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Deciphering Organic, Part 1

By: Leslie Lyon and Marilyn Patterson
Posted: January 29, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Lyon: Many manufacturers make claims that their products are green, natural or organic, but who looks out for the spa professionals as they attempt to make safe choices?

Patterson: In Canada and the United States, the cosmetic industry is self-regulating, with guidelines provided by the governments. If a product has complaints against it, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States and Health Canada in Canada will intervene, look into the complaints and only then will an unsafe product be removed from the market. Although manufacturers do test their products for safety before putting them on the market, cosmetics and skin care products are under the category of buyer beware. Like food, consumers must learn what is good for them and make their own choices.

Out of the three words—organic, green and natural—organic is the only one that is government regulated. There are many cosmetic and skin care lines with the word in product or company names, which can be misleading to consumers. A lawsuit by a leading organic soap company has been filed against many companies that are currently using the word organic as a marketing strategy. But the lawsuit has been taken one step further to try and eliminate any competition by also suing two certifying bodies: Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS) and ECOCERT. These two organizations do not agree with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) strict definition for organic when it is applied to cosmetics and skin care products. There currently is not a USDA regulation for cosmetics, only for food. The cosmetics industry has been guided by the food definition for awhile, which is why OASIS set out to develop guidelines specifically for cosmetics. There are differences between how foods, and cosmetics and skin care products are processed, which is why OASIS and ECOCERT disagree with the USDA.

Lyon: How do you define green?

Patterson: There is no global definition for green as it pertains to cosmetics and skin care product regulation, although it is often assumed that a green product adheres a variety of eco-friendly philosophies. The Canadian government started a certification body in 1988 called EcoLogo to define green, although it has become a much broader concept in the minds of spa professionals and their clients.