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The Greening of Cosmetics

What are the differences between organic, green, natural and biodegradable cosmetic/skincare products?  A relevant topic, given that so many people want products under those headings. Consumer preference for green products is a growing market sector. Not just natural, but biodegradable organics. I wasn’t certain the differentiation between those words or if they were all interchangeable.

It turns out there is a great difference between natural and organic terms which, due to unlicensed actions and general public unawareness, are often used interchangeably. They are not interchangeable!

There is a plethora of information to weed through. Lots of conflicting, confusing claims about products. Let’s clear up something right now. Evidently, ‘natural’ products are not necessarily green. Nor organic with a field wide open for interpretation.

The need to discern the difference between natural, organic and green surges on. Something natural may not be green, organic nor biodegrade. Is it a challenge to go green?  Let’s look at what’s what here:

Natural is essentially something derived from a source in nature, simply stated. It can be a direct plant extract, something plant derived or from the earth/ocean. But is it good for you? Key words ‘derived and nature’. Natural doesn’t mean it’s in its raw form. Everything natural is NOT organic, nor necessarily biodegradable. Green means products are from sources that ARE natural, organic and shown to biodegrade: a footprint holding no damage.

Skin is the largest organ of the body. This is a lot of ground to cover in terms of absorption into our systems. The products we innocently slather on could be contributing to either an enhancement of well being or our detriment.

Ali Witwit, cosmetic scientist / formulator, spoke to me about products he’d recently been asked to create. He expressed that some cruise ship lines are now very focused on having passengers use clean biodegradable products to protect the ocean when they are purged out at sea. (You can find an extraordinary amount of info and research about the effect on cosmetic/product use affecting the ocean environment online.) Mr. Witwit, Vice President of Technology for Ross Organics (the company provides manufacturers with organic cosmetic components) said,“The trends are basically going totally green, not just greenwashed. Natural does not always equal green, healthy and sustainable. Customers are now looking for sustainable, low carbon footprint, biodegradable with the lowest possible impact on the environment. They are also looking for social and environmental responsibility and impact on global sourcing, remote forests and on indigenous people. Traceability and fair trade are also big deciding factors.”

There are a plethora of companies that engage in what is called greenwashing…washing over some of the details of product composition. This leads the consumer to believe the product is green, organic, etc. when in actuality it isn’t. Greenwashed products infer they are green, natural, and perhaps organic or contain a percentage of organic ingredients but aren’t 100% organic. And haven’t the science to back up the claims.

Stating a product is eco-friendly because of what it doesn’t contain, may be very misleading. It may contain numerous ingredients that are not ecofriendly at all. Some of these greenwashed products, for example, still have phtylates. These, simply put, are chemical agents that create flexibility in plastic and are also used widely in cosmetics! An example of what happens with phtylates will clarify what we are examining here—these substances don’t break down. When the plastics they are mixed with (re: recyclable packaging) OR the compositions, i.e. cosmetic lotions, begin to disintegrate, the phtylates aren’t attached (mixed in) to anything anymore and are thus essentially free-floating agents, that enter our bloodstream and can wreak havoc. Hormone imbalance is considered a side effect, for one.

The list of ingredients like this are rife in our cosmetics. I’m not saying to rid yourself of favorite products! Just be savvy. Many countries other than the US have already banned using some of these problematic agents in cosmetic products.

To further clarify, organic ingredients are biodegradable. Look for products that are certified 100% organic. This certification is for plants that are proven to be 100% pesticide and chemical free. Many products show a percentage organic, for example. If all the ingredients are not, they won’t carry certification.What is the remainder? More than likely fillers, chemicals or nonbiodegradable ingredients. The US government has not currently created reliable stringent regulations to weed out the fray. As consumers we need to discern, discover, research.

Being an aware consumer is paramount these days. More people want a cosmeceutical approach that is organic and holistic. Some international cosmetic companies are aware of this trend, and are creating products of this ilk.

There is much to consider about how products are packaged. Is there something in these materials that are problematic?

Cristina Bartolucci of Peek Cosmetics, and industry icon (founded DuWop ; formulates products for well known international brands) says “Biodegradable packaging material is often mistakenly added to recyclable material, rendering it unrecyclable. As advancements are made in natural preservative systems and technical breakthroughs continue in the science of beauty, both worlds can combine to make products that are safer and more effective.”

In querying formulators or sales reps for cosmetic ingredients/products about green organics some think they not as effective in the anti-aging game as advanced chemical concoctions. To that end, I again asked Ali Witwit his take on this. He directed me to a relatively new company that is generating phenomenal interest in the formulating sector. Naolys, provides completely biodegradable organic plant derived stem cells infinitely refined and clinically proven for their various properties and efficacy aspects. A green company, their products are organic, biodegradable, and not possibly tainted by soil impurities or pollution. Nothing is harmed. Real rocket science! Many of the main player cosmetics companies are using their technology.

Just because something is natural, is it safe? Sometimes, as there are no stringent regulations, products are not stable enough for shelf life. They begin to harbor bacteria somewhat like petri dishes with a plethora of growth soon after starting use.  With no chemical inhibitors, ofttimes  ‘natural’ inhibitors are not successfully strong enough to impact the bacteriological growth. Many of these products need to be refrigerated immediately after opening! I recommend doing so even if not labeled as such.

Those devotees of organics firmly believe proven results and client testimonials are proof positive that organics are a major contender in the effective, antiaging, result driven skin care world.

Julia Faller, creator of Benedetta holistic skincare, a totally organic line of hand crafted products using certified organic, biodynamic/synergistic, sustainable ingredients that are fresh and ecologically harvested, writes:

“Holistic treats the whole person, incorporating body, mind and spirit. We view the skin as an integral part of our human cooperative ecosystem…our visible sign of health and as the largest organ is dependent on many body functions for optimal vitality. To assist the cells, tissues, organs and body systems to function optimally, organic and biodynamic botanicals work in harmony with our skin’s ability to rejuvenate and heal. Our natural ecosystem has provided everything we need to thrive.” To this end, using organic products makes a lot of sense.”

Those that are devoted to organics firmly believe proven results and client testimonials are proof positive that organics are a major contender in the effective, antiaging, result driven skin care world. It’s up to each of us to determine what we use and how we choose products. And maybe we can help the planet, too.