The word “organic” is simultaneously the most buzzy and confusing cosmetic label of the last ten years for women. In the United States, as it relates to cosmetics, the word “organic” is defined in a few ways, taken advantage of by many and regulated by none. At its most high-level definition, Merriam-Webster defines the word “organic” as “related to, or obtained from living things” and “…containing carbon compounds”.
Technically, we can all call ourselves “organic” because, by this definition, we are all living and carbon-based, as is every cosmetic sold. Does that mean that all cosmetics are organic in the sense of using a certain quantity of certified organic ingredients and sustainable practices? No. However, many cosmetic companies jumping on the “organic” and “natural” bandwagon make natural, and even organic claims, with no basis in a certification standard.
Who regulates organic cosmetic claims? When most people look for organic ingredients and products, they are looking for a third-party certification such as the “USDA Organic” seal. However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s own website, they only regulate the term “organic” as it applies to agricultural products through its National Organic Program (NOP) regulation. This means that the USDA doesn’t have a separate standard for cosmetics.
Since the USDA restricts its certifications to a food-grade standard, the product sold with the claim and USDA seal must be comprised of 95-100% regulated, third-party certified organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). The other 5% may be comprised of a very short list of approved non-certified organic, natural ingredients.
What about the FDA? Do they hold and regulate organic cosmetic claims? The USDA confirms on its website that this issue can’t be bounced over the to FDA either, stating that the “FDA does not define or regulate the term “organic,” as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products.”
What does this mean for cosmetics? The short answer is that, unless your cosmetic is essentially food, as in a blend of oils and butters, it’s unlikely to qualify under the USDA food-grade standards to be considered “organic” and carry the “USDA Organic” seal.
Conscientious cosmetic companies formulate many skin care products to meet the USDA’s strict food-grade USDA Certified organic standards. However, with the USDA Organic standards as they currently are, it’s impossible to formulate an effective color cosmetic like lipstick, mascara or blush that meets the 95%+ certified organic ingredient standard.
As the founder of a makeup company, I know what goes into making an effective natural makeup. I can see false “organic” and “natural” claims a mile away. I also know when a certification is counter productive to the function of a product. Striving to meet a 95%+ food grade standard simply doesn’t make sense for the natural makeup industry.
Why is it so difficult to formulate a “USDA Organic” makeup carrying the seal? Makeup is all about color; rich, nuanced, deeply pigmented color. All of that color and pigment, even when naturally sourced ingredients (i.e. mica, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, zinc, ultramarine), takes up a very large piece of the pie. Generally, an effective color cosmetic product with a great application and pigment pay-off will show up in well over 20% of the formula. Thus, excluding it from qualifying for the coveted “USDA Organic” seal.
Makeup is effective only when it contains enough pigment to give you a great lip color, to cover those blemishes and dark under-eye circles and to give you that beautiful flush on your cheeks. It’s our priority to create products that hit the sweet spot of safe and effective. We use as many USDA Certified Organic ingredients as possible in our formulas along with the safest, most refined natural pigments we can get our hands on.
We are in the color business! For now, that means that we will be creating makeup with as much pigment as possible to give you the color, coverage and consistency you desire. If the day comes when the FDA or USDA offers an “organic cosmetic” certification, we will be the first in line.
Check out our full line of super natural makeup packed with certified organic ingredients here. Also, don’t forget to visit our blog regularly as we continue to share organic beauty insider secrets and the latest updates about the organic industry.