Dan Thompson: Beauty Busted


Can a Cosmetic Be Organic?

The Answer Is: No!

As part if my ongoing work I visit many eco-health/organic spas and stores.  I am a big proponent of high-quality, safe cosmetics and whenever I make a personal appearance I am invariably asked about the organic nature of cosmetics products.  It's a difficult question to answer.  For two reasons:

1.  I don't want to confuse consumers — as in overly explain cometic manufacturing law
2.  I also don't want to tell untruths — as in only tell half the story of the nature of finished products
Here is the real deal on "organic" cosmetics.  No greenwashing, no marketing story, no factual errors.  Cosmetics cannot be organic.  Yep, it's that simple.  Here's why:
In order to be certified organic a product must carry the USDA Organic Seal (in the USA) or the CFIA Seal (in Canada).  Neither the USDA nor the CFIA has jurisdiction over cosmetics manufacturing.  By definition of law neither of them can issue their seal to a finished cosmetic.  That does not mean some ingredients, used in a formulation, cannot carry the seal but the finished good itself cannot.  Often when a cosmetic has either seal displayed there is language to create a caveat.  For example (and this is very common) "Contains USDA Certified Organic Ingredients" or "Made with 97% USDA Certified Organic Ingredients" or some such variation of this statement.  Containing certified organic ingredients is not the same as being organic and cosmetics, when manufactured under the FDA and Health Canada Monograms, are required to carry some very specific synthetics in order to be put on store shelves.
Only the FDA (in the USA) and Health Canada (in Canada) have jurisdiction over the manufacture of cosmetics and there are some very specific manufacturing guidelines all companies must follow.  Especially when it comes to allowable natural ingredients.  Under the cosmetics manufacturing monograms there are certain ingredients that must always be synthetic in a cosmetic formulation:
1.Colour additives
2. Preservatives
3.Skin identical ingredients
As soon as a synthetic is introduced "organic" cannot be true anymore.  Moreover, the USDA and CFIA Seals are only allowed to be applied to food items to denote production free from hormones, GM ingredients, pesticides or antibiotics.  For all other consumer packaged goods the USDA and CFIA Seals only denote the product "contains" organic ingredients.  This is an important stipulation.  Without getting into the debate of how food receives its certification (that is another topic altogether) it is important to note that cosmetics, if produced under the legal guidelines, simply can't be organic.
This debate rages in the industry.  Even last night I was told this information is incorrect (by an owner of a cosmetics company that produces "organic" skincare).  His comment to me was "Well this is a yes and no situation."  
I am not sure what that could possibly mean:  yes cosmetics can be organic and no organic cosmetics are not possible?  
Science and marketing are not the same thing and marketing departments have done a very good job of exploiting the USDA and CFIA Seals.  While no company is actually lying about the content of their organic ingredients the misleading nature of posting these seals on non food products implies something that is not true.
You can read my expanded thoughts on this topic by visiting my personal site.  
I would really love to hear your questions about cosmetics and the so called "organic" nature of them.
Write to me or leave a comment below.