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Organic Beauty Week: Are organic beauty products really better for your skin?

For years we’ve felt guilty for not eating organic food. But while the world is mildly concerned with what we put into our bodies, awareness about what we put onto our bodies is lagging far behind.

Unlike organic food, there are no specific EU regulations to classify beauty products as organic. However there are standardising authorities, such as UK’s The Soil Association, who assess various criteria to ascertain whether a product is truly organic.

This Organic Beauty Week (19-26 September 2016), The Soil Associationn, the UK’s leading organic certifier, is urging consumers to ‘look for the label’ to identify truly organic beauty products.But are organic beauty products really better for your skin? And what makes a product organic?

We spoke to The Soil Association, the UK’s leading organic certifier, and The Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, to find out everything you need to know about organic beauty products.

What makes a beauty product ‘organic’?

Soil Association: Organic beauty is an exciting and fast growing market but there is now, more than ever, a real need for strict regulations on what makes a beauty product truly organic as there are currently no set standards or regulations in place for beauty, as there are for food. This means that any brands wanting to call themselves organic can. Looking for a certified organic logo on the organic beauty products you buy is the simplest and easiest way to guarantee that what you’re buying is actually organic and not one of the ‘pretenders’.

Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association: There is currently no definition for ‘organic’ under the EU cosmetics legislation, but any claim must be capable of substantiation and must not be misleading. Such a claim will also be covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These Regulations do not allow it to be implied, directly or indirectly, that a product has characteristics that it does not have.

There are standards for organic foods and some standardising authorities have adapted their standards for cosmetic products. The aim of the standards is to use a high proportion of organic ingredients and usually set a minimum threshold for the proportion of organic substances used.

CTPA cannot recommend one standard over another.  However it is important to note that obtaining certification from an organic (and/or natural) body is optional whereas compliance with the EU cosmetics legislation is mandatory.

Many products market themselves with terms “kind”, “plant-based”, “natural”, what do you think of these?

SA: Kind and natural are often used by brands who want to appear to be just that, but in fact, those products will often contain petrochemicals, synthetic colours, preservatives and fragrance which you need to be clear on. ‘Plant based’ we’re seeing used more and more of due to the link with the trend in food and diet. This can lead you to think products are totally natural and full of plant oils and extracts but again, with the lack of regulations, brands are often able to say what they like to appeal to customers who are looking for healthier and greener products.

We’d suggest that choosing a certified organic brand is the way to do it as that ensures the products that you buys are not only packed with organic and green ingredients, but that they also work on a sustainable and ethical level too. For us, organic is the only way.

CTPA: Choosing a cosmetic product is a very personal thing.  The cosmetics industry is extremely innovative and there is a wide range of cosmetic products available to suit everyone’s lifestyles, needs and budgets.  As mentioned, any claim made must be substantiated and must not mislead the consumer  and again as noted we should not choose our cosmetic products based on thinking one is safer than another, as they all have to be safe by law.

CTPA has a consumer website which has sections on the strict European cosmetics laws, the facts about chemicalsnatural and organicproducts and allergy.

Is organic better for the skin?

SA: You buy organic food to feed your body with the most nutrient rich food possible. The same can be said for beauty. What you put onto your body is absorbed into your body, and with the skin being your biggest organ, it stands to reason that you would want to use organic products that work to feed and nourish your skin too. There’s also a lot of research being done around the aroma therapeutic properties and benefits of essential oils which almost all organic brands use to fragrance and enhance their products.

CTPA: No. The skin cannot determine where an ingredient comes from.  The most important factor is whether an ingredient is safe and if it is suitable to use on the skin; this will apply equally to organic ingredients and non-organic ingredients. Some people will of course prefer organic products and some will not.

Other key considerations are: does the product suit the individual person’s skin (some people are allergic to some common constituents of essential oils for example); whether the products works for the individual; and if it suits their budget.  However we should never make a choice based on whether one product is safer than another – all cosmetic products and their ingredients (so whether classed as organic, natural or man-made) must be safe.

What chemicals are most damaging to the skin and should therefore be avoided?

SA: There’s a great number of chemicals that are used in skincare that can be considered to be damaging but it’s important to remember that there are also good chemicals that can work to rebalance, rehyrdrate and restore the skin. For us, petrochemicals, parabens, phthalates and other endocrine disruptors are a strict no.

CTPA: As mentioned all cosmetic products and the ingredients they contain must be safe. Any cosmetic must be formulated to be skin tolerant regardless of which ingredients are used.  Safety must be determined by a duly qualified expert safety assessor who will not accept the simplistic view that natural or ‘organic’ ingredients must be safe simply because they are claimed to be ‘organic’ especially since there is no legal definition of what is required for any ingredient to be considered as ‘organic’.

The only reason for an individual to avoid a certain ingredient is if they have been diagnosed as allergic to it.  They can then avoid a cosmetic products containing that ingredients by checking the list of ingredients labelled on the product.