Choose Your Words Carefully.

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Is Your Product “Natural”?

In a quick Google search there were at least 12 cosmetic companies involved in class action law suits over the past 9 months for using the word “natural” to describe a cosmetic or some aspect of a cosmetic.

We went down this path with the claim “organic” a number of years ago and now the class action suit attorneys have found a new piggy bank – small “natural” cosmetic companies. I’m so sorry.

But – as my mom used to say, “Being sorry doesn’t change it.”. I think it is time solve this problem.

When this issue comes up we often hear: there is no FDA definition of “natural”.

Yes, true. However, there is a way to publicaly define the word “natural” for cosmetic companies. Below is a short history of the organic food industry; think of it as a model, a potential path to a solution.

The history of the USDA- NOP* seal and standard is a great model for how laws get written.

– 1970s: Multiple organic farm certifiers came into existence. They evolved to add food processors    by the early 90s.

– 1990: The Organic Foods Production Act was passed in the Federal Legislature (Yeah Senator Leahy).

–  Mid-1990s – There were over 45 certifiers, each with their own private organic standard.

– 1990s: The Organic Trade Association created a harmonized version of these Standards that most of the largest certifiers signed on to.

– 1998: USDA-NOP came out with the first (reviled) version of the NOP regulation. It was amended after over 350,000 Americans wrote in to the USDA. The final regulation was passed in 2001.

– 2002: The Final Rule was implemented and the NOP Food Standard became law!

Contained in the very brief review above is the fact that a large industry had to work together over a 30-year period to 1) establish a recognizable market place for “organic” food and then 2) come to sufficient consensus about what “organic” meant so that the government felt justified in creating a law and then the regulations to implement the law. Please note: we do not need to create a law about “natural”.

We, as the “organic and natural” cosmetic industry need to carve out definitions for these words and we need to work together to establish consensus. Got that? We’ll need to agree to abide by the definitions we settle on. Consumers deserve consistency and the attorneys can go jump in a lake.

We can use private standards and we can work in a Trade Association to show a united face to consumers.

For now, educate yourself. I encourage anyone using organic and/or natural claims to become familiar with the Calif. Organic Products Act language on cosmetics, look at the COSMOS and NSF 305 Standards and, even if you don’t want to become certified, use them as a guideline. Then join the Natural and Organic Health and Beauty Alliance (www.nohba.org) and work on “best practices” with us for using these terms.

We need to do this together. That means public conversations, people working on committees and patience. Lots of patience.

*NOP – National Organic Program                          

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