by Hilary Oliver
In a market murky with natural and organic claims, a bit of clarity is finally appearing. Until this spring the only personal care standards that consumers could put their trust in were the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program standards, which were designed with food—not beauty—in mind. New industry standards for personal care have emerged in recent months, but they are still works in progress, and are not without criticism.
It’s only natural
The Natural Products Association touts a recent survey showing that more than three out of four American women believe that natural personal care is currently regulated, or don’t know if it is, while 97 percent think it should be. In response to the confusion, the NPA established its own certification program and seal for natural personal care, launching the program in May.
The standard took a little more than a year to construct, and drew input from industry representatives from companies such as Burt’s Bees, Aubrey Organics and Weleda. The NPA’s seal requires products to be made with at least 95 percent natural ingredients, defining natural as only ingredients found in nature, excluding all petroleum compounds. For more details about the seal, visit www.naturalproductsassoc.org.
Some see promise in the NPA standard, hoping the opportunity to make a substantiated claim with a recognizable seal will encourage manufacturers to reformulate to include more natural ingredients. And so far, it seems to be working. “I get hundreds of e-mails a day about ingredients on the [prohibited] list, asking if there are natural alternatives,” says Daniel Fabricant, NPA’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
But, critics ask, why bother with a standard for natural when companies could be going the extra mile to focus on organic certification? Fabricant explains that while tougher standards might be the ultimate goal, the point of the natural label is to help the larger number of companies take gradual steps in the right direction. “The reality is natural is the bigger sector right now—where there’s the greatest room for consumer confusion.”
New organic certification options are also on the horizon. A new personal care trade association announced voluntary production standards for organic personal care, which closed for edits June 30. Initially, OASIS—which stands for Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards—set out two levels of certification: organic and made with organic, and set goals for increasing the required percentage of organic ingredients in its certified organic products over the next several years. For the details behind the OASIS standard, visit www.oasisseal.org.
The purpose of the gradual changes is to allow manufacturers time to adapt and let the supply of organic ingredients catch up to the demand. “It’s a compromise, but I think it’s necessary to let the market mature,” says Gay Timmons, chairwoman of OASIS and owner of Los Gatos, Calif.-based Oh, Oh Organics.
That notion of compromise has incited buzz among others in the industry who don’t see any problem with applying the NOP standard to personal care products. “The NOP is perfectly workable,” says Diana Kaye, co-owner and co-founder of Middletown, Md.-based Terresentials, a USDA-certified organic personal care company. “There are a number of companies that could comply with the USDA standard, but it’s more cheap and profitable [not to].”
However, the OASIS companies hold that personal care certification needs to be taken out of the context of food. “Over the years, the NOP has said that personal care is outside their scope of certification,” says Mary Mulry, Ph.D., president of Boulder, Colo.-based consulting company FoodWise. Mulry helped develop standards for Wild Oats Markets.
Timmons, who was an organic certifier for 12 years, says one of the biggest issues with applying the NOP standards to personal care is that certifiers and inspectors are focused on agricultural products and are usually not educated enough to judge the chemistry processes involved in manufacturing cosmetic products. She says that personal care certifiers must be chemists from the cosmetics world in order to truly understand what’s going on in a personal care manufacturing facility.
While OASIS is gearing up, standards developer NSF International is sifting through public comments on its own standard for organic personal care, a draft of which was published in January. Timmons, who was also involved in developing the NSF standard, sees having multiple certification seals as an important part of the process of developing the ultimate standard. “Before the NOP standards, there were more than 40 different [organic food] certifiers in the U.S.,” she says, explaining that it was through the multiple standards that the best possible standard—the NOP—evolved.
Consumer confusion is a concern within the industry, though. Escondido, Calif.-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps filed a lawsuit in April against OASIS and several personal care companies that use the term organic, claiming the companies misuse the term. Defending companies have countered that the lawsuit is mainly aimed at the government’s lack of action to settle standards issues, and assert that open dialogue—not litigation—is the best way to develop meaningful standards.
While calls for federal regulation still echo, a governmental standard for personal care doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. “Unfortunately, we’re with personal care where we were with food 15 years ago,” Mulry says.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p. 36