Seal Watch: Desperately Seeking Standards

How organic is organic in personal-care products?

By Alexandra Zissu

Organophiles lacking chemistry degrees often refer to cosmetics shopping as a Wild West adventure in lawless label territory. Adding to the confusion is a multiplicity of standards, along with an array of new seals, which will appear this fall.

The most credible seals set clear, uniform standards that are verified by independent third parties rather than industry self-certifiers. “Eventually, we want to get to the place where there’s one legal standard for organic and one for natural,” says Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ( (Natural is currently a completely unregulated term.) Until then, to help you pick cosmetics with the fewest toxic, synthetic petrochemicals, here’s a US and European Union (EU) seal cheat sheet.

USDA Organic
Requires independent third-party certification and a minimum of 95% certified–organic plant ingredients; 70% qualifies for “Made with Organic.” No synthetics or dirty chemistry permitted.

This fall, NSF International extends its food, water, and water filter third-party certification to cosmetics. Requires that products have 70% organic ingredients and very limited chemical process­ing or additives.

This EU seal’s stringent definition of natural bans all petroleum-based ingredients. Third-party certified.

Soil Association
Somewhat weaker EU counterpart of USDA Organic; allows some synthetics.

The new Natural Products Association’s third-party US standards are much like NSF’s but without the organic requirement.

Whole Foods Premium Body Care
An in-store label developed with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for products sold in Whole Foods Market that are free of 250 toxic chemicals.

Organic And Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS)
Industry-vetted EU label requires that products be 85% organic, going up to 95% by 2010. Allows some synthetics.

A looser EU third-party seal requiring 95% natural ingredients, with a minimum 10% of those certified organic.

Issue 25

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