Choosing an Organic Skin Care Line

by Alexis Ufland

Maintaining beauty and youthfulness is a daily preoccupation for many women and men. Environmental exposure, lifestyle choices, normal chronology and many other factors all take their toll on the aging process of our skin—and most appearance-conscious people are eager for ways to effectively turn back the clock.  So it’s no surprise that millions of dollars in research and testing have helped to create mass market, anti–aging skin care products.  But when research also unearths the frightening fact that parabens (the most commonly used preservative) have been found in breast cancer tumors*, it sparks understandable concern. In this climate, it’s easy to see why organic skin care products hold a ready niche for beauty consumers intent on both looking good and treating their bodies well.

The concept of organic skin care seems simple enough. The reality is somewhat more complex. Creating, packaging and shipping skin care can require a lot of synthetic support. Today’s consumer holds higher expectations of the products and services they purchase. Likewise, spa owners need to have similarly high standards of excellence from the vendors they choose to patronize. 

When committing to skin care vendors, smart spa owners are seeking those who are devoted to eco-friendly practices through every phase of the production and distribution cycles. This includes sourcing ingredients from fair trade and bio-dynamic farms; packaging products using recycled, recyclable and bio-degradable containers; and finally, delivering products in bio-diesel vehicles.

Medical science tells us we absorb 60-70% of everything applied to our skin, and there is mounting evidence that chemical pesticides, synthetics and petroleum products can ill effects on our bodies. So the most eco-vigilant spas seek product lines that use innovative technologies to develop organic, biodynamic skin care formulas that are paraben-free. Here are a few tips on what to look for—and what to avoid—when selecting a skin care line of your own.

What does Organic and Biodynamic mean?

Organic products are made with ingredients grown without any synthetic chemicals, sewage sludge or GMOs (genetically modified organisms)—and they are third-party certified. "Certified organic" means that an official certifying agency has approved that the producer has grown and handled all ingredients with an adherence to strict procedures.

Biodynamic® agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms—respecting the holistic interrelationship of soil, plants, and animals as a closed, self-nourishing system. Biodynamic farming embraces organic agriculture's emphasis on manures and composts; it excludes the use of artificial chemicals on living organisms. While implementing organic practices such as crop rotation and composting, biodynamic farmers also rely on special plant, animal and mineral preparations—along with the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars. Biodynamic farming is an approach based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

What is a Paraben?

In simplest terms, parabens are chemicals that operate as preservatives to extend a product’s shelf life by warding off bacterial growth. They fall into a family of chemicals known as alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Many researchers believe parabens contribute to the increasing incidences of breast cancer, low sperm count and other estrogen-influenced medical problems in humans.

Accordingly, try to avoid these commonly used Parabens:

  • Methylparaben

  • Propylparabens

  • Ethylparaben

  • Benzylparaben

  • Isobutylparaben

  • Butylparaben

Look for these organic and natural alternatives instead:

  • Rosemary Extract

  • Citrus Seed Extract

  • Potassium Sorbate

  • Benzoic and Sorbic Acid

  • Sodium Benzoate

  • Vitamin A, C & E

How can I tell if it is truly organic?

When selecting an organic skin care line, look for products that meet both the European and United States national certifications standards for organic personal care products. Currently, the top U.K. certification is handled by the Soil Association, while France relies on the Ecocert. Both certification standards act as benchmarks to the newly-created US certifications—which presently include OASIS, NSF & Certech.

Look for these labels when selecting a skin care line:

  • ECOCERT: ECOCERT is an inspection and certification bodywhich operates offices in 18 nations worldwide, carrying out work in over 90 countries; their activities are governed accordingly by public authorities and legislation. ECOCERT has developed rigorous standards that allow companies to promote environmental practices and manufacture organic products in tandem with certain eco-friendly guidelines. One of ECOCERT’S main objectives is to promote ingredients that originate from organic farming. The ECOCERT stamp, an imprimatur of global esteem, is a mark of international credibility; the certification reassures both consumers and the organic industry that a particular skin care product has complied with the most rigorous standards of eco-consciousness.

 

  • Soil Association:  This organization is the UK's leading environmental charity promoting sustainable, organic farming and championing human health. There are three levels of labeling:

    1. Products comprised of 100% organic ingredients.

    2. Products made with 95% organic ingredients, allowing up to 5% of synthetic ingredients from a restricted list.

    3. Products containing between 70% to 90% organic ingredients, in which the actual percentage is duly noted on the label.                     
       

  • OASIS: The OASIS certification will be conducted by International Cosmetics & Regulatory Specialists L.L.C., an independent certifier complying with standards developed by OASIS.  All products certified by OASIS will carry the OASIS seal logo on their packaging. Currently, OASIS requires 85% certified organic content. According to the guidelines of its organizing board, this "organic" percentage standard will gradually increase until it reaches 95% organic content in several years.   

 

  • NSF: - The NSF has now developed a fully organic standard along with a 'made with' standard specifically for personal care manufacturers. While the NSF organic standard is identical to the USDA's, the 'made with' standard differs markedly in a way that enables manufacturers moving in an organic direction to become certified. In order to secure a 'made with' standard, manufacturers will not be allowed to use petroleum-based ingredients or processes. It is worth noting, though, that several processes and ingredients banned in the USDA will be permitted by the NSF—including the use of certain synthetic preservatives and biodegradable surfactants.

 

  • Certech: Organic Cosmetic Certification - Certech has published its own standard for Natural and Organic Certification: It’s an all-encompassing 'hybrid' addressing effective management controls/systems and product stewardship—as well as testing and auditing through the design, sourcing, production, and labeling of natural and organic cosmetics. To the best of our knowledge, Certech has ensured the credibility of its 'IOS Cosmetics' Standard by strict adherence to the principles, guidelines, and regulations already in existence both nationally and internationally:

    1. US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Title 7 Part 205 Natural Organic Program

    2. California Health and Safety Code, Article 7: "The California Organic Products Act of 2003"

    3. Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act (Canada)

    4. Canadian Food and Drugs Act

    5. FDA/CFSAN Cosmetics Good Manufacturing Practice guideline
      CAN/CGSB 32.310 2006 Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards

    6. EEC Regulation number 2092/91

    7. ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems - Requirements

    8. ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems - Requirements

As most Americans are taking the smart step of eliminating trans fats in their diets to avoid heart disease, it only stands to reason they would show a similar level of vigilance in protecting their endocrine system from toxins. And since we don’t yet know the extent of damage synthetic chemicals can inflict, it’s only logical to eliminate those chemicals we put on another important organ—our skin. Our skin, after all, is not only designed to last a lifetime, but it’s the most visible reflection of the smart steps we’ve taken to promote health, serenity, and lifelong wisdom. 

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