Natural Foods Merchandiser

Get to know PC certifications

The government-appointed National Organic Standards Board recommended in November 2009 that organic personal care products be recognized explicitly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, just as food is. The goal? To help end the problem of mislabeled “organic” personal care products—and the resulting confusion among consumers. However, it may be awhile before the government and industry reaches consensus on the applicability of the NOP to personal care products. In the meantime, here’s a look at common labels and what they mean.

USDA Organic
The strictest of all PC certifications, it requires that 95 percent of ingredients are certified as organic by a government-approved third party, and the remainder come from an approved ingredient list. Because some products, like shampoo and soap, typically require chemical processes not allowed under the NOP, “there are entire categories that cannot use that label,” says Amber Herrick, a body care specialist with New Seasons Market in Portland, Ore. “It has to be close to edible.” As of January, 26 PC brands displayed the USDA Organic Seal, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

NSF International’s “Contains Organic Ingredients”
Created by the nonprofit consumer products certifier NSF and adopted in 2009 by the American National Standards Institute (a watchdog organization for nongovernmental standards in the U.S.), the NSF/ANSI 305 standard requires that 70 percent of ingredients in a personal care product be third-party certified as organic. It allows for certain chemical processes not approved by the NOP, like saponification (which makes soap lather). It also requires that companies state the percentage of organic ingredients on the label.

NPA Natural
Launched in May 2008, the Natural Products Association Natural Standard avoids the term organic altogether, instead requiring that products be made of at least 95 percent natural ingredients, with no petroleum compounds, no animal testing and no suspected human health risks. Processes that “significantly or adversely alter” the purity of the ingredients are prohibited. Unnatural ingredients are allowed “only when viable natural alternatives are unavailable.” This year, the standard aims to phase out many synthetic fragrances. Roughly 300 finished products and 100 ingredients sport this label.

OASIS (Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards)
Launched with great fanfare in March 2008 by a 60-member coalition of companies including Estee Lauder and L’Oreal, the OASIS “organic” and “made with organic” seals were billed as the first “dedicated organic standard for the beauty and personal care industry.” OASIS explains on its website: “In absence of a true industry standard, companies attempted to apply the USDA NOP Organic food standard for beauty and personal care ingredients, but the USDA’s food standards were never designed for this industry and limit certain types of green chemistry, posing significant challenges for those seeking to create certified organic products.” The “made with organic” standard requires 70 percent organic content. The “organic” claim requires 85 percent. OASIS has been criticized for allowing hydrogenated and sulfated cleansing ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, which is made with nonorganic materials. The seals have stalled amid lingering legal battles with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. (Fewer than a dozen companies sport the seal.) “We told everybody to sort of back off on it until the lawsuit is resolved,” says OASIS spokeswoman Gay Timmons. Meanwhile, Timmons says the organization intends to announce other certification programs later this year, including verification of organic content for exported products. “We have absolutely no intention of going away,” she says.

BDIH (Bundesverband deutscher Industrie- und Handelsunternehmen)
Created by a German trade group and common on high-end European products often spotted on American shelves,BDIH offers the “certified natural cosmetics” label, banning synthetic fragrances, ethoxylated raw materials (produced by a chemical process that makes fats soluble in water), silicones, paraffin and petroleum. Raw materials must be obtained from plants, no animal testing is allowed and fair trade is required.

The new Brussels-based Natural and Organic Cosmetic Association (NaTrue) standard uses a three-star system to label cosmetics as “natural,” “natural with organic ingredients” or “organic.”

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