Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Posts tagged ‘natural’

What does certified organic really mean?

imageI have been doing a lot of reading lately about this subject, as I try to determine whether BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks should go through the process to be certified as an organic manufacturer, and this is what I’ve discovered along the way.

1) There is no single organization which certifies cosmetics as organic. While a company can apply to the USDA, (or their government body) for certification, the USDA does not control the certification process in general, and any company can set themselves up as a certification “body”. Since all of the requirements for organic certification exist officially only for food, each organization is free to adopt their own definition or interpretation of these requirements as they apply to cosmetics.

So, the first thing to consider when you’re assessing a certified organic product is who is doing the certifying. Look for a reputable company that has the resources required to adequately audit the manufacturing processes of the applicants, and read their specific requirements. Any company that has gone through the certification process should be happy to provide you with this information.

2) The USDA has identified three categories of labeling organic products, which most certification bodies adhere to. It is important to note that the only place where these are legally binding is in food production. At this point, the organic cosmetics industry is self-regulating, which means a company can market its products as organic with no certification in place.

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Not so much….

Where it gets tricky, and what many people don’t realize is that a 100% organic certification does not mean that the food has never been subjected to non-organic treatments, or that the cosmetic contains nothing but organic ingredients. Doesn’t even mean that the food or cosmetic contains no synthetic ingredients. Say what?

Every organic certification out there allows the producer/manufacturer leeway on certain ingredients or processes, if they are deemed to be necessary to the production of the item, and an organic alternative is not available. If you want to check out the full list of what is and is not allowed in organic products, you can find that here. Scroll down to Subsection G: Administration. For cosmetic purposes, we need to look at § 205.605 Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).”

This is a list of all of the synthetic ingredients that are allowed to be in a product and still be classified as 100% organic according to the USDA. Of particular note is sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye. As I keep harping on, no lye=no soap. When I first started researching the subject, I couldn’t understand how soap could ever be certified as 100% organic. Even though there is no lye left in a properly made bar of soap, it was definitely a required ingredient. This list is the answer. So to be clear, 100 % organic means 100% organic plus anything on the list of allowed exemptions

So what does this mean? It means that 100% organic products may not be 100% natural. This was a shocker to me, especially when it comes to food. I thought the first criteria would be that the product was all natural, and that the organic label was an increased level of “goodness”!

So when you are bopping your way around the Internet looking for natural cosmetics, keep these things in mind.

Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ to use in evaluating claims you may find on cosmetic products:

a) Soap – can be “100% organic”, can never be “100% natural” or “all natural”

b) Emulsified lotions and creams (water as an ingredient) – can be “100% organic”, “100% natural” or “all natural” . CAUTION: this designation means they are not using a preservative, or they are relying on a form of natural preservative, or they are mislabeling their product. (See below)

c) Whipped butters and scrubs, balms, salves (no water included) – can be “100% organic”, “100% natural” or “all natural – these require no preservative as there is no water in them to provide an environment for yeast, mold, and bacteria to grow. However, many formulators, including myself, will add preservative to a product such as a scrub that is designed to be used in and around the bathroom, due to the high likelihood that you are going to accidentally splash or drip water into the container while using it. A tiny amount of water is all it takes to make the nasties happy!

A word on preservatives: To the best of my knowledge, there are no natural preservatives which have been proven to be effective in preserving a product for any significant length of time, so please be cautious. Do not expect that you will be able to identify when a product has “gone bad”. Yeast, mold and bacteria can multiply and thrive in your lotion with no visible signs. Do not expect to be able to treat an “all natural” product the same way you treat one with a synthetic preservative. A product made without preservatives may have a shelf life of up to 6 months IF IT IS NEVER OPENED, assuming that they used fresh ingredients. Ask the seller when it was manufactured. Once it has been opened, refrigerate it and toss it after a month. Don’t be deceived by the fact that it still “looks fine”! Take a look at it under a microscope and it could be teeming with life, and unfriendly life at that, such as staph, eColi or botulism….things that can make you very sick, or could kill someone with a weakened immune system. It is just not worth the risk.

Keep all of this in mind when you’re comparing products, and don’t assume a statement is accurate just because its coming from a name brand. I was shocked just this morning when I dropped by the Burts Bees website and found that they are marketing their soap as 100% natural! I guess they found some magical, natural lye to make their soap with, or they are basing the statement on the fact that there is no chemically identifiable lye left in the finished bar. That’s like saying there is no sugar or flour in a cake because you can’t see it! Nonsense….

As always, keep asking questions…..

Watch out for green washing !

Recently while browsing the Internet doing research for a new product, I stumbled cross a couple of products that started me thinking about ingredients. Health Canada and the FDA have put in place regulations requiring that manufacturers of skin care and cosmetic products list all of the ingredients on the package, either on the container or as an insert in the package, depending on different variables.

A big concern in the handcrafted cosmetic, soap and skin care industry is the number of manufacturers that are obviously not conforming to these regulations, but the reality is that there are not enough bodies employed by these government agencies to adequately “police” the industry, so this will continue.

Check back in the future for a post on how you can spot the “non-conformers”, but today I want to look at some issues that exist with the companies who do disclose their ingredients.

