For chemists like the Beauty Brains, the meaning of ‘organic’ is clear. It is any chemical compound that contains Carbon. In fact, to get a college chemistry degree you take a year of Organic Chemistry where you memorize endless chemical reactions between hydrocarbons, oxygen, nitrogen and more. Many a chemist wannabe switched to marketing degrees after flunking organic chemistry.
What does organic mean for cosmetics?
But ‘organic’ doesn’t quite mean the same thing in the cosmetic industry. To consumers it can mean ‘natural’, ‘green’, ‘chemical free’, or ‘found at Whole Foods’. But according to this article, the US organics market is completely confused. Primarily because there is no industry-agreed meaning for terms like ‘organic’ or ‘natural’. Unlike the farming industry, these terms are not regulated for cosmetics. Companies can pretty much claim anything is natural or organic.
For example, imagine a body wash formula. It contains all kinds of synthetic surfactants, fragrances, preservatives and colors. But it also contains 85-90% water. A company might simply claim “90% organic or natural” and be telling the truth. Certainly, this isn’t in the spirit of what people believe organic to mean, but it is within the law.
Our good friends at Burt’s Bees are outraged by the tricks some companies are playing on the public. They are campaigning to get tighter regulations on cosmetics that use terms such as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. Stay tuned to see if they will make a difference.
Are organic products better?
Incidentally, natural or organic cosmetic products don’t really provide any added benefit for consumers. Most companies are just fooling you when they say their products are natural. What isn’t? And for companies like Burt’s Bees who strive to make ‘organic’ or ‘all-natural’ products, their finished products are mostly functionally inferior to more mainstream products. This is the real trade-off of natural or organic products. That and an incredibly higher cost for an inferior product.
Remember cosmetics are not food. No one has ever proven there is a benefit to ‘organically’ derived cosmetics.