Maybe she's born with it, or maybe she's
just using organic cosmetics.
the Hain Celestial Group, a leading natural and
organic products company, launched the first
skin-care line made from ethically sourced cocoa
butter. Shoppers already know the company for its
Earth's Best organic baby food and Soy Dream
products, but its Queen Helene Naturals skin
creams are the first
cosmetics to bear the Fair
Trade Certified logo.
Is the makeup
counter poised to go green? Maybe. What's certain
is that the global cosmetics industry is enjoying
an unprecedented boom, and the organic market is
the next frontier.
In 2000, the US market
for natural and organic products was US$190
million. In the years since, that figure has risen
67%, now topping $318 million. The success of
organic food retailers such as Whole Foods and
Wild Oats has inspired larger retailers to get in
on the organic and fair-trade craze. Americans can
now buy Fair Trade Starbucks coffee at Target and
organic fertilizer at Home Depot. Wal-Mart has
introduced Natural and Organic Bodycare Oasis
displays into 366 of its North American stores.
Organic lifestyle products now offer
consumers more than a one-off chance to buy green.
It's no longer just about hormone-free milk.
Consumers are now looking for the organic imprint
on everything from clothes to cars to cosmetics.
"As consumers become more interested in
what they're taking into their bodies, they've
also become more interested in what they're
applying topically to the body," Euromonitor
International senior research analyst Virginia Lee
recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Sales growth in the beauty-care industry
topped 5% last year according to Euromonitor, a
global market research firm that tracks statistics
and trends in cosmetics. Demand for natural and
organic products drove much of this growth. Skin
care, the industry's largest sector, saw worldwide
sales of more than $60 billion in 2006.
With all this money spent on organic and
natural cosmetics, who is policing the industry?
The US Department of Agriculture's National
Organic Program allows companies to label
cosmetics as organic if they meet the same
criteria governing its organic certification of
food. But the USDA has been criticized for
allowing companies to greenwash their products by
incorporating organic ingredients with little or
no chemical function.
The US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) is also powerless to enforce
the rules. Its website notes that it "does not
have the resources or authority under the law for
pre-market approval of cosmetic-product labeling.
It is the manufacturer's and/or distributor's
responsibility to ensure that products are labeled
Jane Houlihan, vice president
of Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit
research firm, said: "Under federal [US] law,
companies can put virtually anything they wish
into personal-care products, and many of them do.
Mercury, lead, and placenta extract - all of these
and many other hazardous materials are in products
that millions of Americans, including children,
use every day. Mothers shouldn't have to worry
about what is in the baby lotion they use."
EWG runs Skin Deep, an online cosmetics
safety guide that tracks nearly 25,000 products
for the presence of toxic
Published reports suggest that
daily makeup wearers absorb up to 2.25 kilograms
of harmful chemicals a year. Bad publicity has led
many companies to abandon the use of common
chemical preservatives such as parabens. But the
reluctance of the USDA and FDA to provide
effective oversight of the organic cosmetic
industry means that self-enforcement is likely to
remain the order of the day in the US.
really need to start questioning the products we
are putting on our skin and not just assume that
the chemicals in them are safe," biochemist and
organic advocate Richard Bence told the British
newspaper The Telegraph recently.
fashion designer Stella McCartney's skin-care
line, Care, claims to be 100% organic and packaged
in recyclable materials. (McCartney, the daughter
of Paul and Linda McCartney, even encourages
customers to send their empty containers back to
be recycled.) Care moisturizers and cleansers bear
the certification mark of Ecocert, a French
organization accredited by the USDA to perform
certification activities under the National
Organic Program. It also verifies the conformity
of organic products to regulations in Europe and
Japan and carries out inspections and
certifications in more than 80 countries.
In Germany, the trade federation BDIH has
been enforcing comprehensive guidelines for
certified natural cosmetics since 1996. The Queen
Helene Naturals skin creams are certified
fair-trade by TransFair USA, an independent,
third-party certifier that seeks to guarantee fair
market prices and fair wages for farmers and
workers in the supply chain.
too, the popularity of organic beauty products has
exploded in recent years. But Japanese cosmetics
firms such as Shiseido, Kanebo and SK-11 are
seeking greener living through history, not
chemistry. Drawing on traditional recipes, many
firms are trotting out products featuring natural
ingredients such as seaweed, rice bran, and ground
"Japanese culture has a
constant need for innovation. As a nation we are
always looking for something new, extreme and
strange. At the moment, it's by reinventing
ancient beauty practices by giving them a new
high-tech edge," Mikiko Ashkiri recently told the
British newspaper The Daily Mail. Ashkiri is a
Cambridge University research associate studying
modern Japanese cosmetic practices.
Japanese ethos, while likely closer to the spirit
of the organic movement, is not free of
potentially controversial labeling issues. Some
ingredients found in traditional Japanese recipes
may prove less than appealing to Western
consumers. Treatments that feature nightingale
droppings and bull semen are likely to find new
names when they reach shelves in the United
States. (There is precedent for such
name-switching. The widely used food dye cochineal
is made from ground-up beetles.)
international hodgepodge approach to organic
certification and labeling clearly has limited
effectiveness. And many cosmetic companies,
whether in Japan or the West, knowingly make
unverifiable claims about the provenance and
potency of their products. An industry that
doesn't mind marketing such dubious products as
anti-aging and anti-cellulite creams seems prone
to resist the imposition of uniform regulatory
(Published with permission of
the Global Policy
Innovations program at the Carnegie
Council for Ethics in International Affairs.