What it says on the tin... or pot

Peter Melchett - 03 June 2013

Soil Association organic beauty oilMethylisothiazolinone, Phthalates, Parabens, PEGs - (polyethylene glycols, Non-natural Propylene Glycol (PG), Cocamide DEA... I could go on.

You would wash the floor with some of these, clean your oven with them, find them in antifreeze or use some of them to redecorate your house, some are banned in food or children's toys because of the risk that they are carcinogens, so would you knowingly put them on your skin? It alarms me that all are found in the bathrooms of our homes in health and beauty products, more worryingly some are even found in products labeled as 'natural' or 'nature inspired'.
These are real horrors, and while they are some of the worst examples of nasty chemicals widely used in non-organic health and beauty products, they are certainly not a complete list. So it is not surprising that there has been a huge growth in marketing claims suggesting that products are 'organic', 'biological' or 'natural'.
Are these claims trustworthy? Should we expect more as consumers? Today, 3rd June 2013, I discussed these issues at the Organic and Natural Beauty show.
Under European law, if anyone wants to describe food as organic, it has to meet European legal standards, as an organic farmer myself I know how stringent these rules are, and rightly so. The European Union does not have its own standards for health and beauty products, so here the general law of the land applies, that labels should not be misleading. There is no doubt that many products claiming to be organic or something similar are, quite simply, misleading consumers. Under Soil Association standards, to use the word organic in the product name, it must contain over 95% organic ingredients, excluding water.
Which is why the Soil Association is today calling on the health and beauty industry and retailers to put their house in order. We believe it is the least that consumers would expect, but unfortunately some companies selling health and beauty products do not agree.
Some time ago Boots were investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority over the marketing of their product 'Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash'. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the Boots advertisement was misleading as the product contains less than 5% organic ingredients. The Advertising Standards Authority found that a product should be defined as organic only if it contains a high proportion of organic ingredients.
Unfortunately, Boots do not seem to have taken on board the implications of the Advertising Standards Authority's ruling. For example, a Boots facial oil currently on sale says it is 100% organic on the box, but it actually contains at least four non-organic ingredients. To provide their customers with an accurate product description, Boots should say on the box which ingredients are certified organic, and what proportion of the product, excluding water, this represents.
The Soil Association has also found a selection of other Boots 'botanics' products which claim to be organic and some which even use their own Boots logo to claim their ingredients are organic, including Organic Hot Cloth Cleansing Balm and Organic Rosewater Toning Spritz. While some of the ingredients in these products may indeed be certified as organic, the products themselves are not certified, and the Soil Association believes this is misleading customers.

Boots is not alone, our informal research has also found a Nivea 'Pure and Natural' handcream which carries an unofficial leaf stamp that claims the product is 95% natural, but among other things it contains Methylisothiazolinone, a preservative which could be carcinogenic and is suspected of causing nerve damage. Our research also found a range of hair and body products branded Organix, from a US beauty company (not the UK baby food company of the same name, which sells high quality organic products). The US Organix coconut shampoo contains no organic ingredients, it is not certified, and it contains potential carcinogens among other ingredients. Neither product would be permitted under Soil Association certification.

I know that there is a lot of confusion about organic health and beauty products, and the Soil Association is always happy to give advice to producers and retailers. At the moment, I'm afraid there are products out there which are mislabelled and are misleading consumers. To try and help tackle this problem, as part of our annual Organic September campaign, called Small Changes, Big Difference, we are coordinating a national Organic Beauty Weekend on the 7-8 September. The Soil Association will be coordinating a range of taster and sample sessions with some of the UK's most significant organic health and beauty brands, producers and retailers. We would be delighted to hear from other producers and retailers who would like to join in. Contact us at obw@soilassociation.org.

Peter is Policy Director at the Soil Association, and organic farmer at Courtyard Farm in Norfolk.

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Julie Dorrell
05 June 2013 15:31

I find Boots one of the worst offenders, Not only does it sell products calling them organic when they are full of parabens , laurel sulfate etc. but itw own brand is full of such things as well. I have given up buying facial products at Boots for this reason. Great Elm Physick Garden sells properly organic products as do other companies. So well done highlighting this as I think many people may be fooled into thinking they are putting some good on their skin when it is not. If we can change this it will be brilliant for us all. Thank you

Jack Ozanne
04 June 2013 18:08

Methylisothiazolinone, phthalates, parabens, PEGs - (polyethylene glycols, non-natural propylene glycol (PG), Cocamide DEA - are these also claimed to lead to reduced/impoverished wildlife habitats?

04 June 2013 16:39

Many thanks for the article, I am very grateful that there is more investigation of the claims being made by the 'beauty' industry. It is interesting to read about the bad folks, but are there any sources that state which brands and products are approved and recommended by the SA at this point? Many thanks for your time.

Mayella Almazán
03 June 2013 18:34

alcohol is a point in question. Why would I want alcohol on my face even if it's organic? Yet soon many brands use it!

Anna Louise Batchelor
03 June 2013 10:12

I blogged on natural and organic beauty products several months ago on on the SA website to raise awareness of what we put on our skin is as important as what we eat. At that time I was really concerned about the lack of regulation of 'organic' beauty products so I really heartened to read this post and to read on the Soil Association's actions.

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