August 1, 2013
When you see the word organic on personal care products, it can mean a lot—or nothing at all, says Jessica Rubino, senior beauty editor of Delicious Living and Natural Foods Merchandiser magazines. Determining if the label will have value in your HABA department depends on how well you educate shoppers and communicate your store’s standards with manufacturers.
Natural Foods Merchandiser:What does organic really mean for personal care products?
Jessica Rubino:The organic personal care industry is still relatively new. At this point, neither the Food and Drug Administration [which regulates the cosmetics industry] nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture [which monitors the use of the term organic in the food industry] has established standards to regulate “the O word” for cosmetic product labels or marketing materials. This means that “organic” personal care could contain no organic content at all. The only exception is in California, where products that make the claim are required to contain at least 70 percent organic content.
NFM:Are there organic personal care certifications consumers can trust?
JR:Although the USDA Organic seal was created for food products, personal care is eligible for this certification. The National Organic Program applies when the ingredients used in a product are certifiable. Because this list is limited to food ingredients, when you see the USDA Organic seal on personal care products, they usually have a very basic formulation. Examples include oils, lotions and lip balms.
USDA has yet to develop a program specific to personal care, although one is in the works. In 2009, NSF International launched its NSF/ANSI 305 “contains organic ingredients” standard for personal care products. This certification requires 70 percent NOP organic content but allows some ingredients and processes that are common to personal care formulation that are prohibited under USDA Organic. This flexibility is important for many personal care products, especially those with complex ingredient profiles—such as high-performance skin care, shampoo, toothpaste and sunscreen. Find a full list of NSF criteria at nsf.org.
NFM:What challenges lie ahead for the natural personal care industry?
JR:On the ingredients side, there’s a major need for organic, plant-based preservatives and surfactants that can be produced in mass quantities—ones that truly are as effective and shelf-stable as the conventional versions. Also, lack of regulation has led to a proliferation of false claims over the years, which has in turn created a lot of consumer confusion and skepticism. I’m relying on retailers to weed out the greenwashers and educate consumers about the legit claims and products available today.
NFM:What companies are doing a good job to clear the confusion?
JR:There are a lot of great retailers stepping up, which I think makes perfect sense. Natural products stores in particular have a great opportunity to become leaders by educating consumers on what organic does and does not mean in personal care. They can also shift the industry by demanding honesty and transparency from manufacturers. Whole Foods Market did this when it started requiring all companies making “organic” claims to have NSF/ANSI or USDA certification to back them up. I think all natural products retailers should enforce similar policies. Doing so is how we can see this industry grow responsibly.
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