What makes a product truly organic?

What makes a product truly organic?

By Antonette Golikidis , Little Innoscents

With the increasing interest in healthy living and a sustainable environment, the popularity of natural and organic skin care has flourished. Yet terms such as ‘organic’ and ‘all natural’ are not always what they seem, and many of us are still bewildered about what makes a product truly organic.

There are still many consumers who don’t understand the difference between a natural product and an organic product, and a need for more public education on certified organic cosmetics is undoubtedly needed.

Society’s slow embrace of organic and all natural products has started to shift into top gear. And while that is to be applauded, the sad fact is that in tandem with our interest in a healthier lifestyle and a healthier environment have come shady dealers simply wishing to cash in on the trend. It’s called ‘Greenwashing’ and even if you’re never heard of the term, it’s highly likely that you’ve come face to face with their handiwork. Greenwashing is simply the deceptive practice of promoting products or services as environmentally friendly, natural or organic, when they are anything but.

The Australian Trade Practices Act has been modified to include punishment of companies that provide misleading environmental claims, with those found guilty facing up to $1 million in fines. Unfortunately, it’s still a grey area and plenty of manufacturers are becoming adept at putting forward their products as green without providing any actual proof of their authenticity. Use some recycled-style coarse paper, add a picture of lush trees and throw in a few terms like ‘natural’, and as long as their products contain even a small percentage of natural products, they can get away with it.

Major barriers are ‘greenwashing’ by ‘natural’ brands using statements on labels such as ‘organic’ or ‘certified organic ingredients’ that are not certified with any recognised Australian or overseas certifier.

Promotional and marketing spend is what currently drives consumer education, and the facts are that multi-national ‘greenwashing’ brands can supply this, whereas smaller companies who have taken the steps to be certified organic cannot afford to spend the amount on advertising, merchandising material and awareness campaigns.

Why should we be interested in natural skin care?

We would never think of swallowing a chemical cocktail, so why on earth should we be happy to put one on our bodies, or even worse, on our babies? The expression “soft as a baby’s bottom” is on the mark. Free from any contact with sun, wind or chemicals, a baby has the softest, most pure skin anyone could wish for. Organic is nature’s way - so if you like to stay in tune with nature, it makes sense to choose organic skin care products for your family.

The skin is the largest organ in our body and provides a number of essential functions including protection, the regulation of body temperature and the creation of Vitamin D from sunlight.

There are 3 layers to skin – the epidermis, dermis and cutaneous layer. For many years it was believed that these skin layers did an admirable job of keeping nasty chemicals at bay, but some sections of the scientific community have started to understand that this is far from the case. Many now argue that when any chemical comes into contact with the skin it can be absorbed, with the exact effects dependant on a number of factors including the size of the molecules of a particular substance, duration of exposure, and health of the skin.

While the scientific debate continues, there’s no denying that at its most basic level, chemical absorption can irritate, sensitise and destroy skin tissue. Irritation might take the form of eczema or dermatitis. Sensitising skin by frequently using harsh chemicals can make it much more prone to chemical irritation in the future, and destroying skin tissue prematurely ages skin.

The list of chemical ingredients found in some skincare products is scarily long, however a couple of the more common (and more easily pronounced) include parabens and mineral oil. Parabens are one of the most widely used preservatives worldwide, regularly found in skin care products, cosmetics, toothpaste and shampoos. In various studies they have been linked to everything from dermatitis to breast cancer.

Mineral oil is a by-product of petroleum and is a common ingredient in cosmetics, baby lotions and moisturisers. Suggested effects include disruption of the skin's natural ability to rid itself of toxins, premature aging and damage to cell function.

The long and short of this is that if any skin care product contains an ingredient that you don’t recognise, or can’t pronounce, it’s probably a synthetic additive, and you just can’t be sure how much of it you’re absorbing. Our skin is designed to protect us from nature, not from chemicals and additives. Why take the risk? Choose natural skin care products and stop irritating your skin.

In an era where skin irritations and allergies seem to be increasingly more common, the benefits of organic skin care seem obvious. By reducing your skin’s exposure to harmful chemicals, you may become less susceptible to irritations and complaints that can range from intermittent dry, itchy skin to severe dermatitis, and prematurely aged skin. For babies suffering from nappy rash or eczema, using natural skin care that soothes without irritating makes perfect sense.

Another reason to choose organic products is that organic ingredients are grown without pesticides and chemicals, and organic agriculture is designed to maintain the health of soils and ecosystems - so the environment will thank you too.

How do you ensure that products are genuinely organic? For a start, always check the list of ingredients. A long list of unpronounceable ingredients can be a bit of a give-away that something is wrong. Another key is to look for products that have been certified organic by an association. This doesn’t mean a logo with pretty leaves or the words “denotes certified organic” but an independent Australian Certification body such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO), who provide processor numbers to companies that hold certification status. They carry a monitoring system designed so that companies that apply for accreditation must meet strict criteria in order to be accepted. This varies according to each code so it’s worth reading the guidelines for each. The following are just a few of these codes:

Australian Certified Organic www.australianorganic.com.au

NASAA Certified Organic www.nasaa.com.au

Energy Rating www.energyrating.gov.au

Free Range Farmers Association www.freerangefarmers.com.au

Good Environmental Choice www.geca.org.au

Green Power www.greenpower.com.au

It’s worth getting to know these organisations and reading up about their guidelines. If you see the Australian Certified Organic logo with a processor number for instance, you know that product has had to meet strict guidelines in its creation and development - from how its ingredients are grown, to how its packaging has been manufactured.

About the Author Antonette Golikidis is the Founder and Director of Little Innoscents, a certified organic baby skincare range. A passionate and loving mother of two, Antonette lives in Melbourne with her husband Arthur and their two sons, Alex and Antonio.Qualified in Health Sciences, Remedial Massage Therapy and Aromatherapy. The Little Innoscents range is Australian Certified Organic (ACO) certified, which makes a statement about who Little Innoscents is, it means everything to us and gives our consumers the assurance that our products have been manufactured and handled according to strict guidelines – completely free of chemicals.

Visit Little Innoscents here.

Find out more about Little Innoscents at littleinnoscents.com.au

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.