Quantcast
Health

Misleading 'Organic' Claims Found in Thousands of Beauty Products

By Scott Faber

Cosmetics and other personal care product companies make questionable organic claims on thousands of products, a new Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis shows.

More than 5,000 products in EWG's Skin Deep database—about 20 percent of current product formulations rated on the site—use "organic" in the brand name, product name, product label or list of ingredients. But many of these products contained risky or hidden ingredients and received poor Skin Deep scores.


Skin Deep rates a product on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best score and 10 the worst score. Of the products that used the term organic, more than 250 received a score of 5 or above. Four products that used the term organic received a score of 9 or 10.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of "organic" when the claim is made on farm products. Cosmetics made primarily of farm products are allowed to carry the USDA Organic seal if 95 percent or more of the ingredients meet federal organic standards, and the remaining ingredients are on an approved ingredient list and were not produced using prohibited methods. Products labeled "made with organic ingredients" can have up to 30 percent non-organic ingredients but cannot use certain ingredients.

But there is no federal standard for "organic" cosmetics products derived from chemicals. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has primary authority over regulating cosmetics, makes little effort to police misleading "organic" cosmetics claims. Some private standards for "organic" cosmetics may allow the use of chemicals that are linked to health problems and restricted in other nations.

The proliferation of misleading claims and the absence of meaningful oversight has fueled enormous consumer confusion.

A new survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the USDA found that many consumers mistakenly believe personal care products with organic claims meet government standards, even though most do not. A large number of consumers also mistakenly believe personal care products with organic claims contain only organic ingredients.

At the same time, consumers are increasingly seeking and buying "organic" personal care products. Over the past decade, annual sales of "organic" non-food products, including personal care products, have soared from less than $1 billion to $3.6 billion. So far this year, consumers have searched Skin Deep for the word organic 150,000 times, an average of 538 searches per day.

Compounding the confusion is the fact that most consumers mistakenly believe cosmetics chemicals are reviewed and regulated by the FDA. A recent poll found that two-thirds of consumers believe cosmetics chemicals must be proven safe before they can be placed on the market. In fact, the FDA does not review cosmetics chemicals and has only banned nine chemicals for safety reasons.

Many other misleading claims are also made on personal care products, including "natural," "unscented" and "hypo-allergenic" claims. EWG found 21 products in Skin Deep that make "unscented" claims but also list "fragrance" in the ingredients.

The misuse of the term organic on cosmetics and other personal care products not only deceives consumers, but also undermines public trust in the USDA's organic standard. Unlike private standards, the USDA organic standard for food and farm products is set and enforced by the federal government, so it guarantees that a product was produced without dangerous chemicals.

What should be done? Today, the FTC and USDA will host a meeting to discuss whether consumer confusion about organic claims on cosmetics, cleaners and other non-food products warrants greater oversight of misleading claims, including greater attention from the FTC.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, seen here speaking to the press about the Flint water crisis in 2016, will be the highest ranking official to stand trial over the public health disaster. Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Two workers in protective gear scrape asbestos tile and mastic from a facility at Naval Base Point Loma in California. NAVFAC / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S.

Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Rklfoto / Getty Images

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Wants to End EPA’s Cruel Animal Testing

By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Wikimedia Commons

Strongest, Oldest Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and now the region's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Climate Justice Edmonton

These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Andrea Germanos

To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
A worker inspects recycled plastic in a plastics factory. Getty Images

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is an Opportunity to Get Serious About Recycling

By Kate O'Neill

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Aaron Teasdale

The One Thing Better Than Summer Skiing

By Aaron Teasdale

"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!