We’re all too familiar with organic food labels. Most of the ones found here in the U.S. display the USDA Organic seal or sticker, others show other organic certifiers such as QAI (Quality Assurance International) or CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) and many more. The food items displaying these labels earn a healthy toss into the grocery cart, leaving us with a reassurance that it’s clean, tasty, non-toxic and good for the earth. But, the questions arises, what about organic skin care products? Should we be looking for the same labels? Just how “organic” are the skin care products claiming to be organic, are the terms “natural” and “organic” the same, and, does it even matter?
Well if you’re from the school of thought of “you are what you eat”, then yes, it absolutely does matter. If you’re not so sure, then this might be an eye opener for you. First a little Skin Trivia – Studies have proven, time and time again, that nothing you apply on your skin stays on the surface unless you immediately rinse it off. Your skin, being your bodies largest organ, has over 1 billion pores. It is your body’s first line of defense against anything entering your body. Ironically, it is also a giant sponge, absorbing anything you put on it. It usually takes 10-15 minutes for a product to be completely absorbed into your skin, by this time, it is inside your body, “subcutaneously”, which means underneath your skin. By this time, you cannot rinse it off.
This leaves us with the dilemma that, if we apply lotions, perfumes, make-up, oils, deodorants and other cosmetics on a daily basis, the stuff will definitely get absorbed and inside. So in essence, you are FEEDING your skin whatever that product is. Simply put, if you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your skin, make sense? Your skin is a living organ, similar to your other organs like your digestive system. So if you are eating organic foods but using synthetic and toxic skin care products, it sort of defeats the purpose of what your trying to do.
A lot of people see this dilemma, and now more and more companies are coming out with products termed as “All Natural”, “Organic” and “Cruelty Free” to meet consumers healthier demands. This seems great, but has only made things harder because shopping can be pretty difficult if you don’t know what to look for. The only thing you know is that you want only natural, organic products on your skin; but how can you really tell what’s truly organic?
What to look for at the store:
The bottom line is that you need to read the ingredients list and make sure that it contains NO synthetic chemicals. Yes, you must take time to read the label! But no worries, pretty soon these chemicals will begin to be sound more and more familiar (as they are on nearly everything at the grocery store Personal Care aisle, for example). Soon you’ll be reading labels in less than 5 seconds like a pro!
The most common synthetic chemicals used in skin care products are:
1. Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
3. DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine) & TEA (triethanolamine)
4. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG 4 – 200)
5. Sodium Hydroxide
7. DMDM and Urea (Imidazolidnyl)
8. Parabens (Methyl, Butyl, Propyl.. etc)
9. Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)
10. Mineral Oil
11. FD&C Color Pigments
12. Fragrances (synthetic fragrances will have names like “essential lavender oil”, because no lavender was even used!)
There are many more, but we’ll start with the deadly dozen so you don’t get too overwhelmed. What these chemicals actually are and do to your skin is another topic (not a pleasant one either), but let’s just say they are no different than what’s in your anti-freeze or in your laundry detergent. No reputable organic, natural or holistic company will use ANY of these because there are always natural alternatives to the chemical ones. Furthermore, you cannot make a truly organic product with synthetic chemicals. So, even if the name or packaging lures you with words like “all natural”, “healthy”, “holistic”, “cruelty free” and even the very word “organic”, turn that package right around and let that ingredient label speak for itself!
Another hint – the first 3 are what mainly comprises the product, making the last ingredients what’s least in there. Sadly, some cosmetic companies put products out there with names like “Aloe Lotion”, when Aloe is the very last ingredient on that list (and usually it’s some petty form like”aloe extract”, the sneaks!) So is it truly “Aloe lotion” or more like “Water + Mineral Oil Lotion”?
Go to your bathroom right now and check it out, there’s a whole world of labels to be discovered right in your own home. It’s an eye opening experience. Have a trash bag ready; so what do those organic seals mean? Well, if you’ve found a skin care product with an organic certifying seal, let’s just say it’s probably good (or at least a step ahead of most). Most natural skin care products have never, until recently, had organic seals certifying them like food items. Again, with the raging consumer demand for more organic products, organic certifier seals have been showing up on a lot of skin care products. It takes time, effort and money to get organically certified. Chances are, if a company went that extra mile to get that seal of approval, their stuff and the ethics behind their stuff is probably really good (or at least well intentioned).
Organic cosmetic certifiers:
There are Seals, and then there are “Seals”… The following is a list of organic certifying seals you will commonly find on most cosmetics out there. Unfortunately, this list is in a particular order. That is, from the best and most stringent, to the just OK:
1. USDA Organic (95-100% organic)
2. Australian Certified Organic (95%-100% organic)
3. European Union/Agriculture Biologique (at least 95% organic)
4. BIO/Germany (at least 95% organic)
5. QAI (at least 70% organic)
6. CAAQ/Canada (at least 70% organic)
7. Eco Cert (at least 10% organic of total ingredients)
Differences between “Natural” and “Organic”:
Same thing, grown differently. Some products will not have any of the synthetic chemicals listed above and therefore be termed as “all natural”, “toxin/chemical free” or say things like, “No SLS, Glycols, or Parabens”. Please note, “NATURAL” DOES NOT MEAN “ORGANIC”! For example, a conventionally grown tomato is “natural”, but it was grown using pesticides and sewage sludge; so it’s not “organic”. See the difference? Organically grown fruits and vegetables have significantly lower levels of nitrates, and higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins particular to that fruit or vegetable.
The same theory applies for skin care products. A Papaya-Coconut Lotion can have 100% natural ingredients with no synthetics, but if the papaya, coconut and the rest of the stuff in there is not organic, then it was grown using pesticides and therefore can only be termed “all natural” but not organic. This All Natural Papaya-Coconut Lotion would be an inferior product compared to a Certified Organic Papaya Lotion.
No seal no deal?
The organic certifying seal guarantees that some if not all the ingredients are organic. So if the seal is not there on the skin care product, should you not buy it? That is up to you, the consumer. It’s the difference between buying conventional and organic tomatoes, going back to the example above. The important thing here is, to make an informed decision, that is all. Just know what you are buying, and what that entails for your skin, as well as the earth. The more savvy we become about reading labels, ingredient lists, and knowing exactly where the stuff came from which we put on our faces, eyes, skin and hair; the more companies will begin to comply to our standards. We are the ones in charge, really. No person truly wants chemicals on their skin, people just want a product that works. The “greener” of a world we become, the more the idea of organic skin care products that actually work for us and the earth will become a reality. After all, where else are we gonna go?