RODALE NEWS, ANAHEIM, CA—If you care about your skin and what you put on it, you’ll find shopping for makeup and soap a little less confusing in the near future. A new certification will allow products made without potentially toxic ingredients—such as parabens and sodium laureth sulfate—to carry organic claims that actually carry some weight. Currently there’s no such system in place, but consumers want one. "People are becoming more aware of environmental chemicals and how they can be toxic. It's not only a matter of what you ingest, but also what you put on your skin and absorb," says Jaclyn Bowen, general manager at Quality Assurance International (QAI), the third-party certifier that helped create the certification standards. "As consumers become more educated on the different properties of these chemicals, they start asking for more natural and organic products."
THE DETAILS: QAI worked with the public health organization NSF International to come up with “NSF/ANSI 305: Made with Organic Personal Care Products;” the standard was just adopted in February 2009. It's the first and only American National Standard accreditation to define organic labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products. It follows the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program but allows certain chemical processes that are specific to personal care products. (For example, saponification, the combo of lye and fatty acids needed to create soap.) As long as its ingredients are organically derived, a product can carry the organic label.
WHAT IT MEANS: The organic marketplace isn’t just about food. Consumers want organic shampoos, lotions, and other potions that aren't chock-full of harmful chemicals. The problem is, there's a lot of greenwashing going on in the personal care industry. Some products make organic and natural claims but use chemicals that will be banned under the new standard.
Here's how you can make sure safer products are touching your skin.
• Keep your eyes open for the logo. Look for the NSF Made with Organic and Quality Assurance International (QAI) seals. They should be hitting store shelves in the next few months. You can also trust USDA-organic-labeled products—but because those standards were created for food, many organic personal care items can’t meet them (hence the need for the new certification).
• Be wary of uncertified claims. The terms "natural" and "organic" don't mean much when it comes to personal care products, unless they are certified by a third-party audit like USDA or the forthcoming NSF/QAI program.
• Check the database. Environmental Working Group has an extensive Skin Deep database of personal care products that ranks them on the safety of their ingredients. Before shopping, you might want to scout out safer brands.