Don't be fooled by misleading 'organic' beauty products
Companies within the health and beauty industry are misleading consumers by labelling their products as 'organic', even if they contain some potentially hazardous substances.
Although the organic food industry is one of the most highly regulated systems on the planet, the organic beauty industry has been left by the wayside with no recognised, official, international regulation.
Even though the ingredients list might look like something out of star wars, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the products we are applying to both our own - and our family’s - skin.
With the consistent growth of the ‘natural’ health and beauty industry, companies are choosing to label products 'organic' even if they contain less than 1 per cent of organic ingredients, or even if they contain some potentially hazardous substances.
The Soil Association has taken action jointly with three other international organic partners, developing global organic standards for cosmetics and beauty products under the name of COSMOS.
Some of the nasties commonly found in non-organic beauty products, such as phthalates, parabens and PEGs can also be found in floor cleaners, oven cleaners and antifreeze.
Some chemicals like phthalates have even been banned in children’s toys due to the risk they pose to children’s health - yet we continue to put these chemicals onto our skin.
Worse than this, some of these products are being labelled as ‘biological’, ‘natural’ or even ‘organic’. The skin is the largest organ of the body – which is why we should know exactly what we’re getting when it comes to skincare.
Know what you’re buying
The best way to be reassured when it comes to organic beauty products is to look for the symbol of an independent and recognised certification body – like the Soil Association or COSMOS.
Genuine organic products that show a stamp of approval have been checked by a qualified independent inspector and are certified by experts (an accredited certification body).
To demonstrate their independence, certification bodies must be accredited by a national accreditation body – usually a government department as in the UK – and are themselves inspected and regulated to make sure they are applying organic standards fairly and thoroughly.
If you’re worried about whether a product really is organic or not, look for the logo. If you can’t find an organic product, look for products independently certified as natural, for example displaying the ‘COSMOS NATURAL’ logo.
These are produced to similar, carefully defined standards as organic products but use natural, rather than organic, ingredients. The Soil Association‘s website has a list of companies who make brilliant organic products you can trust.
Some great organic businesses are out there doing the very best that they can to make sure that consumers get exactly what they ask for. For these companies, as many ingredients as possible are organically certified.
But being organic is about more than just making sure the organic ingredients are truly organic.
The remaining ingredients must meet strict criteria to ensure that they are not damaging to our health or the environment, and the overall product must also meet environmental standards for packaging and manufacturing - and use approved 'green chemistry' processes for any modified ingredients.
Genuine organic products are clearly labelled so you can make an informed choice about the product you are buying, and non-organic ingredients will only be used if no organic equivalents are available. All ingredients will be GM free.
The bad guys
The worst of the bunch are companies that market their products as organic, but on closer inspection, do not have a single organic ingredient in the mix.
For example, American haircare brand Organix (not to be confused with the UK baby food brand which is genuinely organic and certified by the Soil Association) has a range of shampoos and conditioners on sale here in the UK which don’t contain any organic ingredients.
In contrast, they do seem to contain some of the more nasty chemicals such as Cocamide DEA, a synthetic ingredient which can cause an allergic skin rash. Cocamide DEA is not allowed in certified organic health and beauty products.
From the beginning of September this year a court injunction has prevented Organix hair products being sold in California –because Organix were found to be misleading consumers with their labelling – but there is no such protection for British consumers.
Get the Salon in order
It is time for the health and beauty industry to tackle the problems of misleading marketing and greenwash which are in danger of destroying the credibility of all the claims made by non-organic brands.
This is a major problem - on a quick trip to the shops one of my colleagues found over 10 products that were misleadingly labelled – and this was just in a lunch break!
To counter this, we need to recognise and celebrate the businesses and organisations that are doing all that they can to make sure people are getting exactly what they expect when they buy organic or natural products – genuinely organic, natural and planet friendly beauty products, that are kinder both to our skin and the environment.
These businesses, such as Neal’s Yard, Pai Skincare and Bamford, are being honest in their marketing, using terms like ‘organic and ‘natural’ accurately and with conviction. The rest of the health and beauty industry must either use these terms accurately, or stop using them at all.
Peter Melchett has been Policy Director of the Soil Association, the UK’s main organic food and farming organisation, working on campaigns, standards and policy, since 2001.
He runs an 890-acre organic farm in Norfolk, with beef cattle and arable seed crops. He is a member of the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Government’s Rural Climate Change Forum and Organic Action Plan Group, and the Department of Education’s School Lunches Review Panel.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.