When it comes to shopping for the perfect beauty product, things can get pretty confusing, especially if you're looking for organics. With little to no regulation, labels are often filled with confusing jargon that makes it nearly impossible to weed out what’s truly organic.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for regulating the use of the term organic in the cosmetic industry. If you see its official seal on a product, it’s a good sign. However, since the USDA is not authorized to regulate product labels on cosmetics and focuses mostly on food, beauty companies can freely use the term organic on their packaging without facing any federal consequences. This makes it possible for beauty brands to slap the word organic on their products even if they aren't.
If a food product is less than 95 percent organic, it cannot use the term organic or display the USDA Organic Seal on the front label. The same rules apply to cosmetics products, but brands have more leeway with what ingredients they can use and are known for deceptively including labels like “pure” and “organic” on their packaging while still including synthetic fragrances and parabens.
Since the USDA has not placed any regulation on the term natural it is often used in lieu of the term “organic” in order to promote a product. The Daily Mail points out that while products boast ingredients that are “natural,” it's only because they haven’t been made in a laboratory. Ingredients like glycerin and alcohol for example can be labeled as "natural" because they are naturally derived.
To make matters worse, there hasn’t been any strict law banning ingredients in beauty products since 1938.Thanks to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, rat poison was banned after it was found being used in mascaras. Last year, senators introduced the Personal Products Safety Act, a bill which would require the FDA to evaluate a minimum of five ingredients per year and determine their safety in personal products. If passed, the bill has the potential to improve cosmetic safety standards, which is a step in the right direction, but it still does not address the issue of organic product mislabeling.
Tons of prominent beauty brands have also come under fire for their false organic beauty claims. This “greenwashing,” (unethical marketing tactics employed by companies) has had disastrous results for consumers that believe they are purchasing organic, environmentally-friendly products, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. The sad reality is that some of the most popular brands on the market that claim to be “organic” and “natural” are chock full of chemicals.
There are some companies working tirelessly to find an ethical solution to product labeling. Au Naturale Cosmetics founder, Ashley Prange, takes a stand against product mislabeling in the cosmetics industry and wants to see more regulation. Through her company, Prange has worked to raise beauty standards by offering cosmetic options that are 100 percent gluten-free, vegan, cruelty-free, and made with organic ingredients.
This spring, Au Naturale Cosmetics will be spearheading an effort to clean up the industry known as #TheCleanBeautyRevolution. The company will take the conversation to Washington D.C. where they will lobby and demand for clear and stricter labeling regulation of beauty products. The movement hopes to spark lawmakers to require a transparent ingredients list that will protect consumers against harmful chemicals. Prange points out that right now it is nearly impossible to regulate makeup as organic and that true organic labeling is limited to skincare products.
“Makeup can’t be USDA certified organic because of the minerals," Prange says. "#TheCleanBeautyRevolution is creating guidelines so people understand what the word organic means as it pertains to makeup.”
When asked what she hopes to inspire through #TheCleanBeautyRevolution, Prange says that she seeks stronger legal repercussions:
“Pure and simple; the words organic and natural to be clearly defined so that the consumer is not confused. In the U.S. there’s only 10 synthetic ingredients that are banned and in Europe there’s over 1,300. We have a lot of work to do in watching what ingredients go into cosmetics and on your skin (which is the largest organ in your body) and end up in your bloodstream."
The issue hits close to home for Prange, who often struggled with reactions to skin-care products and was prompted to create Au Naturale Cosmetics. To avoid falling prey to misleading organic packaging, Prange recommends that consumers run product ingredients through the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) cosmetics database. It provides detailed descriptions of where the ingredient is derived from and how harmful it is to your health.
As exciting as it can be to score a new beauty product, nowadays consumers have to be more savvy than ever and know exactly what they are getting into when making a purchase. Everything is not what it seems and this is no different when it comes to organic beauty. Until there are stricter federal guidelines in place, it’s our job to become educated on the subject and not be suckered by greenwashing marketing tactics.