How Organic are Organic beauty brands?

How Organic are Organic beauty brands?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Living in the millennial age has its own perks and consequences. If you are 80s or 90s kid you would remember how Indian households believed in home remedies and Ayurveda rather than expensive medications for even the deadliest cuts and wounds. Though it was an era of Doordarshan and All India Radio, there was hardly any brand propaganda that meddled with our brains convincing us on consumerism and tapping on our insecurities.

In today’s world, right from our Instagram feeds and e-commerce websites to our peers and friends, there has been a continued hype on embracing “all things organic.” If something is ‘organic’ it means it has been produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. In India, the landscape of ‘natural beauty’ has undergone a complete transition, right from shopping Figaro olive oils at one point from the local drug store to adding the luxe beauty essentials from Purearth or Kama Ayurveda to daily skincare routine.

Today the world of beauty is flooded with products claiming to be either natural, organic, ayurvedic or herbal. Do you think just labelling these products as natural or organic is enough for the product to be actually ‘natural’ and safe for consumers to use?

While the top brands boast of their ‘green’ certificates and accreditations by reputed accreditation bodies like NOP(National Organic Programme), BDIH (Germany), BIOFORUM (Belgium), COSMEBIO & ECOCERT (France), Ayush (Ministry of Health) and ICEA, what about the local brands on social media that have labels like “100% natural” and “certified natural”? How are they authentic and reliable? Every time you refresh your Instagram feed, you are surprised by unheard beauty brands. How does one judge their authenticity with just few aesthetically photographed images and creative captions? There’s more to brand communication than just nicely shot imagery…

It is in fact misleading because many of these so-called natural brands do not show transparency in their ingredient list and mention only their active ingredients. Raising her concern over skincare brands, Cynthia Barstow, Marketing Faculty, University of Massachusetts, Amherst said “I think natural products retailers have to work hard to uphold standards on their shelves. Consumers are confused by the ingredients in their products, so they rely on others to examine the products. If they don’t do it as retailers, the customers end up assuming that it’s an organic product.”

Unlike millennials, the Gen Z aren’t the type of consumers waiting to be wooed by the brands. They know what they need and believe in shopping from brands that have values that align with their own. The huge ‘organic’ movement came in after they expressed their concerns on what is being put on their skin and how it affects the environment, redefining the ways brands think of beauty. From packaging to products, everything today has a new face to justify the definitions of beauty and beyond. Yes, a product might come in an eco-friendly packaging and may entail plant oils, but have you ever wondered where were those oils produced and at what cost to the environment? How can we be sure if a formula is truly natural or vegan when the parameters around the use of those terms in the beauty industry are barely visible?

Addressing her thoughts on the psyche of the present generation and the need to rethink the beauty business, Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss in her interview with Goldman Sachs said “Beauty is a 450-million-dollar global market and it’s going to be 750 billion in the next 6 years. If we analyse the purchasing patterns of the millennials, the report reveals that 89% percent of the millennials today make their purchasing decisions on Instagram. They choose what to get, from where to get by actually scrolling through social media. It’s really interesting to see how much technology is shifting where the consumer is making those decisions.”

Elaborating on the need for being true to the word “organic or natural”, Vivek Sahni, Founder and CEO of Kama Ayurveda shared in an interview saying “The Indian market is extraordinary at the moment. Its very nascent. People are now slowly discovering the benefits of using a natural plant-based product. They are realising that putting a chemical on your face over a period of time can be harmful and damaging. The benefits of an organic or a natural product is very obvious. As people start using organic products, they see the difference in the long run. If a cosmetic, body care or personal care product contains or is made up of agricultural ingredients and can meet the National Organic Program (NOP) organic production, handling, processing and labelling standards, it may be eligible to be certified as an organic beauty product under the NOP regulations. The difference between Kama Ayurveda and any other organic brand is that we are actually selling an ayurvedic treatment. Our products are specific treatments for specific issues, be it acne, hair fall, dandruff issues or blemishes, our products are issue related and we believe in treating them naturally through the age-old Ayurveda secrets.”

Known to induce sleep, relieve stress and anxiety and resolve skin and hair issues, essential oils are marketed across the globe. While ancient scriptures may boast of their healing properties, how would one justify in the modern world, if the essential oil is sourced naturally or not?

Filmed over the course of 2019, (Un)well, a six-part Netflix series, delves into the darker and the gloomy side of the beauty wellness industry that is sometimes promising, sometimes filled with scams and occasionally dangerous. If you have watched this series you will realise how realistically it documents and examines this expansive, lucrative web of wellness, and the confusing information shared on the online channels. The series tagline asks: “Do these wellness trends live up to their promises?” Expressing his motivation behind the series, Erica Sachin – Executive Producer shared in an interview saying “There’s a lot of conflicting information and misinformation out there, and there’s not a lot of hard data and testing done. People are anxious and exhausted from the medical field and the pharmaceutical industries, and they’re looking to take control of their own health. Hence, we felt it was the perfect time to look at this industry that’s blowing up and try and help to sort out some of the fact from the fiction.”

Dermatologists on the other hand are very sceptical of any and everything marketed as Ayurvedic, natural and organic. It’s one thing to use haldi and honey to heal a pimple but it’s another to shop a haldi honey face cream or mask from a brand that says “organic”.

Highlighting the usage of organic skincare products to cure skin related issues, Dr. Amoha K Bhatia- Cosmetic Dermatologist, Hair Transplant Surgeon and Chief Consultant- Enhance Clinics, New Delhi shared “Organic skincare is becoming very popular and many people are opting for it today. While some may be skin-friendly, I feel that they cannot form the mainline treatment for a skin problem. Yes, they can act as a support to the main treatment but cannot be justified to cure a health issue. Some of these ingredients do help too like Multani Mitti (fullers earth) for oily and acne prone skin, Bringadi oil for hair loss and dandruff but again they cannot form the main treatment. One needs to be mindful while choosing the ingredients and not try everything and anything available in the market. To analyse which organic ingredient is good for you, one needs to talk to their dermatologist and not self-treat themselves. They can analyse and suggest you the best products. There are some organic products brands like Kama, Khadi and Biotique which I really like but I don’t favour all the products. Here one needs to try and test which one is good and suits the best.”

It is clear that we are swimming in unknown waters, not knowing the difference between the right or the wrong. But, here are few essential pointers to remember if you are shopping organic beauty products through social media or by personally visiting the store.

1. Truly organic beauty products will have a short shelf life, probably 3 months or less.

2. If you are not diligent about trashing your expired items, you may wind up with an organic, preservative-free foundation or moisturizer that is teeming with mould and bacteria. Definitely not a healthy situation for your skin.

3. Those with sensitive skin or severe skin allergies still need to be cautious about new products, even if they are organic beauty products. Before jumping into a new beauty routine, do a small test patch to determine whether or not your skin is compatible with the ingredients.

4. Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% may be labelled as: “Organic” or bear the “organic” logo. These products must be certified and the name of the Certification Body must appear on the label.

5. Multi-ingredient products with 70-95% organic content may have the declaration: “contains x% organic ingredients”. These products may not use the organic logo and/or the claim “Organic”. These products must be certified and the name of the Certification Body must appear on the label.

6. Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% “organic” content may only contain organic claims in the product’s ingredient list. These products do not require certification and may not use the “organic” logo. However, the organic ingredients contained within these products must be certified.

7. Remember, products that make an “organic” claim must be certified by a Certification Body.

Be sure to research well before you fall for a beauty influencer’s tip on a miracle beauty product!

Aishwarya Menon

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