The Organic Question

The Organic Question

I was standing in line to the nightclub, surrounded by young girls doused in perfume, liquid foundation spread with a spatula and hair tissed with spray, when I heard the faithful words “Oh, isn’t it organic?” uttered in reference to a skincare product.

A cringe rippled through me.

It’s not so much the words, nor the people who used them, it’s more the fact that this question is wielded like an invincible sword smiting all further logic or thought.

You see organic is a sexy word, much like it’s slightly less attractive older sister “natural”.
But, ahh, what do they actually mean?
In the world of food production, organic means a lot, it means you’re consuming food the way it should always be, in it’s original state free from alteration. Natural on the other hand means nothing at all.
Sure, but what about the world of skincare?
My world.
Well in that world they all mean far less.
In fact the use of these words has far more to do with a marketing team of recent graduates, than any actual benefit to your skin.

Now this is an extremely grey and vague topic so I’m going to keep it very simple and give three key reasons why the use of the word “organic” in skincare is misleading.

First and foremost the words organic or natural on a product package mean nothing about the ingredients, it has everything to do with branding and imagery, and nothing to do with what’s actually inside the product. Check out these examples from this Choice article on organic cosmetics.

     Organic Instinct Baby ShampooOrganic Instinct Baby Shampoo while there’s no organic certification logo, this does claim to contain certain ingredients with organic certification. (The company has also since changed its name to Natural Instinct.) The shampoo bears its own ‘Natural Ingredients Standard’ logo, which is described as “our unique method of balancing carefully selected naturally plant derived ingredients while excluding hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals”.
    You may be asking yourself “but what does that mean?” well no one knows…but it sounds good.

     Lucas' Pawpaw, St Ives Apricot and Aloe Vera gel

    Lucas’ Papaw Ointment is mostly petroleum jelly, and only around 4% pawpaw, but that 4% was enough to name the product after it. St Ives Apricot Scrub: containing, last AND least, apricot extract….I guess they’re justified in putting apricots all over the package then. Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera is 100% Gel – but not 100% Aloe Vera gel, as it implies. It also contains ingredients prohibited in natural standards – and even in some countries!

     Sukin organics


    Sukin Organics produces personal care products made from plant-based ingredients and excludes many chemicals, such as parabens, SLS, SLES, mineral oil, and propylene glycol. However, with the exception of its rose hip oil, it doesn’t claim any certified organic ingredients.

     Bathox Goat milk handwash, Olivella wash, Natures Organics

    Bathox Goats Milk Handwash contains more salt than goats milk. Olivella Bath & Shower Gel contains “100% virgin olive oil” – apart from all the other ingredients in it. Natures Organics doesn’t contain any certified organic ingredients.
    Great name though!


     You see what I’m getting at here…the words mean literally NOTHING.

The next point is that even the products that are certified organic, doesn’t actually mean it will be good for your skin. Whether a product uses “organic” ingredients or not, has very little to do with whether that product is safe and effective for the skin.

There is nothing about natural or organic that reflects the quality of a product when it comes to protecting or making your skin look or act younger, healing your acne or dry skin, controlling your oily skin or rosacea, or addressing other skin-care concerns. So, products labelled organic are not a panacea for your skin—in fact, some organic products may actually hurt your skin.

Quoted from the skincare website Paula’s Choice.

Now, if a product is “certified organic” that does actually mean that the ingredients are sourced from an organic enterprise…kind of.
There are over seven different third party organisations within Australia which provide certification, all by slightly different standards. There’s also the fascinating part where a product can be certified organic on the label, and yet contain 5% non organic ingredients, sourced from a list of roughly 200 ingredients which the certifier deems acceptable. Why are these ingredients acceptable and others not? How are they chosen to be included on this list, and why aren’t the certified organic products 100%?
Then there are others which contain 70% certified organic ingredients etc.
It all makes for some very confusing certifications and labeling, none of which gives any clue as to whether the product will actually benefit your skin.

And this is my issue with the question “but…is it organic?” usually spoken with a nasally voice and scrunched up nose, as if my answer could possibly contain some noxious smell. The question demonstrates a complete abandonment of rational thought, just the way the marketers want.
And I’m a marketer!
The issue is that people believe the words organic somehow lift a product to the status of almighty panacea, when the reality is that whether the ingredients are organic or not, it will have very little to do with what it does to your skin. What is even more fascinating is that unlike the food we consume, there is no government regulated standardisation for organic skincare. Meaning that when a product is called organic or natural, it means literally NOTHING. Other than catchy marketing playing to your fears.

Which brings me to the third point, which is the structure of the skin.

Beth McLellan, M.D., Director of Oncodermatology at Montefiore Health System and Dermatologist for the app Spruce puts it well “I do not believe that putting something in my body is the same as putting something on the surface of my skin,” You see, one of the skins main functions is to keep toxins out of your body, it is the first line of defence, and very effective at it. “If we could put something on the surface of the skin and it was all absorbed into the bloodstream, you would never have to take pills—you could just rub medicine on your skin, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Sourced from Into The Gloss

Nothing much gets through, and thank god for that!

Which is the ultimate issue, if most of what we put on our skin is not getting through, then why spend money on skincare in the first place?
Good question.
The unfortunate reality is that most consumers are wasting their money buying hope in a jar, and the organic marketing machine is an expensive piece of this hyped up dream.

“There is no scientific proof that organic skin care is better for you,” says Emma Hobson, education manager for The International Dermal Institute.

According to Hobson, 100 per cent organic products simply can’t deliver the results consumers are seeking, especially when it comes to advanced anti-ageing skincare. “They are not able to use efficacious ingredients such as synthesised peptides, vitamins and the like,” says Hobson.  “Compare any age-fighting organic skincare product to one that uses a blend of natural and laboratory-derived ingredients and there is no comparison.”

Sourced from Daily Life

Unless you are working with certain active ingredients which have the ability and molecular size to penetrate the deeper dermal layers where the skin is created, or use technology to infuse ingredients deeper into the skin, then it would be better for you to save your money and not buy into the marketing hype.

Which begs the question, how do you judge a skincare product if you can’t base your judgement on the label, advertising or marketing?
I believe the answer is first and foremost from products which actually have clinical studies, and secondly, from personal testimonials and referrals. Which is one of the reasons why I’m puzzled that so many women take advice from those with bad skin, or from an unknown online source. The skincare industry will always be more effective when conducted face to face with those using the products themselves sharing their own personal results.

A skin care product’s integrity depends on a few key things: whether its ingredients are proven safe and effective backed by clinical studies and whether the concentration and delivery of the ingredients are appropriate for optimum results.

If you base your selection criteria on those few conditions you will be able to eliminate 95% of the products out there in the market place. A useful tool to cut through the blaring noise of marketers and their key words, and arrive at the results you desire without testing a 100 products to get there.

4 thoughts on “The Organic Question

  1. Thanks Kurt, well researched and informative. People seem to buy into the organic hype in skincare, but will still eat any old junk on the basis that “organic food is too expensive” – makes me crazy!!

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