When we first launched Essential Care in 2003, there were some, but not a huge number of ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ brands. Since then, and particularly in the last 5 years, the number of new brands and products focussing on ‘natural’ has mushroomed beyond belief. Consumer interest has soared on the back of paraben scares and a heightened media interest in the benefits of organic.
If only all these new ‘organic’ skincare products were created equal. Whereas organic food must meet legal standards, the same does not apply to beauty products. The term ‘organic’ can be used on products that contain literally a whiff of organic essential oil which leaves a massive loophole open to exploitation.
Walking the aisles of London’s largest organic trade event, Natural & Organic Products Europe, the past couple of years, has been quite sickening. So many brands, some from overseas, but some who are made in the UK, are making their way on to the high street (including stores like Holland & Barrett) and are taking consumers for a ride: Fake organic certification symbols and misplaced use of ‘organic’ in brand names and product titles.
But there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Whereas the EU Commission doesn’t seem too bothered about the gaping hole in legislation, some European countries are now acting to create their own national rules. In France, the equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) now only permits products to make organic claims if they are certified organic or are 100% organic. The Danish ‘Consumer Ombudsman’ has recently made a similar ruling.
So I am working with the Organic Trade Board and Susie Hewson from Natracare to lobby for similar regulations in the UK. The good news is that Trading Standards and the ASA are now looking at organic claims on cosmetics much more seriously. Moreover, if a case is brought to the ASA, they will take action if a cosmetic product making organic claims is neither 100% organic nor independently certified to a recognised standard like the Soil Association’s. BUT, like Trading Standards (who police labelling rather than adverts) the ASA can only take action if consumers bring cases to their attention. That involves writing to the brand first to complain and then lodging a complaint with the ASA or Trading Standards.
The Organic Trade Board is aiming to make this process simpler (i.e. for the regulation to be there in the first place to prevent companies hijacking ‘organic’ and deliberately trying to mislead). But meanwhile please take action! If you see a brand with dubious organic claims or credentials, please write to them and the ASA and Trading Standards! If it was food it would be fraud...