Clean, ethical beauty for all

The growing number of clean and natural beauty brands offers one the opportunity to live a life free of harsh chemicals.

Organic makeup, clean beauty, ethical skincare: these terms are popping up everywhere in the beauty industry. Many brands that claim to be natural or organic are attracting cult followings. However, that ethical face cream on the shelves might be anything but ethical, since terms like organic and natural in the beauty industry have a looser definition than one might expect.

Various brands are beginning to provide a growing market with clean beauty products, both skincare and makeup. Many products claim to be organic, but there are aspects of the issue that might not be considered when this label is being used.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the use of the term “organic” for skincare and cosmetics products. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a role in administering the organic certification for personal care products—and the USDA certification is voluntary.

Beauty entrepreneurs like Olga Reding are beginning to seek the USDA certification. The fear of chemicals and carcinogens among consumers has been increasing and Reding is one of those  people who is concerned about the ingredients in products applied to the skin. Her concern is that human skin has the ability to absorb products and Reding says it is important to be aware of the ingredients in skincare and beauty products. Years ago, she came across a study about aluminum and how it was noted as a major cause of breast cancer, which led her to think about the products she used every day on her skin. When she looked at her products and the ingredients listed, it was a moment of enlightenment.

First, she crafted a face powder that was certified organic by the USDA. Then she launched Olga’s Organics.

“I could not pronounce any of the ingredients because they were all z’s and y’s, all synthetic ingredients,” Reding says. “So, I basically cleared out my makeup drawer. I wanted to start fresh and find a USDA organic company that provides makeup. I couldn’t find anything.”

So she decided to create a solution. First, she crafted a face powder that was certified organic by the USDA. Then she launched Olga’s Organics.

Reding describes the USDA certification as a rather tedious annual process with a fee. Facilities that create organic products have to be constantly prepared to be inspected. The USDA website clearly states the requirements for ingredients to be considered organic.  The criteria includes the source and the item itself. It is also vital that the organic ingredients are stored properly and not at risk of cross contamination.  Since Reding operates her business from home she is very careful about keeping the ingredients accurately labeled and separate from other items in her home. The products are also at the constant risk of being tested. It’s why organic products often cost more than non-organic products because the ingredients are expensive and these companies have to regularly pay fees to maintain their certification.

To make it all more confusing, though, there are categories within organic certification. The 100% organic label is almost impossible to obtain because every single ingredient in the product would have to be organic according to the USDA guidelines..

There are other categories within the USDA certification. The “organic” category is where Olga’s Organic Loose Face Powder falls under. To be approved in this category, a product needs to contain 95% approved organic ingredients. Reding’s secret ingredient is bentonite clay. It’s important in making the loose face powder effective for oil control, but it is not a USDA approved ingredient so a 100 percent organic certification is not possible.

Then there is the “made with organic” label, which means that 70% of the product is organic. The USDA specifies that the organic ingredients have to be marked with an asterisk so that the consumers can have a clearer picture. Finally, a manufacturer can use the “specific ingredient listing”. The organic ingredients must be listed on the information panel and it has to include the percentage of the ingredient in the product.

The main issue for consumers is when bigger brands create and market products as organic. Like the Neutrogena Naturals collection, which is formulated without harsh chemicals like parabens and is marketed as nearly 100 percent natural but is not certified by any organization. This raises the question of marketing strategies versus consumer benefits. Especially, since the brand isn’t entirely about creating harsh-chemical free or natural based products.

On the other hand, there are brands like Qēt Botanicals located in Cross Plains, Wisconsin, that have based their entire brand on creating natural products. This brand is marked with the Environmental Working Group stamp of approval, which means it uses high quality natural ingredients. The founder and owner of the brand, Lisa Brills, says that her primary goal is to bring the magic of nature to skincare.

“Qēt is for your skin what the farmer’s market is for your body,” she says. Much like Reding, Brill’s desire to create a new brand came from looking for products for herself. She has rosacea, adult acne, and hyper-sensitive skin, which led to a need to rebuild her skincare routine with safer, natural ingredients that would be better for her skin.

“Qēt is for your skin what the farmer’s market is for your body,”

Lisa Brills

There are various organizations outside of the USDA that offer certification and a glimmer of faith for the consumer. Non-profit organizations like Oregon Tilth , Certified B Corporation and Fair Trade USA offer certification and seals. Additionally, to prove a product is cruelty free or vegan, there are certifications like the PETA seal and the Leaping Bunny certification. To uphold those certifications, brands are held accountable by these organizations, ensuring that the consumer get the products they want every time.

Smaller brands like Olga’s Organics and Qēt Botanical place an emphasis on certifications like these because it builds trust among consumers. Brill and Reding are intent on providing their customers with exactly what they were looking for: the assurance and  the availability of organic beauty.


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