It's not too late -- far from it! Hanukkah has eight days and Christmas 12. So let's say you've committed to buying eco-friendly products and are zeroing in on a body/beauty care gift basket for a special someone. Sounds great, except that just because a beauty product's label says "organic" doesn't mean you are good to go. To cut the organic confusion, look for USDA organic seal. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetic labeling, does not regulate organic claims in personal care products, the USDA National Organic Program now covers cosmetics that contain agricultural products, applying the same standards as it does to food. Thus, a product can only claim to be "organic" if it has at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients, and can say "made with organic" if it has at least 70 percent of the same.
Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, says, "The USDA Organic Certification is the most stringent personal care certification in the world and if a company can achieve that, they've achieved gold standard." Minowa goes on to say that if you don't see the USDA seal, flip it over and look at the back. "Non-pronounceable ingredients that end in eth have undergone ethoxylation, a process that creates a carcinogenic byproduct, 1.4-dioxane."
Earlier this fall, the Organic Consumers Association hired a third party lab to buy "eco-friendly" beauty products and test them for 1.4 Dioxane. Their findings were astounding: Products from green companies like Avalon Organics, Jason Pure, Natural & Organic, Nature's Gate Organics, Kiss My Face Obsessively Organic, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Head Organics, Desert Essence Organics and Stella McCartney's CARE 100 Percent Organic all contained ethoxylated synthetic ingredients. With the OCA's findings, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps took the aforementioned companies to court to force them to drop uncertified organic label and brand claims.
Synthetic ethoxylated preservatives help extend a product's shelf life. However, there are natural ways to get around that. Products with coconut oil are naturally preserved thanks to the lauric acid in the coconut, which is solid at room temperature but melts easily when heated. Packaging also plays a huge part; German company Weleda, for instance, seals products in an airtight tube to avoid using preservatives in the products.
Which brings us to another big issue for the holidays. Yes, you want an aesthetically appealing present to present, but when you are buying products because they're easier on the earth, the packaging should reflect that concept. In brief, less is more for beauty product packaging.
Here are six safe, sassy, gifts we're loving for the holidays:
Hydrate thy face and lips, dear friend, and forget thee not to rock the KEEN bag.
2) Dr. Bronner's liquid castile and bar soaps and body balms in compact tins are now 100 percent certified organic, leaping bunny (no animal testing) and fair trade in their entirety; paper and plastic packaging is largely post-consumer-recycled. Beyond peppermint, they've new rose oil, orange and "naked" unscented varieties.
Works like talcum powder (sans chemicals) and leaves skin soft and fragrant. We spoke with Michelle Bundy, executive coordinator at Farmaesthetics based in Rhode Island. While the product is not certified organic, it's pretty pure: they do not use any synthetic ingredients in any of their products. The body dust (which works like talcum powder) is made entirely of arrowroot, cornstarch, clay, sage, thyme and certified organic lavender and sea salt.
With Origins' face tonic, foaming wash and moisturizer, your skin will glow like a subtler but no less radiant Rudolph's nose.
Replenish moisture at home and away with this travel-sized three-step skincare ritual.
6) We've become addicted to Organic Essence's 100 percent USDA certified organic and fairly traded shea butter creams in grapefruit, lavender, lemongrass and pure shea butter (which in all fairness is a little hard and waxy, and doesn't glide on the way the others do, but that's because it's pure and has to be heated up in your hands a bit). The cute cardboard packages, which look like individual serving ice cream cartons, are biodegradable and the labels are FSC-certified paper from well-managed forests.
Wishing you sensual, essentially organic, holidays!
Story by Margaret Teich. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.