You might expect a product labeled "pure, natural and organic" to be, well … pure, natural and organic. But you might be in for a surprise.
Unlike the food industry, there are no legal standards for organic or natural personal care products sold in the United States. This means that companies can, and often do, use these terms as marketing gimmicks. For example, the top-selling shampoo in the United States is Clairol Herbal Essences, which until recently claimed to offer users an "organic experience." However, there isn't much about this product that is either herbal or organic; it contains more than a dozen synthetic petrochemicals and has a moderate toxicity rating in Skin Deep.
Even top-selling brands in the natural products sector have been found to contain 1,4-dioxane, a synthetic chemical carcinogen.
New industry standards are emerging that may help consumers differentiate between the natural and not-so-natural products, but multiple standards with different meanings may not be helpful for consumers. For example, some require safety substantiation from a certifying body and others don't. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is advocating for a standard that means ingredients are both natural and safe for people.
What You Can Do
Encourage your favorite retailers and manufacturers of natural and organic products to clarify their use of the terms. Be a critical consumer and remember that natural is a marketing term, not a legally binding description.
You can also sign our petition to Aveeno, Herbal Essences and St. Ives asking for an end to the greenwashing.
Science and health effects: 1,4-dioxane