Deciphering what "organic" labels mean

Ever since I've started trying more organic / natural personal care products, one thing that always confuses me is the little signs mean on the products, saying this is '9x% organic', that it is 'made with naturally-derived XXX'....

Yep, they are pretty confusing. ๐Ÿคท I've researched and summarized below the 2 most common logos and what they entail. But more importantly, towards the end I will also point out some key misconception & must-knows.โค๏ธ๏ธ

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The two logos I've chosen are the USDA Organic Seal and ECOCERT.

It's not super important to know the differences but now that you're here, might as well - right? :P

  • USDA: United States Department of Agriculture. The Organic labelling applies to alcohol beverage, agriculture, cosmetics, etc. As you will see, they have very specific regulations (which can be confusing...) on what are the specific 'claims' that the product can use and where (they call in principal display panel vs information panel, which is most of the times front & back label). It covers the production, handling, and processing of the organic products.

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  • ECOCERT: An independent and accredited certification body. The ECOCERT 'ecological and organic cosmetics' specification was introduced in 2003. It inspects products on the basis of the specification. Based in France.

Some difference is that while ECOCERT has its own audit teams, USDA accepts USDA-accredited organic certifying agent.

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Here we go!!

I must say... I'm pretty proud of this infographic haha! I have captured quite a bit of details there. I'm sure there are nuances that I haven't capture, in respect to how the 2 systems define 'organic' ingredients, production, handling and processing. For instance, USDA measures the % excluding water & salt, whereas ECOCERT also mentions minerals... USDA measures by weight / (if product & ingredient is liquid, then) volume. But for the purpose of this post, these are omitted.

An important idea behind this is that:

(1) only ingredients derived from agriculture (or more generally, plant-based) can be classified as organic.

(2) Hence the concept is that you cannot have a product that is 100% organic if it contains water.

This is the reason why USDA calculates the % of organic ingredients (EXCLUDING WATER & SALT), whereas ECOCERT has different numbers: organic cosmetic logo = a minimum of 95% of plant-based ingredients is organic + 10% of ingredients by weight. It is precisely because if it is a shampoo with 90% water in the formula, there is NO WAY it can reach 95% organic because - water cannot be 'organic'. :)

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What's important?

(1)

Confusing claims

Well... the USDA version is quite confusing, as you can make different "organic" claims depending on the %. If consumers are not familiar with the regulations, they can be misled.

(updated on October 16, 2017)

On second thought - perhaps USDA is a better because it looks at ingredients in a product excluding water & salt (so the 15% + 5% in the sample above). ECOCERT only looks at plant-based ingredient (so only the 15%)... so in terms of coverage USDA is better, whereas ECOCERT is less complicated and straightforward in terms of labelling.

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(2)

no organic seal =/= not organic

It is up to the manufacturer to seek accreditation or certification... so while it's for sure products with organic seals are organic, products without the seal can be organic too!

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(3)

Organic products is good for the soil!

A lot of the times we forget this:

In order to get the organic seals, manufacturers must also adhere to standards during production and handling. So all in all, less toxic chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, etc. are used!

However, I wouldn't dare to claim that organic products are better to the environment in general... It's too far a stretch!

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(4)

โ—๏ธOrganic ingredients =/= good for skin or effective.โ—๏ธ

Organic products can still irritate skin, so it is still important to understand the choice of ingredients and their function when choosing your skincare products!

Effectiveness of the product depends on its formulations, and organic seals will only inform us of the source and the manufacturing practices.

It, however, does not measure the effectiveness - which a lot of the times depends on the formula, storage condition, preservatives, pH, choice of ingredients, etc.

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Aaaaaaaand this is a wrap! I hope you enjoy this and finds it useful! xoxo

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References:

https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling

https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/OrganicCosmeticsFactSheet.pdf

http://www.ecocert.com/en/natural-and-organic-cosmetics

 
sincerely, kammie (4).png