Don’t Get Stung by the Buzzwords!

Don't Get Stung by the Buzzwords!What’s in a name? Though mamas are more informed about toxin-free products, labels and ingredients, they still sometimes stop at the name of the company and forget to read the ingredients! The label has a natural look and a trusted-sounding name, and says it’s “organic” or “natural” so it must be good, right?

Safety is a serious business, and Earth Mama gets a little, well, testy, when companies make claims they don’t back up. Earth Mama’s mission for over a decade has been to formulate safe, herbal products that work, and they voluntarily send products out for third party verification to be sure every single lot is Safe as Mama’s Arms. Why bother? Because Mama is a real person — a nurse, herbalist, mother and grandmother –and she takes your baby’s safety to her heart. It’s true, “If it doesn’t measure up to Mama’s standards it doesn’t leave the building.”

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to earn USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project and NSF certifications, and the personal care product playing field is very confusing. One of Earth Mama’s priorities is to help educate consumers about transparent product labeling. Words like “natural,” “pure,” or “organic” do not guarantee safety, and the FDA and FTC have surprisingly very limited roles in policing the safety and organic claims of personal care products. The only way to know for sure if a label is honest is to check each ingredient (the Skin Deep toxin database is a good resource) or check to see if it’s certified by a third party. But what does that even mean?

Here are some tools to help you swat the buzzwords!

It’s “natural,” so it must be good!

Some so-called “organic” and “natural” personal care products can contain everything from petroleum byproducts to endocrine disruptors, and potentially cancer-causing synthetic ingredients that are toxic to organs, nerves and immune systems. There is currently no real or certifiable definition of “natural,” and no way to tell if a product is truly natural. Some certifiers have taken on the task of defining what natural really is, but there’s currently no way to tell with certainty how they are defining it by looking at the label. Even though it can be true, be skeptical if the word “natural” accompanies a lot of unnatural sounding ingredients, and go look them up!

If the label says “organic,” can’t I trust that it’s safe?

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the word “organic” on a label should mean it is safe. But this is one time when you really have to be a sleuth to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting. A product can list organic lavender, organic calendula and organic shea butter and still not be certified organic. It all depends on whether or not there’s an independent third party certifier verifying those organic claims, the amount of organic ingredients, how the product was made, and what else is in it.

Says Who?

There are different organic standards for food and for personal care products (lotions, soaps and shampoos), but who is verifying label claims? Organic label claims are not credible unless they adhere to one of the organic standards and state the name of their certifier on their product. The certifier administers, inspects and assures that the organic claims on the label are compliant with the strict rigors required to legitimately make these claims. In short, if a product uses the word “organic” but there is no third party certification, you have no guarantee that their pretty claims aren’t just greenwashing buzzwords.

Oregon Tilth Organic CertifierIt’s tough to be certified organic! A company has to submit to annual inspections, in-depth label claim assessment, and has to document the organic integrity of every ingredient from grower through manufacturing, until the product is sold. And the company itself must pay for this increased scrutiny. Some companies elect to go through this demanding process so that consumers can be assured that they are getting what they think they are getting, without the empty buzzwords.

To add to the confusion, there are varying levels of organic. USDA standards have very clear labeling requirements which can help consumers look for label claims and words that indicate a product is truly, honestly organic. But it’s not easy!

100% ORGANIC

usda_symbol_smallThe words “100% Organic” on the label are the legal organic claim. If the product being certified is one ingredient (like lettuce), it’s easy to know if it’s certified 100% organic. If the product is a blend of several ingredients (like an herbal tea), each of the ingredients is required to be 100% organic. If even one of the ingredients is certified only 99.99% organic, the 100% claim cannot be made.

Bottom Line: Look for the USDA seal on the front of the package, and the name of the independent third party certifier on the back.

ORGANIC

The word “Organic” on a product label, along with a trustworthy certifier, means that the ingredients are 95-99.9% organic. Any non-organic ingredient must not be available as organic, and must be on the USDA approved list, which does not allow GMO’s, prohibited substances, artificial fragrances, dyes, or other potentially harmful ingredients. The only claim word that can be on the label is the word “Organic.”

Bottom Line: Look for the USDA seal on the front of the package, and the name of the independent third party certifier on the back.

MADE WITH ORGANIC

USDA Certified “Made With Organic” means that 70-94.9% of the ingredients are certified organic. BUT, the USDA symbol is not allowed on the front panel of the product. The company logo may not include the word organic even though it is certified. The front label claim can only say, “Made with organic” whatever the ingredient is. IT’S CONFUSING! But at least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic, and the remaining ingredients must be on the USDA approved list, which does not allow GMO’s, prohibited substances, artificial fragrances, dyes, or other potentially harmful ingredients.

Bottom Line: Look for the seal and the name of the independent third party certifier on the back of the package.

NFS/ANSI 305 CONTAINS ORGANIC INGREDIENTS

nsf_symbol_smallThe USDA list of approved raw materials does not allow even for some of the safe chemical processes necessary to make personal care products, so an equivalent standard for personal care products called the NSF/ANSI 305 Standard was created. NSF/ANSI 305 products must have 70% or more organic ingredients, and the remaining raw materials must be on the USDA approved list, which does not allow GMO’s, prohibited substances, artificial fragrances, dyes, or other potentially harmful ingredients.

Bottom Line: Look for the NSF symbol on the front of the label and the independent third party certifier on the back.

NON-GMO PROJECT VERIFIED

non_gmo_symbol_smallThe Non-GMO Project is North America’s only independent verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance, and the simplest way for consumers in North America to find clearly-labeled non-GMO food and products. Their process scrutinizes every product ingredient, from soil to seed, to plant. While the USDA NOP Organic certification does not allow for GMOs, they also do not test for or certify to that standard. And while the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program is extra assurance for consumers who want to avoid GMOs, their process does not assure that a product is organic.

Bottom Line: To avoid GMOs look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on the front of the label and the independent third party certifier on the back. This does not assure that a product is organic.

It’s elementary!

There are a lot of claims out there! When you see natural looking packaging and catchy, safe-sounding words get out your magnifying glass and check the label. If you see new products or different formulations or ingredients you don’t know, go look them up on a trusted source like the Skin Deep Database. It’s a lot of work, but knowing how to tell the truth from the buzzwords will help keep you from getting stung!

An earlier version of this article was published in Dr. Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy Guide.



, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Peace, Love and Information for All!

Enter your email address to subscribe to Mama's You Herb it Here Newsletter for herb info, product safety news, contests & fun!