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The Problem with Organic and Natural Beauty Products

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April 22 is Earth Day, at time when we stop to think about how we can best serve the planet we’re living on (and often abusing, unfortunately). Much of what we buy day-to-day is produced in ways that damage the environment, or contain ingredients that are not good for our bodies. In the spirit of being wise consumers and healthy beauty-product lovers, we wanted to compile a list of 10 brands whose products are made responsibly. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. As I began reading about what constitutes a “natural” or organic beauty product, I became confused and discouraged. Here’s why.

Organic means that a product has ingredients that haven’t been sullied by synthetic pesticides and chemicals. Often it also means that the product has been farmed or raised in a way that is sustainable or biologically responsible (i.e., it’s not ruining land or throwing off the balance of an ecosystem). In the United States, the FDA regulates what foods can be classified as organic, so when you buy a product with the organic label, you can feel confident that you’re getting what you pay for. The FDA does not regulate what cosmetics can be classified as organic, however. There is no governing body in the United States that regulates this. This means that any company can slap that label on the bottle and you could be getting something not organic at all or something with only partially organic ingredients. Whaaaa?


These brands claim to be natural and/or organic. But are they?

It gets even more confusing when we’re talking about “natural” (or “pure”)beauty products. There is no standard definition for use of this word. Even more worrisome, there are plenty of natural ingredients you would not want anywhere near your body. Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical found in minerals. It will also kill you. Ricin comes from the seeds of the castor oil plant. Also deadly. But, hey, very natural! Plus, many synthetic ingredients that people so zealously try to avoid are completely harmless and are used to stabilize the natural or organic ingredients in cosmetics. This is necessary because you’re not going out every day, gathering the ingredients for your cosmetics, processing them into makeup, applying them, then doing it again the next day. We keep makeup in jars and bottles for weeks and months, so something has to be added to the mix so that they maintain their effectiveness.

The conclusion I’ve come to (and hardly an original one, there are a ton of websites and groups out there who feel the same way) is that there is a lot of work yet to be done in the area of cosmetics when it comes to producing and regulating healthy, ecologically responsible products. There has to be a consensus on what constitutes “organic” (and maybe an agreement to do away with the word “natural” which doesn’t seem to have any value at all), and there has to be some group that regulates all products sold with that label on it.  One piece of good news is that the USDA does certify organic content in cosmetics, so if you see that seal on a product, you know it’s legit. (Unfortunately, they don’t go after products that declare themselves organic but aren’t.) This website provides information on what beauty lines are actually organic, and also teaches you some about reading labels (but again, because this industry isn’t regulated, you’re trusting the word of an independent organization).

If you’re interested in this issue, here are some helpful sites where you can learn more:

Organic Consumers Association

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

Paula’s Choice

Cosmetics Design

Bare Organics

What do you think? Does this discourage you from spending money on products labeled as organic?

Author: Beth

Writer, blogger, basset-hound walker. Beth is a connoisseur of nachos and holiday films. She loves books, sidecars, costume jewelry, and people with a quirky sense of humor.

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