It doesn’t take an overly-observant Beauty Geek to notice that buying organically sourced beauty products is becoming a little more mainstream these days. When a product contains organically sourced derivatives, it is often emblazoned across the packaging and a few extra pounds are added onto the price tag. So what’s the thinking behind the hype? Is this just a shrewd marketing tool to access this increasing consumer group? Or are there genuine benefits to organic lotion and potions? Here at BBTG HQ, we’re asking (and hopefully answering!) the questions “what defines an organic product?” and “what are the benefits of using them, if any?”

Outlining the “Organic” Label
To claim organic status, organically farmed food produce must meet a common set of standards set out in European law governed by the agency DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). Organically farmed produce is cultivated using restricted use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, no use of GMOs (Genetically modified Organisms) and emphasis on animal welfare and restricted use of antibiotics. There are also a very restricted list of additives that can be used in production.
But when it comes to cosmetics that bear the “organic” label, things become a little less standardised. No single regulatory body exists for the standardising of the organic content of cosmetic products and the percentage of organically sourced ingredients can vary.

The Benefits of Organic Cosmetics
Organic cosmetics are marketed based on their natural and organic ingredient constituents, but be wary – many “organic” products also contain non-organic and some non-natural ingredients such as preservatives. Currently law doesn’t tightly regulate this “glitch” in the organic beauty system, so it’s worth checking how organic your lotions and potions really are!

As avid DIY Beauty Geeks, we know natural ingredients often have really effective cosmetic applications and we promote the use of many in our DIY products. Whether they are more effective than man-made is questionable and really depends on the product. Importantly, both naturally derived and synthetically made cosmetic ingredients are subject to the same testing by regulatory bodies such as the EC Cosmetics Directive and therefore should be just as safe for use as each other.

Many cosmetics, particularly organic products, claim to be “hypoallergenic”, implying that they cause fewer allergic reactions. This term lacks a medical definition and is not recognised by the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) due to a lack of regulation. It is a popular and effective marketing tool and companies are not required to prove the reduced allergenic risk of their products. So “hypoallergenic” means whatever the company wants it to mean.

HOWEVER, restricted additives and pesticide residues in organic products could reduce allergy risks, purely by reducing the number of ingredients and trace products, and so “organic” labelled beauty products which predominantly consist of additive-minimised and preservative-minimised ingredients may well be less likely to induce reactions. But be cautious: it is possible to be allergic to pretty much anything, so don’t equate organic with allergen-free. Ironically there are major advances in removing the allergenic proteins in some produce via genetic modification (link: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11882-005-0058-0). A huge no-no in organic farming!

Misconception and misnomer
Often organic products are marketed not on their benefits, but by claiming that non-organic products are in some way harmful. Increasing the general public are concerned with the “chemicals” and “toxins” in their cosmetics. Two words that seem to have caused minor hysteria in the health conscious general public. So we Beauty Geeks cracked open our Cosmetics Dictionary to clarify these terms (and maybe even stop us banging our head against the wall in exasperation!).

Toxin: “a poison of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and acting as an antigen in the body”
Chemical: “a distinct compound or substance, especially one which has been artificially prepared or purified.”

On a pedantic note, if toxins are derived from biological sources, “toxin” would not be the appropriate term for a man-made poisonous compound. Whether a substance is toxic or not is highly dependent on the concentrations in that they appear in. For example, Arsenic is allowed in drinking water, but only up to concentrations of 10 micrograms per litre of water. (That’s the equivalent of less than one grain of sugar in a whole litre of water!). Many ingredients in cosmetics are toxic in high concentrations, but in pose no risk to health at all in small amounts.

“Chemical” as a word has gained a bad rep, but it’s a very general term. “Chemical” is somehow equated with “evil”. In truth we are a walking bag of chemicals, a combination of the known elements, or as astronomer Carl Sargan more concisely put it – “star stuff”.

“Chemical free” is a tag that has been used to imply that a product is in some way healthier or environmentally friendly due it being derived only from natural sources. This is a misnomer and has been criticized by the UK’s Advertising Standards Association, as it is yet another miss-conception that the words “natural” and “safe” are interchangeable. In reality, there are many extremely unsafe plant derived compounds.

So should we join the Green Revolution?
It’s not just science and skin care here at Beauty By The Geeks. The particularly notable benefits of organic products are the ethical treatment of animals, as well as the promotion of biodiversity (that’s diversity in the scope of living things in an environment) which can impact the environment.

There is also a major health benefit in organic farming and their derived products; the restricted use of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in agriculture is extensive, with 80% of antibiotics produced being used in farming. This is significantly contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria which cause serious infection. This a major problem that is impacts the future of healthcare as a whole, and so minimising antibiotic use in farming may help slow down this rapidly growing problem!

The bottom line of it all is that potential benefits are product-dependent! One organic product may be better than a non-organic alternative, whilst some non-organic products may trump their organic counterparts – it’s all down to the Science behind the Bottle! In general, it seems that choosing organic products over non-organic may be more beneficial to the planet than your appearance. And maybe that’s an even better reason to go green!

 

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