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Deciphering Organic, Part 2

By: Leslie Lyon and Marilyn Patterson
Posted: February 24, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

In Part 1 of this article, which ran in the February 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine, common questions about green, natural and organic product claims were addressed. Now, the path is cleared for deciding which degree of organic is suitable to you as a spa professional. The Five Degrees to Organic is an unofficial scale created by Marilyn Patterson, and as it approaches the fifth degree, ingredients begin to better meet established regulations and move from the designation of natural/organic to certified organic.

You must first figure out your own organic standards and determine the ingredients that you deem to be important as organic and those you consider to be safe enough with or without organic certification. This is acquired knowledge, and is the personal preference of each individual. Understanding these degrees will help to better equip spa professionals to make natural and organic product choices.

Degree #1: Natural or organic ingredients used for marketing only

An ingredient that delivers efficacy is rarely inexpensive. Companies selling low- to mid-priced cosmetics may prefer to spend their money on marketing rather than on expensive ingredients. Marketing claims must follow government guidelines, which differentiate between cosmetic and drug claims, but a lot of puffery is allowed. Therefore, it sometimes can be difficult for the professional to identify the truth in the advertising. A quick look at the ingredient list will give an educated professional an idea of where a product stands. If the natural or organic ingredient that is being marketed is near the bottom of the ingredient listing, than it may not be used at an efficacious level.

Degree #2: Natural or organic ingredients used for efficacy in a non-natural base

There are many natural and organic ingredients that have proven efficacy and have been found to be safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Health Canada, but are in a product with accompanying ingredients that do not fit the guidelines for natural and organic ingredients. Often, a botanical, or plant-based, active is chosen instead of a synthetic active because the product can then be described as natural in marketing claims. Spa professionals need to evaluate the ingredients listed on the label before making a decision. The natural or organic ingredient will have a Latin botanical name, and you would expect it to appear before the middle of the ingredient list. But at this degree, any other ingredient names will not fit the definition for acceptable natural or organic ingredients. The marketing information that goes with these products will mention efficacy studies if they have them. If not, you cannot be sure of the effect of the botanical, or if it is even used in an efficacious concentration.

Degree #3: Natural or organic ingredients, but the product is not certified

In North America, there is still some debate about which certification body is the most credible. As a result, many companies are following the European guidelines for ingredient choices, but are not going through the certification process. At this degree, all ingredients on the label should follow the guidelines for natural supporting and organic ingredients. The third degree is usually acceptable, but it can be difficult to assess which products fall into this category. Even if a botanical ingredient is used, it may have been extracted with a petroleum-based nonrenewable solvent, and the solvent will not be listed on the label. But it is in this third degree that you are most likely to find efficacious products at more reasonable prices.

Degree #4: Certified natural or organic