Those not accustomed to my ranting about the lack of regulation in organic skin care products might be a bit confused about the title of this blog. So as a quick explanation, here’s the issue: It is illegal to market a food product as organic unless it is certified organic - by an independent organic certifying body (like the Soil Association). But the same does not apply to beauty products or clothing. So as a consumer, you can go into a shop and buy a shampoo made by a company called Acme Organics and it could have never seen an organically grown plant and could contain a host of synthetic chemicals you might have wanted to avoid.
It gets even more confusing when brands state that their products contain certified organic ingredients. Without a Soil Association, Ecocert or other independent stamp, this means absolutely nothing at all: Who has checked whether the ingredients are really organic? And what about the non-organic ingredients they contain that wouldn’t be accepted under organic standards (like petrochemicals, silicones, even parabens)? To make matters worse, some brands invent their own little certified organic ingredient logos that make you think the whole product is certified organic. This is all perfectly legal.
This week, several major newspapers including The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Vogue.co.uk picked up on this sorry state of affairs. It followed a press release issued by the head of the Soil Association, Peter Melchett, who pointed out a number of major industry players (Boots and Nivea were mentioned) are labelling some of their products in a rather misleading way. (e.g. a Boots facial oil that was labelled as 100% organic contains 4 non-organic ingredients.) In response, Boots said they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, but they’d look into their labelling to ensure it didn’t confuse, and also said:
“we would welcome an internationally consistent regulation on the use of the word 'organic' in beauty products to remove any confusion for consumers."
Oh jolly good. And incidentally so would we (and in the absence of regulation our policy is to voluntarily certify all Essential Care products with the Soil Association). But unfortunately the EU Commission is more laid back about misleading cosmetic products; cleaning up the organic beauty sector is low on their list of priorities. And that’s why in France and Denmark, the national governments have introduced their own regulations to prevent cosmetic brands making unsubstantiated organic claims.
For the past 5 years, the Organic Trade Board - the voice of the UK organic industry - has been lobbying the UK authorities to introduce similar regulation in the UK. As a result, the regulators are now considering a Voluntary Code which Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority could use to decide if a product is misleading or not. With some luck this code might be brought into action with the next 2 years.
But until then beware – when you see organic on a beauty product, look at the label very carefully! `