Despite increased demand for nontoxic personal care products, consumers remain confused about “organic” as it pertains to cosmetics—and it’s affecting the entire personal care industry, experts said at this year’s All Things Organic conference. “We encourage retailers to exercise their purchasing power to help crack down on products that make unsubstantiated ‘organic’ claims,” said Laura Stravino, director of development and strategic initiatives at the Organic Trade Association. “More and more personal care products are calling themselves organic, though most of them are not.”

Stravino helped the OTA lay the groundwork for the new personal care certification, NSF/ANSI 305, which requires products to contain at least 70 percent organic materials. However, the certification allows the use of some synthetic ingredients prohibited under the USDA Organic standard, such as certain preservatives and surfactants, so products maintain stable shelf lives, desired textures and efficaciousness.

“Under the USDA Organic certification, you’ll only get products like massage oils, chapsticks and some lotions, but nothing that foams until green chemistry advances,” said Joe Smillie, senior vice president at Quality Assurance International.
Suppliers do have greener ways in the works, which will help decrease the need for synthetic ingredients—and meet manufacturer and consumer demands—Smillie said. The latest: a surfactant that, through a fermentation process, relies on enzymes rather than synthetics.

Similar labeling and manufacturing efforts are taking place internationally to help sort out the confusion, said Francis Blake, chair of COSMOS, a European personal care standard that aims to harmonize third party personal care certification initiatives. “We’re addressing the needs of consumers, the industry and organic farming. We recognize that the personal care industry is an international industry—a single international standard is necessary to supply the needs of both the consumers and the industry.”