Organic trends and products within the beauty industry are produced according to organic standards: using ingredients derived from organically grown, natural botanicals. This is a growing trend in the beauty industry, with many beauty companies promoting a link between natural beauty and environmental health.
Organic products are those that use production methods and include materials that enhance and support the health of ecological systems. Organic agricultural practices aim to minimize pollution from air, soil, and water by avoiding pesticides. The primary goal of organic companies is to create products that support the health of plants, animals, and people by sustaining a healthy environment.
Chemicals in Cosmetics
Most synthetic makeup products are petroleum based and are processed using synthetic and potentially harmful chemicals. Fifty of the many chemicals included in American personal care products have been banned in Europe. Researchers argue that many of these chemicals are carcinogenic and have other negative health effects. Most of the products applied to the skin are absorbed and can enter the bloodstream. Synthetic or toxic ingredients in lotions, cleansers, and makeup may cause allergic reactions or have other effects on health. As the primary consumers of cosmetics, women are at particular risk for ingesting the harmful ingredients of cosmetics such as preservatives, fragrances, and other components like formaldehyde. A recent study found that 61 percent of 33 name-brand lipsticks contained unsafe amounts of lead.
Organic personal care products offer an alternative to the chemical-based conventional beauty lines. Such cosmetics and personal care products include organic ingredients and are produced without pesticides or other potentially hazardous chemicals. Advocates of organic personal care products cite the health benefits of using beauty products without harmful chemicals.
Organic products have risen in popularity and thus the number of products offered has increased dramatically. The organic beauty industry has grown at 15 percent for the past 15 years. In 2007, personal care products counted for
15 percent of the U.S. personal care market, with sales of $9 billion. Over 100 natural, organic, and environmentally friendly beauty lines have been developed since 2002. With the growth of the organic personal care industry, the importance of accurate labeling becomes more pressing to avoid greenwashing (misrepresenting a product as environmentally friendly).
With the rise in popularity of organic products, there is an increased risk for misleading advertising and labeling to cash in on the popularity of such products. Among consumers of the beauty industry, a common misconception is that natural is synonymous with organic. Natural is a term used to describe nonsynthetic ingredients, and this wording is not regulated, while organic products abide by strict regulations.
Some manufacturers use terms like natural instead of organic or authentic instead of certified. These terms are not regulated, and thus consumers may mistakenly believe they are buying organic products. While natural products do not themselves contain synthetic additives or chemical preservatives, they may contain ingredients that were genetically modified or treated with pesticides earlier in the production process.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards regulate specific practices in the production and processing of organic agricultural ingredients used for both food and nonfood products. These standards include regulation of methods used in crop growing and harvesting, along with the processing of agricultural products. Organic standards include a list of approved synthetic substances that are sanctioned for use in the production of organic products, as well as a list of prohibited natural ingredients. Organic products are minimally processed without artificial ingredients or preservatives. Organic farming maintains and cultivates crops without the use of toxic pesticides or fertilizers. Finally, organic ingredients must be produced without the use of antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and cannot be genetically modified or irradiated.
There is no national certification body in the United States: certification of organic products must occur by state and local agencies approved by the federal government. The USDA regulates three levels of organic products. Products may be labeled 100 percent organic if they are made entirely with certified organic ingredients. Those made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients may be labeled organic. Both 100 percent and 95 percent organic products may display the USDA organic seal on the label. Products containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients may use the label made with organic ingredients.
While the USDA has been regulating organic personal care products since 2004, the first organic standard specifically for the beauty and personal care industry emerged in 2008. The Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS) certify personal care products that have at least 85 percent organic ingredients as organic. OASIS also certifies those products that are made with organic ingredients, which have a minimum of 70 percent organic content, with the remaining 30 percent of ingredients meeting additional criteria. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) criticizes OASIS for allowing ingredients made from conventional agricultural materials, which may use pesticides.
Controversy and Certification
The organic food and product industry emerged in the 1960s, when it was composed of small, independent farmers selling to local consumers. These farmers had direct, personal relationships with their customers, who trusted them in their claims to be organic. In 1990, U.S. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in a first attempt at a national program to regulate production of organic ingredients. In 2002, the National Organic Program (NOP) was implemented after 10 years of public input and debate. The NOP regulates the use of the term organic, restricting it to those products certified by state agencies and approved by the USDA.
Organic farmers and consumer groups alike protested that the new guidelines were unfair to those farmers who were already practicing organic farming and production, but would now be excluded based on the national standards. For example, farmers who had been raising crops organically would not be certified if they could not prove no pesticides have been used on their soil for 10 years. Some farmers and producers also view the labeling program as restrictive and potentially economically disadvantageous to their own livelihood. Certified organic ingredients are much more expensive, and the certification process is potentially burdensome for small farmers who do not have the resources to process through the bureaucracy. Consumer advocacy groups also argue that the certification debate is occurring in lieu of measures to educate consumers about the ingredients in their products. By focusing on labeling, consumers may ignore the complex principles and practices behind organic production and fall prey to manipulation.
Health and Environmental Benefits
Proponents of organic products note many benefits for the consumer’s health and the environment. The most basic benefit of organic products is the reduction in toxicity. Contemporary research shows that American infants are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and additives. The National Academy of Science cites potential neurological and behavioral effects from even low-level exposure to pesticides, while other research demonstrates that pesticides commonly used in nonorganic food are carcinogenic and may decrease fertility.
Organic agriculture, which produces ingredients for beauty products, reduces pollution by eliminating pesticides that cause air and water contamination. Organic production methods also build healthy soil. Organic farmers promote biodiversity by using pesticide alternatives such as crop rotation, avoiding monoculture (planting one crop over a vast space of land), and planting pest-repelling plants (for instance, geraniums repel insects that feast on tomatoes). Organic matter used to fertilize has been shown to increase nutrients in organic produce, whereas synthetic fertilizers deplete the soil’s mineral content and cause leaching of excess nitrogen. Organic farming protects wildlife by respecting wetlands and fragile ecosystems. Finally, organic farming methods have proved to use an average of 30 percent less energy than conventional farming methods. Proponents argue that organic farming promotes healthy ecosystems and is safer for farmers and consumers alike.
While the consumer demand for organic products is growing, these products are generally more expensive than conventional products because of the time and labor required to cultivate organic crops. Organic farmers do not receive federal subsidies as conventional farmers do, and many are small farmers who cannot offer lower prices achieved through efficiency, as can industrial agricultural producers. Organic ingredients are thus more expensive. This is seen particularly in organic beauty products because of specialty ingredients grown for cleansing, moisturizing, and other properties. Advocates of organic products argue that these are actually the true costs of these products, whereas conventional products do not reflect the environmental costs of the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the production of their ingredients.