USDA Organic Certified Body Care Products

Currently we’re looking at how to keep toxic body care products and cosmetics out of your home. Choosing real organic products is one way to accomplish this. In truth, USDA Organic body care products and cosmetics have some flaws, but first we’ll look at the issue behind certified organic products and the pros of said products.

*NOTE: When I talk about body care and cosmetics I mean the following types of products – toothpaste, soaps, body washes, lip gloss, lotions, shampoo, hair coloring, nail polish, essential oils and all related products. Body care products, to me, means products you use on or in your body (such as conditioner or mouthwash).

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What are USDA Organic certified body care products?

Right now anyone and any company can claim that their body care product is organic. The product doesn’t need to be certified by anyone and companies don’t have to prove to consumers, or anyone else that their product is actually organic.

The one legal option we currently have as consumers that allows us to tell organic fakers from the real deal is the USDA Organic Seal. The FDA and the USDA do not regulate the term organic as it applies to cosmetics, body care products or personal care products as they do other agriculture items. If a body care product carries the actual USDA Organic Seal it’s better regulated but if there’s no USDA seal, then you can’t be sure the product is organic without some investigating.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has been working to clean up the natural and organic personal care industry via their Coming Clean Campaign for a long while now, although there’s resistance from major organizations. The OCA points out…

“The word “organic” is not properly regulated on personal care products (examples: soap and bodywash, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc.) as it is on food products, unless the product is certified by the USDA National Organic Program. Due to this lax regulation, many personal care products have the word “organic” in their brand name or otherwise on their product label, but unless they are USDA certified, the main cleansing ingredients and preservatives are usually made with synthetic and petrochemical compounds.”

On November 5, 2009, the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation for “Solving the Problem of Mislabeled Organic Personal Care Products” (pdf).  The recommendation urges the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to make sure that any use of the word “organic” on a personal care product is backed up by third-party certification to USDA organic standards.

The OCA wants to get rid of all fraudulent labeling that is misleading consumers. The OCA believes that organic bodycare standards should mirror organic food standard meaning: Certified organic agricultural feedstocks are utilized in the manufacture of the key basic cleansing and conditioning ingredients, versus petroleum or conventional feedstocks; manufacture of such ingredients is ecological; the toxicity of each ingredient is minimal; non-agricultural water is not counted in any shape or form as contributing to organic content.

Why choose USDA Organic certified body care products?

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The USDA Organic labeling process is far from perfect however, right now it’s the best we’ve got and beyond that there are still reasons to choose USDA Certified Organic products over non-certified products, such as…

  • You’re speaking with your purchases. By choosing certified organic over non-certified organic you’re telling organizations and companies that certification of organic products is important to you.
  • You want safer products for your family. If a body care product is certified USDA Organic it’s free from ingredients grown with conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Because of totally lax labeling issues, if you don’t see the USDA Organic seal your shampoo, soap and so on may contain synthetic and petrochemical compounds or other baddies.
  • You’re sticking it to greenwashing companies. When a company flaunts a green or organic label and yet is not truly sustainable or organic that’s greenwashing and if you buy their products all you’re doing is supporting said company in lame greenwashing activities. To me this is the best reason to buy USDA Organic body care products. I HATE greenwashing companies and we’re making it easy for them by not reading labels and buying something just because it says, “organic.” Following is an example of one greenwashing product:

Freeman Good Stuff Organics Smoothing Facial Scrub – now this stuff looks super organic; they even plaster the word “Organics” across the top of the scrub. However, if you read the label you won’t see any of the ingredients labeled organic and some are unhealthy, even toxic when compared to other, better ingredients found in real organic products. If unhealthy I’ve linked the ingredient to an explanation.

Ingredients in Freeman Good Stuff Organics Smoothing Facial Scrub: Water, Polyethylene, Papain, Bilberry Extract, Sugar Cane Extract, Acer Saccharum (Sugar Maple) Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Citrus Medica Limonium (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Acai Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Seed Butter, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Carbomer, PEG 7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Hydrogenated Jojoba Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, DMDM Hydantoin, Disodium EDTA, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

The packaging also notes, “Formulated with organic Fair Trade Cocoa Butter to support farmers in developing countries.” However this product is not certified by TransFair USA and it’s important to note that a company is allowed to carry the Fair Trade label even if it’s a composite product so long as the product actually adheres to Fair Trade standards. If you browse the Freeman website you won’t find ANY information on organic certification or Fair Trade certification at all.

End result - This product is not truly supporting Fair Trade or organic standards. It’s a fake organic product and not very healthy for your skin to boot. This product contains many synthetic ingredients and scores a 5 at Skin Deep, meaning that 66% of scrubs listed at Skin Deep are healthier for your skin than this one.

Not to pick on Freeman… I don’t utterly hate Freeman. To be fair, Freeman has some major benefits as a company, such as only a moderate risk score at Skin Deep vs. a high risk score plus they don’t test on animals (they’re Leaping Bunny certified) and they offer somewhat recyclable packaging. With some tweaking, Freeman could be an excellent green company. However currently they are using the term “Organic” falsely to gain consumer trust.

Freeman is hardly alone though. I randomly picked this product because I see it everywhere, but many, many products are currently claiming to be organic without any certification to back them up. See which fake “organic” brands the OCA recommends boycotting. You can also see a listing of real USDA Organic companies at OCA.

Additionally some companies choose to certify some products, rather than a majority of products with the USDA, such as Eminence Organics and Juice Beauty. You need to be careful; a few USDA Organic products doesn’t mean all USDA Organic – look for the seal on actual products not simply at the company website.

Is USDA Organic perfect?

Not really. Just because a company carries the seal doesn’t mean they also use other sustainable company methods such as greener packaging or wind power. It simply means that they carry true organic products. The organic seal does not mean a product is 100% safe for all people. This seal also doesn’t cover companies who are using real organics but just aren’t yet certified. Lastly, many USDA Certified products use plant based ingredients or essential oils both of which can be unsafe for some people. Beyond looking for the seal, read your labels and read the following guides…

  • Essential Oil Safety Guide
  • Flowers & Herbs Safety Guide

All that said, if you’re looking for real honest to goodness organic body care items make sure you look for the USDA Organic Seal. Learn more at the Coming Clean Campaign and tell the USDA that you want better organic standards in place for body care and cosmetics.

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