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Why Certify Organic Personal Care Products if You Don't Have To?


Certified Organic Body Care Packaging
cosmétique nature © Pierre brillot

If you create a line of organic personal care products, you don't officially have to certify them as organic. Right now, as the law stands, no one formally regulates organic personal care products.

This seems like great news for the industry. No big brother checking up on you. No organic certification applications or fees to deal with. No muss, no fuss. You can sell organic body care labeled as you see fit. Super news? Or a big mess for the industry and consumers?

Current Status

The FDA regulates all cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA defines cosmetics by use as, "Articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance."

You must abide by the FD&C Act when creating or selling cosmetics. However, the FDA has absolutely no power over the term organic. The FDA doesn't define organic body care. They also don't regulate use of the term organic on products.

Doesn't the USDA Regulate Organic Body Care?

Certify yes. Regulate no. Any cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product made with agricultural ingredients that meets the USDA National Organic Program organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, may be eligible for USDA organic certification under NOP. That said, the USDA doesn't crack down on falsely labeled organic products.

Requirements for Certified Organic Body Care

  • A handler of organic body care must be certified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agent.

  • Once certified, body care products are eligible for four different organic labeling categories. These are the same four categories that apply to all certified organic products, including certified organic food.

What's the Catch?

Eligibility for USDA organic certification does not mean the same thing as regulation. The USDA isn't checking up on body care companies and products who use the term organic on their packaging and products.

The USDA has authority over the labeling of body care products only if they are made with agricultural ingredients. Body care products can also be certified to various private standards, but these standards aren't the same across the board. The USDA allows body care products to claim terms like 'herbal,' 'natural,' and even 'organic,' so long as they don't falsely claim 'USDA organic.'


The debate over certified organic body care vs. non-certified centers mainly around consumer safety. The majority of non-certified products on the market aren't tested for consumer safety.

The FDA says they regulate body care products, stating, "Under the FD&C Act, all cosmetic products and ingredients must be safe for consumers." The FDA makes statements like this, but stops there, allowing the body care industry to self-regulate. In fact, the FDA notes that it's the responsibility of the companies and individuals who market body care to ensure that products and ingredients are safe for the intended use.

Self regulation doesn't work: FDA approved products on the market today contain harmful ingredients like diethyl phthalate, synthetic musks, toluene, coal tar, petroleum, parabens and more. These and other chemicals in body care products are known to cause problems like infertility, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cancer, hormone disruption, allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation to skin, eyes, or lungs and many other health problems.

Even FDA approved baby care products contain harmful chemicals such as known carcinogens, 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde.

Example of the Problem

The debate over non-organic and certified organic body care products is confusing. It's easier to understand if you see an example.

  1. A manufacturer makes some shampoo.

  2. The shampoo contains some organic lavender essential oil, but also contains 1,4-dioxane, a known cancer causing chemical.

  3. Certified USDA organic body care products are not allowed to contain harmful ingredients or chemicals. Since the shampoo contains 1,4-dioxane, it does not meet certification standards under the USDA organic certification process.

  4. Since no one regulates the term organic, and since the product does contain organic lavender oil, the manufacturer decides to label the shampoo as, 'Organically Herbal Lavender Shampoo.'.

  5. The new shampoo heads to the shelves of the local natural grocery store. A consumer sees the product label, assume it's safe and organic because it says, 'Organically Herbal' and buys it.

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