I’ve chosen 2 popular products to illustrate my point, but they are representative of the industry as a whole, and are not being singled out as being undesirable in any way. To the best of my knowledge, they are in full compliance with all government regulations as they pertain to labelling.

Moroccanoil Treatment

Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Butylphenyl, MethylPropional, Argania Spinoza Kernal Oil (Aragan Oil), Linseed (Linum Usitatissimum) Extract, Fragrance Supplement, D&C Yellow-11, D&C Red-17, Coumarin, Benzyl Benzoate, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone.

The first thing you might not know about the labelling regulations, is that ingredients must be listed on the label according to the percentage of each in the product, from highest to lowest, with the exception of ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product, which can be listed in any order.

The first three ingredients on this list are silicones. Silicones smooth frizzy hair, make it shiny and are an effective detangler. Although the next two ingredients are listed as two, it is actually one. Butylphenyl Methylpropional is a synthetic fragrance. Linseed extract is used to strengthen and increase shine. The balance of the ingredients are color and fragrance.

So if we look at this list, the maximum amount of argan oil that could be in this product is 2 %, but the product has become a best seller by promoting itself as being nourishing due to its use of luxurious argan oil. Here is the what they say about the product on their website:

” This treatment for hair completely transforms and repairs as its formula transports lost proteins for strength; fatty acids, omega-3 oils and vitamins for shine; and antioxidants for protection. It absorbs instantly to fill gaps in hair created by heat, styling and environmental damage.”

The only ingredients on this list which contain proteins, fatty acids, omega-3 oils and vitamins are the argan oil and linseed extract, and the maximum they could add up to is 4 % of the product. There is no mention of the other 96% of the product which is silicones, fragrance and colour. Since fragrance is usually restricted to around 2% of the total product, lets subtract 3% for fragrance and colour, leaving us with a product that is 93% silicones, yet they receive no mention at all in any product detail information or marketing, leaving the consumer to believe that it is the wondrous, magical, natural argan oil that is making their hair smooth, silky and manageable.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not saying Moroccanoil is a bad product…I actually use the leave in treatment as well as their shampoo and conditioner, and have no plans to stop. What I don’t like is the way consumers are left with the perception that the performance of this product is due to the wonderful, natural Argan oils. Do they come right out and say that? No. Could they do a much better job informing the consumer? Absolutely!

The next product I want to look at is Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream. If you look at the product on their website, under Ingredients for this product they have listed Active Naturals Colloidal Oatmeal. Period. End of story.

The banner on their website is Aveeno Active Naturals, leading one to believe that this is a natural product.

No mention anywhere of the synthetic cocktail that makes up the majority of this product, in fact all of their products. I’m not going to pick apart this list….we could play ‘spot the synthetics’ but that would be like shooting fish in a barrel…there are so many of them!

Water, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Ceteareth-6, Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Hydrolyzed Oats, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, PEG-25 Soya Sterol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Benzalkonium Chloride, Benzaldehyde, Butylene Glycol, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Ethyl Alcohol, Isobutylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Stearyl Alcohol.

In 2011, CBC Marketplace named Aveeno to their Top Ten Lousy Labels, which was the result of their investigation into “green” labelling. When asked to respond, here is the official response from Aveeno.

Marketplace’s question for Aveeno: What percentage of the content of your products is natural?

Answer from Alicia Storey, Senior Account Executive, Edelman public relations

AVEENO(r) products are made with ACTIVE NATURALS(tm); natural ingredients that have been scientifically shown to deliver real, proven skin care benefits. Our definition of ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) references ingredients derived from nature and uniquely formulated by AVEENO(r) to promote skin’s health and beauty. These active naturals include colloidal oatmeal, soy, feverfew PFE, shiitake mushroom complex and southernwood extract, which deliver effective skincare benefits through breakthrough product formulations that are unique to the AVEENO(r) brand.
We do not disclose the percentage of ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) ingredients in our products for competitive reasons.

AVEENO(r) has been using ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) in our formulations for more than 60 years. We are committed to bringing the balance of science and nature to each consumer by finding the most innovative, clinically proven formulations for the best natural ingredients. As a result of this commitment, AVEENO(r) is the skincare brand with natural ingredients that is most trusted by dermatologists.

Hmmm, once again, no mention of the myriad of synthetics in their products, and can’t tell us how much of the product is natural because of “competitive reasons”. I am not going to tell you that all synthetic ingredients are the devil…some, such as preservatives, are necessary,

However, I strongly object to companies hiding behind the badge of “natural” in order to convince consumers to buy their product. Don’t talk the talk, if you can’t walk the walk.

So my message to you, the consumer is: be skeptical. When you see an ad on TV or in a magazine, remember that its’ sole purpose is to separate you from your money. Don’t buy into the hype – read the label…the truth is out there!

You can read more about the Top Ten Lousy Labels at:



As the owner and head soapmaker at BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks, I spend an inordinate amount of time on websites, forums and blogs seeking knowledge and inspiration. Certain common themes are emerging, and I will be exploring these in the days and weeks ahead. Come back tomorrow for my first post in the series on “What is natural?

Mike Michalowicz

Thoughts from The Queen Bee


Thoughts from The Queen Bee

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