At Aveda, we are often questioned about organics. “Why aren’t our products labeled organic? What does it take to label a product organic? What does organic mean to us?” The issue of organics is complex and has been a growing topic of discussion in the food industry since the 1970s. When it comes to the personal care industry however, the topic is new only to this decade while the guidelines are vastly different.
While consumers have seen the organic labeling for food become more standardized, there are no such widely-recognized standards for personal care products. Food industry organic standards have been regulated in the U.S. by the Department of Agriculture since 2000. Included in these standards are both the raw agricultural materials and the processes used to create food ingredients.
If you read the ingredient list of a processed or packaged organic food product, you will see ingredients like carrageenan and lecithin. These ingredients are not grown organically as much as they are made from agricultural materials like vegetable oils and grains by organic processes (e.g., cooking, baking, heating, extracting) that are allowed by U.S. organic food standards. The same is true of ingredients in personal care products. Raw coconut does not clean your hair, but sodium cocoyl lactylate (made from coconut oil and beet sugar) does. The trick is processing ingredients into the forms needed while maintaining their “organic” status. Some of the same ingredients and processes for organic foods can also be used in personal care products. For example, hydrolyzed proteins are used to enhance the flavor or modify the texture of food products and are used as conditioning ingredients in skin and hair care products.
The careful consideration of what the word “organic” should mean in the personal care industry has been underway for almost ten years. What began as an initiative at Aveda in partnership with the Organic Crop Improvement Association, an organic certifier from Nebraska, has expanded to cover a broad spectrum of the U.S. marketplace. The current process, under the banner of NSF International (a world- renowned standards development organization) now includes manufacturers, suppliers, certifiers, inspectors and consumers. Involving all of these partners will insure that the industry is well represented and the standards will reflect what the word “organic” should really mean for personal care products. A draft of the standards will begin Fall of 2006 and organic personal care standards should be in place by Spring of 2007.
So, are Aveda products organic? In 2006, Aveda purchased over 81,000 pounds of certified organic essential oils for its products, including ylang ylang oil (from Madagascar) and rose and lavender oils (from Bulgaria). Yet, a typical Aveda shampoo or skin care product may also contain 15 to 20 other ingredients that are processed such as foamers, emulsifiers, and preservatives. While these ingredients are considered “natural” by most consumers, they are not allowed in current organic food standards.
For personal care organic standards, NSF will be considering all of these ingredients and processes for their approval. For example, those ingredients or processes involving petroleum derivatives, will not be allowed. Processes that are already allowed for organic foods, such as hydrolysis, will also be allowed for personal care ingredients. A few others, like saponification, from soap making, will be added to make a few additional ingredients for organic personal care products. Since personal care products are expected to have a long shelf life, a very select list of naturally-derived preservatives will be allowed.
Aveda considers not only the ingredients and processes for our products, but a number of other important factors, including: ethical sourcing, revolutionary botanical science and sustainability. We are excited about the opportunity to bring organics to a higher awareness within our industry, and to help to create the standards needed to further the movement.
Organic Inc. Natural Foods and How They Grew, by Samuel Fromartz, Harcourt Books 2006.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan, Penguin Press 2006.