Is green just a buzzword - or does it truly work?

Are organic and natural products as green as they claim to be? And should you be more aware of what your beauty product contains? We take a closer look at the reality of green beauty.

Natural vs Organic

There is a huge difference when it comes to comparing organic and natural skincare - they are not one and the same as most people are led to believe. "Natural is an exceptionally broad term," explains Susan Rowan, distributor of Spiezia and Balm Balm (100% organic products now available in SA). She cautions to be wary of products labeled "natural". Dee Steyn, public relations officer for Esse Organic Skincare agrees: "Products can include as little as 0,01% of a natural extract to claim that they are natural. As a result, natural products are generally no different from the conventional versions because there are no rules governing what goes into a natural product." However, adds Steyn, some brands are genuinely natural. Brands can certify with BDIH in Germany, or use the natural version of the new COSMOS standards (Cosmetics Organics Standard). These agencies oversee a certification that allows producers of personal care products to make claims on their packaging along the lines of "27% natural" or "92% natural".

Organic products, on the other hand, contain herbs, oils and extra

Description: The NATURAL way

cts that are farmed and produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or genetically-modified ingredients. "In other words, they're better for the environment and they'll leave less chemical residue on the skin," says Steyn.

Organic products also have a stricter governing body that ensures that products labeled organic, really are organic.

South Africa's largest retailer of authentically organic and natural products, www.faithful-to-nature.co.za, was co-founded by green expert Robyn Astl and her husband Christian. The site features organic and natural products that are earth, animal and people friendly. The Faithful-to-Nature team personally checks the ingredient lists of every product sold on their site, ensuring that there are no harmful synthetic ingredients. Astl adds that, although the list of harmful ingredients is ever-changing, you can be assured that none of their products contain "contentious" ingredients such as: sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, parabens, oils like propylene glycol or petrolatum, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), diazolidinyl urea or imidazolidinyl urea.

The Lingo

You've heard all the buzz words but what do they really mean?

Certified organic: Astl explains that these products have been certified organic by a third party. This means that although the organic products may contain some synthetic ingredients, the certification body has concluded that the product is safe to use, and that the ingredients have been sourced from manufacturers that practice pesticide-free and sustainable farming.

Non-certified organic: This means that the supplier produces an product that has not yet been certified organic. These suppliers are using some organically sourced ingredients and, if you look at the ingredient lists of the products, you will be able to tell which are organic by an asterix next to the product.

Certified ingredients: These are products that have some certified organic ingredients, but the products themselves have not been certified as yet.

Natural: These are products that use only natural ingredients and part natural products that are predominantly natural, but may have some safe synthetic ingredients.

“Products can include as little as 0.01% of a natural extract to claim that they are natural”

What This Means

The new Consumer Act allows consumers to be able to access information pertaining to a product that is classified as organic or natural. "You can ask producers and manufacturers for exact certification information, ask to see certificates, and know exact percentages of organic content of a product," says Steyn. This provides a certain transparency to terms such as "organic" or "natural", and allows you to trace the origin of ingredients in a product.

Being Organic

If a product is classified as organic, it needs to adhere to the rules and regulations of the governing bodies. These rules stipulate that a certain percentage of the product must be certified organic; they ban the use of many ingredients that are common in most conventional products; they inspect and audit the manufacturing facility every year; and they perform a yearly audit on accounting records to ensure that organic products are traceable all the way back to the certified organic farmer.

All living things go through the natural process of decay, which happens regardless of the presence of preservatives. "Some natural ingredients typically used for preservation are tea tree oil, thyme essential oil, grapefruit seed extract, bitter orange extract, cinnamon, lavender, lemon peel, and rosemary extract," says Jacqui Faucitt, CEO of RegimA. She mentions that these have almost no effect as a preservative in products that contain a higher percentage of natural ingredients, which need to be preserved longer term. The percentage of the preserving ingredients must also be high in order to have any desired effect - at least 3% per preserving ingredient.

“TOP TIP: Check the bottle or product for an expiry date, recommends Rowan. If the packaging states the product can last for more than two years, it probably means that It's synthetic. Generally, 100% organic products will only have a six-month shelf life once opened and an 18-month shelf life while still sealed.”

There are two common synthetic preservatives that have been approved by Australian Certified Organic (AGO) for use in organic skincare products. Potassium sorbate inhibits moulds, funguses and some bacteria, but they need to be combined with another preservative like naticide. This is a broad-spectrum, anti-microbial, vegetable-based fragrance that also acts as a preservative. "Be wary of high percentages of ethanol in a product, particularly when it claims to be preservative-free," cautions Faucitt, who explains that it is used as a preservative, but there may be long-term side-effects, including dehydrating the skin, (which causes wrinkling).

“Be wary of high percentages of ethanol in a product, particularly when it claims to be preservative-free”

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