Last Updated on May 10, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
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.
What Types of Products Are We Talking About?
When researching Bath and Body Works ingredients, we’re looking at aaallll 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 Red Flag: Huge Lack of Ingredient Transparency
The first GLARING problem when it comes to Bath and Body Works’ products is that the ingredients aren’t listed on their website!
Transparency is one of the most important aspects of a safe brand; consumers deserve to know exactly what is in the products they buy. So when we come across a company that doesn’t care to disclose that info (or is actively trying to hide it, perhaps?), that’s an immediate indicator that it might not be a clean, safe brand.
That being said, companies are legally required to list skin and body care product’s ingredients on the label, so the ingredients aren’t exactly a secret (well, with the exception of the fragrance, but we’ll get to that in a minute).
So, we’ve gone through Bath and Body Works’ products and pulled out the most common and most concerning ingredients.
Bath and Body Works Ingredients: Top Toxins of Concern
When you search “Bath and Body Works” on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database, you’ll find that all of the products listed have a score of at least 4 or higher. In terms of toxic ingredients, 4 is considered “moderate.” It’s not the most harmful product or ingredient on the market, but it’s not safe either. Many of Bath and Body Works’ Products score around the 6 to 8 range. (1 is the best; 10 is the worst.)
Now, EWG’s database isn’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to whether or not a product is safe, but it does give us a good general, overarching view of whether or not a certain brand or product can be considered “clean.” And so far, the view is not looking so good.
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, in fact, a huge problem though. Because of what’s called the “fragrance loophole,” companies are legally allowed to hide almost 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 3,500+ chemicals are known to be toxic to human, animal, and environmental health. They include phthalates, carcinogens, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens, irritants, and more.
Yes, every single one of Bath and Body Works’ products could easily include multiple toxins that fit into any of those categories (or several of them!).
If you want to dive a bit deeper into why synthetic fragrances are bad and which chemicals are the most harmful, check out this article.
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 they mess with the natural hormone function of your body. This can lead to or contribute to a number of negative health outcomes, including cancer, infertility, and reproductive problems. Parabens can also cause skin irritation.
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 in children, hypersensitivity, allergic reactions, tumor growth, and cancer.
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 a skin irritant and can cause or exacerbate things like rashes, dry skin, or eczema for some individuals. SLES is less harsh on the skin, but due to the way it’s manufactured, it can be contaminated with carcinogens.
Here are some safer, sulfate-free brands to check out:
This ingredient (along with other 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 toxic to aquatic life and is a suspected endocrine disruptor.
Polyethylene glycol and its compounds (a.k.a. PEGs) are 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.
The main concern with PEGs is that, because of the way they’re processed, they may be contaminated with carcinogens called ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Not only that but PEGs also increase the penetrability of other ingredients, which means they can make other bad ingredients (like phthalates, etc.) even worse.
If you’re curious, you can read more about PEGs in our post about whether or not Downy Unstopables are toxic.
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 (it’s basically like burning fossil fuels in your home). You can read more about that here.
Is Bath and Body Works a Sustainable or Eco-Friendly Brand?
We know that from an ingredient standpoint, Bath and Body Works is NOT sustainable or eco-friendly, since many of their materials and ingredients are toxic to the environment, do not biodegrade, and cannot be easily recycled (so much plastic!).
Bath and Body Works has, however, implemented SOME sustainability initiatives, such as recycling programs in their stores and eliminating PVC containers. Still, it’s not nearly enough to call the company “sustainable.”
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 suspect 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.
Sooo, 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 doesn’t 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.” Whenever you see the word “proprietary,” that should be a big yellow flag for you. 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.
They go 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 safe to use.
And we’ve already done a lot of the research for you at The Filtery! 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 toxic ingredients, confusing info about animal testing, and lack of sustainability initiatives, it gets a big fat F from us! If buying clean, non-toxic, and eco-friendly products is important to you, we recommend staying far away from Bath and Body Works.