Lather. rinse. repeat. Although those instructions may be perfectly clear, the rest of your shampoo’s label may not be. Unlike foods, personal care products may use the word organic in their names or on labels even if they’re not certified organic. Unless they display the green-and-white USDA Organic seal—meaning 95 percent to 100 percent of ingredients are produced according to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) standards—they may contain synthetic preservatives, colors, fragrances, or other chemicals, according to industry experts.

Watchdog groups Consumers Union and the Organic Consumers Association filed a complaint in March, asking that the USDA enforce the term organic as strictly with personal care products as it does with food. But applying a food standard to shampoos, makeup, and the like raises its own problems.

A new certification could lessen the confusion: NSF/ANSI Standard 305, developed by an international set of natural and organic cosmetics trade groups, manufacturers, and Quality Assurance International (QAI), a USDA-accredited organic certifier. It requires at least 70 percent of ingredients to be organic but allows some manufacturing processes the NOP prohibits, such as hydrolysis (breaking down proteins with water). The intent is to create a label for personal care products that use organic ingredients but that function as effectively as nonorganic options, says QAI general manager Jaclyn Bowen. Bonus: NSF/ANSI Standard 305 also applies in countries outside USDA jurisdiction, making it a global attempt to reach a standard for natural and organic personal care items.

Highlights of nsf/ansi standard 305

Manufacturers must verify use of organic ingredients and prevent commingling with nonorganic products prior to use

At least 70 percent of ingredients in the finished products must be organic.

Chemists familiar with personal care product development review all nonorganic ingredients and processes.

The use of genetically modified or irradiated ingredients and formaldehyde- or petroleum-based compounds is prohibited.

Sanitation and pest control must follow NOP regulations.