Do you drive the extra mile or spend the extra buck to buy natural personal products? Organic toothpaste?Botanical shampoos? People have a tendency to believe that “natural” means “safe,” but this isn’t always true.
The Food and Drug Administration says labels that say “natural,” “safe,” “recommended” or “tested” are marketing terms that can “mean anything or nothing at all.” Manufacturers aren’t required to provide proof of these claims.
Personal care products like shampoo, shaving cream and lotions, necessities like toothpaste and body wash, are classified along with make-up as “cosmetics.” We might think of them as “health and hygiene” products but they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“A cosmetic manufacturer may use any ingredient or raw material,” says the FDA, “and market the final product without government approval.”
Who makes sure that the products you buy are safe? The industry that makes them. In order to save everyone lengthy legislation and regulation processes, the cosmetic industry formed it’s own board to regulate personal care products.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel is currently in charge and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that “89% of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution.”
The regulation of “organic,” “natural,” “chemical-free” and “made with botanicals” labeling is even more nebulous. It’s like a hot potato that everyone keeps juggling.
What does Natural mean?
A body wash formula can claim to be 90% organic because it contains 90% water!
The USDA is presently in charge of organic products. Although the National Organic Program (NOP) that was developed by the USDA lists cosmetics and body care products under it’s regulatory duties, spokespeople for the department claim: “We here in the Department of Agriculture deal with food and other products. Personal care products, I would suggest that you check with the FDA…If a company wants to have the word ‘organic’ on its packaging it needs to find a certifying agent that is willing to work with the company.”
There are plenty of private agencies willing to certify a product as natural or organic, agencies with their own definitions of these terms. The reason companies don’t do research on ingredients is because of cost. Having a product certified costs as well, so since they are not required to do so, most cosmetic manufacturers don’t.
While government agencies argue about responsibility, consumers are targeted. Americans spend upwards of $30 billion a year on personal care and over $190 million is spent on natural and organic products.
“The incorporation of active ingredients, such as plant acids and enzymes, into toiletries and cosmetics has become a major force behind growth in an otherwise mature industry,” says an industrial analyst.
“Botanical extracts, including herbals that double as food additives or nutritional supplements, are harvesting some of the fastest sales gains among cosmetic chemical products,” says a spokesperson for a leading cosmetic chemical company.
There is big money involved here. The growth in the natural and organic cosmetic sector is about 39% annually.
“Nowhere do the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ take more of a bruising than in the cosmetic industry,” says New Vegetarian and Natural Health, “Most cosmetics companies utilizing the term ‘organic’ on their label are using the chemistry definition of organic—meaning a compound that contains carbon…By using this definition they could say that a toxic petrochemical preservative called methyl paraben is ‘organic’ because it was formed by leaves that rotted over thousands of years to become oil.”
That is the crux of the matter. What most people do not consider is that everything is chemical. “Natural chemicals” are not necessarily safer. Just because something from nature is used unaltered does not make it safe. Poison ivy, snake venom and heavy metals are just some examples.
Organic consultant Peter Murray says, Until all of the definitions and responsibilities are hammered out, you can check out products at the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety database at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com.