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Organic and Natural: Caveat Emptor
By: David C. Steinberg, Steinberg & Associates
Posted: January 25, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Whole Foods—Premium Body Care Seal (United States): One of the major retail outlets for organic products is the Whole Foods supermarket chain. This group has established its own rules and symbol. As of press time, the author has not been able to obtain the rules or the symbol. The group lists more than 250 ingredients that are not allowed, and also does not allow animal testing or organic UV filters. The group is aligned with the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Organic Consumers Association (United States): This final group was established in 1998 in opposition to the USDA’s NOP program, and deals primarily with the food area. It has been involved in litigation with other standards.12
What chaos. Why are there so many different organizations, standards, symbols—and now, lawsuits? There is only one answer: marketing. One may question whether the companies selling cosmetics stamped with these symbols care about anything more than selling products. The underlying message is that consumers have been misled to believe that these products are safer than non-natural or non-organic cosmetics. These organizations’ definitions are contradictory and in some ways, amusing. One set of rules states that water found in the Aloe barbadensis leaf is organic while water from the faucet is not. Water is water is water. Also, natural minerals are allowed as colorants but they cannot be processed; as a minor point, this means that with the exception of mica, none of these natural minerals would be permitted in cosmetics.
Natural iron oxides, for example, would be in violation of FDA, EU and Japanese standards since ground iron oxide ores have enough lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, etc., in them to keep Proposition 65 lawyers in California busy filing lawsuits forever. Natural does not mean safe. In fact, the NPA’s list of permitted “safe ingredients” includes 15 of the EU’s 26 listed fragrance allergens. Perhaps natural allergens are better, then? And while one firm stands behind the EWG and proclaims that synthetic UV filters are dangerous, only permitting ZnO and TiO2, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has in the meantime declared TiO2 to be a known human carcinogen; plus, synthetic ZnO is the only ZnO used since its natural ore only exists with lead.
How far can this go?13 Do natural or organic cosmetics impart real benefits or are they just another marketing fad? As the economy in the United States declines, it appears that consumers are still spending money for organic foods but are foregoing higher priced organic personal care products. This column is titled “Caveat Emptor,” which means “let the buyer beware.”