Due to confusion and lack of federal oversight of the cosmetics industry, there are companies that use the term “organic” in their product names primarily as a marketing tool. Cosmetic brands that contain agricultural ingredients but use “organic” in their product names without meeting USDA standards are committing what the Organic Consumer Association calls organic cosmetic fraud. The Association is a non-profit organization “campaigning for health, justice and sustainability.” It advocates for more accurate labeling and works to expose companies that use illegitimate “organic” claims. Based on its analyses, the Association has developed a list of companies that violate USDA’s organic standards and a list of recommended USDA-certified organic products.
When it comes to “organic” claims, here are the facts:
If a company is selling a product that does contain agricultural ingredients and wants to label it organic, it must abide by these rules under USDA’s National Organic Program:
- Products labeled “100% organic” can contain only organically produced ingredients. They can display the USDA Organic Seal.
- Products labeled simply “organic” must contain a minimum of 95 percent organically produced ingredients. They are also permitted to display the USDA Organic Seal. Non-organic ingredients must be USDA-approved and appear on the National List of allowed and prohibited substances.
- Products labeled “made with organic xxxxx” (for example, “Made with organic rosemary”) must contain a minimum of 70 percent organically produced ingredients. They may not display the USDA Organic Seal but can list up to three of the certified organic ingredients on the front label.
- Products containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot display the USDA Organic Seal or use the term “organic” on the front label. These products are permitted to list certified organic ingredients on the back panel only.
- The listed percentages of organic material cannot include water and salt.
- All products must provide the name and address of a USDA-accredited certifier, a private company hired to document that the product complies with the agency’s rules.
As part of its efforts, the Association launched the Coming Clean Campaign to promote Organic Cosmetics Integrity Policies in retail stores. These policies hold that:
- Brands marketed as organic must be certified by USDA;
- The definition of organic on personal care products should be the same as on food products.
In June 2011, the Whole Foods Market chain adopted an Organic Cosmetics Integrity Policy that prohibits its stores from selling products that make organic claims without the appropriate certification. Whole Foods says that violators that do not rephrase or reformulate inaccurate product names will be dropped from its shelves.
Ultimately, consumers looking to purchase genuinely organic cosmetics, body care or personal care products should familiarize themselves with USDA standards and keep a close eye on product labels! And be sure to check out how the product rates on Skin Deep!
For more information, please visit the Environmental Working Group’s Website.