I probably don’t have to tell this community of readers that “natural” is basically a meaningless word in most marketing claims these days. It can mean anything from synthetically derived chemicals to genetically modified foods – neither of which I would consider natural. And when you cross over from the food world to the personal care world, the term is even more loosely used.
But what about organic?
In the food world, organic claims are regulated, although there are an increasing number of issues with the USDA National Organic Program, for sure (which makes me all the more grateful to know and trust Narelle Chenery personally and know that her products are certified to the more stringent Australian organic standards).
But in the personal care world, organic claims are NOT regulated – and consequently subtly misleading, as well as blatantly greenwashed claims abound.
Did you know that there are multiple, manufacturer-made standards vying to become “the” organic standard for personal care and cosmetic products? And that they all allow ingredients and processing methods that are not allowed in organic food standards?
Here are just a few “catch phrases” of which to be mindful. Sure, everyone needs a quick and simple way to describe products for first impressions, but buyer beware! You must ask more questions and dig.
Brand names such as “So-and-So Organics” or claims of “Made with Organic Ingredients” – Often means they use some organic ingredients, but they may also use other toxic synthetic ingredients.
Eco-cert Compliant – Considered the most lenient of the competing cosmetic standards, only 10% of a total product formulation is required to be certified organic (to the food standards) in order to claim that a finished product is “certified organic” by Eco-Cert. An “Eco-cert compliant” ingredient is anything that could not actually be certified organic by itself but is allowed in an Eco-cert approved product.
“100% Certified Organic Ingredients” – In the food world, this would mean that 100% of the finished product formulation is certified organic, not just some of the ingredients. In the personal care world, it is often manipulated to imply this same total product percentage, but can actually mean that only that the ingredients that happen to be certified organic are “100% certified” – as if they could be somehow partially certified! Do you see the subtle twist on words and meaning? Any given ingredient is either certified or not – there is no 60% certified. Likewise, finished products are either certified or they’re not to various percentages (such as the 100% or 95% standards in the food standards). This phrase is intended to make you think that 100% of the ingredients, and thus the total formulation, are/is certified organic, when all it really means is that the certified ingredients are certified.
If you want a truly organic (truly natural) product, then the bottom line is this: Whenever you see any organic, or even “certified organic” claim, you really have to ask “certified by whom, to what standards exactly, why, and how?” The company or representative should be forthcoming and logical in the explanation of their standards and usage of terminology.
And then, be sure to read the ingredient labels to make sure everything matches up with what you’re told.
One of the things that most impressed me about Miessence when I first found them in 2010 was their transparency, commitment to education, and the fact that they used these words the way I do as a customer, not the way the industry does as manufacturers. I loved that!
For a short but excellent discussion on the terms “natural” and “organic” in the personal care industry, check out the first video here. And for a quick overview explanation of exactly which products in the Miessence range are certified to which standards and why, check out the second video here (note: Narelle has also added a dish concentrate to the line since this video came out, which does use one green chemistry, non-toxic, renewably sourced synthetic ingredient to tackle tough dish grease).