to steal from them as an excuse to keep information secret for customers. As discussed earlier in this article, we believe consumers deserve to know this type of information about the products they buy.
Bath & Body Works goes on to say that “We work with vendors throughout the global world market to source and manufacture our products.” This means that even though the products made by formulated and packaged in the USA, the ingredients may come from just about anywhere.
Better Brands to Use Instead
Even though pretty much all of Bath and Body Works’ products contain unhealthy and potentially harmful ingredients, the good news is that there are lots of brands that smell great, are good for your skin, and are safer for both people and planet.
And we’ve already done a lot of the research for you. For example, if you’re looking for non-toxic candle alternatives, check out this guide. If you want a better body wash, click here or here. If you want to replace your plug-in Wallflower, this article is for you. Here are some clean body fragrance and perfume brands. And for better lotions and moisturizers, check out this article.
Conclusion: TL;DR: Is Bath and Body Works a “Clean” Brand?
Because of Bath and Body Works’ lack of transparency, wide use of questionable and mystery ingredients, confusing info about animal testing, and lack of sustainability initiatives, it probably wouldn’t be considered a clean, non-toxic, or sustainable brand by most conscious consumers.
Image Credits: Dids, Rebecca Peterson-Hall, cottonbro
Sounds like a competitors hit piece.
‘Lack of transparency’ is fairly objective and to double down and equate that to assume something must be wrong is ludicrous.
I give your rating system a big fat F
No, not a competitor’s hit piece. 🙂 For individuals who want (or need) to reduce their exposure to environmental toxins, ingredient transparency is actually one of the most important things. When it comes to food, companies are legally required to label what’s in their products so that consumers can be informed and make the right choices for themselves and their health. This is not only necessary for things things like allergies and intolerances, but is also just generally important for freedom of choice and ensuring consumers’ have control over their overall wellbeing. Why should it be any different for home, cleaning, and personal care products? We are breathing these products in, putting them onto our skin, etc., and we believe consumers have the right to know what’s in these types of products. You are right that just because a brand/product does not provide ingredient transparency does not automatically mean it’s bad. However, unfortunately, consumers have hidden toxic ingredients in their products for decades, which is why, again, we believe transparency is such an important piece. 🙂