More and more people are turning to natural organic cosmetics due to safety and healthy reasons, both for people and environment. Sells of natural organic cosmetics are steadily growing, so it comes as no surprise that many would like a piece of this cake. However, ingredients in natural organic cosmetics are far more expensive than toxic synthetic ingredients in conventional cosmetic products. This is where things may turn ugly – especially for us, consumers of natural organic cosmetics, as well as those, who make genuine natural organic cosmetics.
Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly.
On one hand we have major conventional cosmetic brands, which want to be a part of this green/eco/natural/organic movement. So what they do, is basically re-brand conventional cosmetic products, add a few natural (but not necessary organic) ingredients, put a green leaf and a word “natural” on a package, and sell it as, well, natural. A quick look at the ingredient label (click here for basic toxic ingredients to avoid in your cosmetic products) on such product proves the product is anything but natural, and most certainly not organic. They take an advantage of consumers, who wish to switch to (more) natural, even organic cosmetic products, but may not be well versed in ingredients language and/or would like to pay less than they would for organic/certified organic cosmetic products.
On the other hand we have small makers of natural organic cosmetic products, producing small batches of fresh products with organic ingredients, even certified organic ingredients, but the whole product is not certified as organic, since acquiring an organic certification is still proving to be quite an expensive and time consuming endeavor for small brands. So how do we, consumers, go about buying cosmetic products that are truly natural, organic? And why isn’t a word “natural” enough and what do other labels, such as green, eco, bio mean?
- Organic Cosmetics
- Natural Cosmetics
- Green Cosmetics
- Eco/Eco Friendly Cosmetics
- Environmentally Friendly Cosmetics
- Bio/Biodynamic Cosmetics
Definition of “organic” as per USDA: “A labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”
Ingredients, used in organic cosmetics are usually and mostly derived from vegetables, fruits and herbs. In order for a cosmetic product to be called (and certified) as an organic cosmetic product, it must contain at least 95% of ingredients of an organic origin, whereas the remaining % are, for example, minerals (such as titanium dioxide, used in mineral cosmetics and used as a natural SPF).
What does organic origin mean? Organic origin means that ingredients in cosmetic product must come from organic farming, which is inspected, controlled and regulated. In order to be labeled as organic, farming must not include any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and must not produce any GMO (genetically modified/engineered organism is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques), it must not use or add any toxins or hormones. In order for a cosmetic product to be organic, an organic cosmetic product must use an organic ingredient if such is available (as opposed to a cheap synthetic substitute). Minimal non-organic ingredients, such as certain additives are allowed, from a restricted list of an organic certification body: minimal non-organic ingredients/additives are allowed only if an organic ingredient/additive is not available and it must not be GMO.
The process of cultivating organic sources for ingredient derivation must be ecologically friendly and sound and must not pollute the environment. The packaging must also be ecological, which it means using recycled and recyclable materials (recycled packaging, vegetable ink etc.). Ingredients, such as shea butter and tea tree essential oil, for example, are naturally/wild harvested, which means they come from their historically old natural habitat and are then harvested in accordance to ecologically sound process of not disturbing and/or destroying their natural habitat.
Organic cosmetic products must be animal friendly/cruelty free, which means none of the ingredients nor the final product had been tested on animals.
A term natural should suffice, shouldn’t it, as in a cosmetic product being, well – natural. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It is the most used and quite frankly, abused term to trick us, the consumers, into thinking we’re buying a healthy cosmetic product, when in fact we’re not.
Let’s see one example: rose. A cosmetic product can contain a rose hydrolate or a rose absolute/essential oil. You think what could be wrong, since a flower – rose – is natural, right? If those roses grew on a farm, which is not organic, and harmful fertilizers and pesticides were used, the roses may as well be GMO. But a cosmetic product containing such ingredients would nonetheless still be sold as natural and thus dishonest toward us, the consumers. It would, naturally, heh, be cheaper than the product using organic roses, since the production of these “natural” roses is faster and in much bigger quantities. A cosmetic product may be wrapped in a nice packaging, green colors, green leaves, with inviting “natural” titles on it.
A quick glance at ingredients list may give as “natural” for olive oil and “wild harvested” for shea butter, along with one or two ingredients which are “certified organic”, whereas the rest of the ingredients are synthetic toxic ingredients. It is imperative we learn about toxic ingredients and what it means for a cosmetic product to be truly organic before we buy it.
And then there are petro-ingredients. Oil is natural, is it not? So, a product sold as a body oil, using mineral oil, rose essential oil (or even worse – a synthetic rose fragrance) and a few parabenes is sold as – a natural body oil! The next time you decide to buy some well known baby oil, take a look at the ingredients label; you’re going to be shocked by what you see.
Green cosmetics fall under a similar group as natural cosmetics. Green cosmetics ingredients are mainly of a plant or fruit origin, as opposed to synthetic ingredients; however, such cosmetic product can contain harmful synthetic ingredients as well. While ingredients are of a plant or fruit origin, they are not necessary organic – produced by organic farming. We use a term “green” for general understanding that a process is in cooperation with customer’s and environment’s health and well being, but this is unfortunately another wiggle room, which sellers of green cosmetic products use to profit from a green movement.
Another label which can be tricky. Eco product should be a product which follows environmentally sound process, mainly the stages of formulation of the product, as well as the packaging, thus minimizing the effects on the environment. However, this does not tell us the exact origins of ingredients production, whether or not the farming was indeed organic. Certain parts of a final product may very well be eco friendly, for the environment and us consumers, but not all of the parts. Which leads us back to finding similarities between “natural” and “eco/eco friendly” cosmetics and “green” and “eco/eco friendly” cosmetics. It may sound genuine, but what’s in the product is not.
Similar to “natural” “green” “eco/eco friendly” cosmetic labels. Environmentally friendly cosmetics may be friendly to the environment, with minimized toxic effects on environment and great biodegradable aspects, but since ingredients labels do not explain to the consumer the whole process of obtaining these ingredients, it’s hard to know just how pure in sense of being organic they truly are.
Bio/Biodynamic is very similar in practice to organic label. It denotes a farming practice, which is, like organic farming practice, a practice where no toxic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) are used, and there’s no GMO products, which would then be used for ingredients derivation and production. Bio/Biodynamic process goes a step further with its holistic approach for caring for the soil: whereas traditional farming tends to, over the course of time, strip the soil of its ability to grow nutrient, vitamin and mineral rich plants. Just as with other non-organic labels, this one leaves room for non-genuine products to find their way on a shelf, misleading the consumer.
Learn about ingredients – both toxic cosmetic ingredients and good cosmetic ingredients as well as certificates. There are cosmetic brands, which sell products made from certified organic ingredients, but the final product itself may not be certified, mainly due to high costs of obtaining organic certification for the final product. Should such cosmetic product fall under greenwashing? Not really, but you always have to keep in mind to read the labels. There are also small, indie brands, mainly found on handmade market sites, which use natural and/or organic ingredients combinations. Could it be greenwashing? Yes, but if you think you can trust the seller that he/she is truly formulating the product with ingredients he/she claims, then go for it.
At the end of the day, the rule of thumb should be organic certification on a package and/or certified organic ingredients on the ingredients list. All in all we can see that “back to nature” movement, from food to fashion and cosmetics proves to be too lucrative to be passed by for some dishonest sellers, who wish to profit as fast as possible, and of course, have little to no regard for sustainability of either their product or the environment. With further research, you will become familiar which ingredients are good and which are toxic and which brands proved to be genuine and honest in their practice and which did not. Hopefully we, Nature of Europe, can be of an assistance in your quest for making healthier choices for yourself and the environment.