Organic personal care products: Are they better?
- As of 2016, skin care had the largest market share in the natural and organic beauty category, accounting for 43% of all sales.
- Although the USDA has not developed standards for organic formulating and labeling of personal care products, its National Organic Program’s standards apply to the agricultural ingredients that may be contained in a product. In order to obtain the USDA’s “organic” label, a product “must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt).”
- The idea for the popular conventional skin care product, Vaseline, originated when chemist Robert Chesebrough visited an oil field in 1859 to research what products could be made from the fuel. Petroleum jelly was officially launched in 1870 and has been a staple in homes worldwide ever since for its “ability to protect and restore dry and damaged skin.”
- The natural beauty brand, Beautycounter, utilizes an ingredient standard tool called The Never List, which includes “more than 1,800 questionable or harmful chemicals that [they] never use as ingredients in [their] products.”
Personal care products may seem like a skin-deep affair, but over 60% of substances applied to the skin are absorbed into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. The toxins or contaminants within them are also being consumed and even inhaled.
An alarming number of standard, non-organic personal care products contain harsh chemicals that can harm the environment and your health. Microplastics in face scrubs and toothpaste, titanium dioxide (shown to be toxic in animals), and numerous other mineral and man-made compounds (sodium laurel, laureth sulphate, parabens, petroleum, and even pesticides) have been linked to various ailments and diseases, ranging from skin irritation and hormone imbalance, to organ toxicity and cancer. Synthetics and derivatives of petrochemicals are often added to enhance superficial features like color, texture, and scent, with no regard for consumer health. Documented cases exposed companies' awareness of harmful ingredients in their personal care products, yet distribution continued.
The advantages of organic products are many, benefiting users' skin and health and the planet. These products and companies provide what the standard market sorely lacks: transparency, along with safe, ethically sourced, and tested ingredients. With nutrient-rich formulas aimed to avoid irritation and allergic reactions, gentler organic compounds are proven more effective. And when certified organic, a product is guaranteed to have no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or herbicides used in sourcing its natural ingredients. It also won't include additives, chemicals, or genetically modified organisms, so the consumer knows they're only absorbing natural ingredients which aren't harmful.
By switching to organic, consumers demonstrate disapproval of the absent accountability and blatantly unethical practices that persist in the synthetic market while sparing themselves unnecessary personal contaminant consumption and toxic chemical pollution.
The growing skepticism directed towards 'dangerous chemicals' in non-organic personal care products is largely unfounded. Most experts agree that organic products are just as likely as non-organic products to give a bad reaction to those who use them. This is especially true for individuals with a history of allergies, as many natural things--pollen, nuts, fruits--are known to cause allergic reactions and can be dangerous when applied to the skin. Allergic reactions to conventional products, on the other hand, are less of a concern, as synthetic ingredients can be better formulated for those with sensitive skin.
Researchers also find that personal care products that are genuinely organic may not work as well as traditional ones. Often, it is necessary for brands to use synthetic ingredients to ensure their products are effective. It should also be acknowledged that organic products tend to have fewer studies demonstrating their efficacy as compared to conventional products. So despite organic ingredients seeming like they may be of higher quality, the fact remains that there is usually insufficient evidence to prove this is the case.
Another problem is that most organic products will not last as long. Without preservatives, the shelf life of organic personal care products is usually only around three months. While this may not necessarily be a bad thing for everyone, it does mean consumers will have to be extra mindful of their products expiring--an issue that is rarely a concern with conventional products.
Just because something is organic or natural doesn't necessarily mean that it is the better choice.
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