The Daily Mail was one of a number of national newspapers to report on the Soil Association’s recent campaign against ‘green washing’ (right). This is the growing trend by major beauty brands to promote their products as natural and organic – when they’re often very far from that.
Established in 1946 by a small group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists, the Soil Association is best known for campaigning for healthy food, farming and land use. But these days their organic symbol can be seen on everything from textiles to cosmetics. It’s a sign that a company is fully committed to the highest standards of sustainability.
Botanicals was one of the first skin care companies to be approved and certified by the Soil Association. For a small company like us, it was (and still is) quite an expensive and time-consuming commitment. But we feel strongly that skin care products should only be made with natural and organically-grown ingredients. And without any artificial chemicals, additives and colourings – which often pose significant health concerns. So joining the Soil Association was a must for us.
As well as being an organic farmer, Peter Melchett is the Soil Association’s Policy Director. It was his report that the national papers picked up when he highlighted the number of major brands who falsely claim their products are both natural and organic.
“Under European law, if anyone wants to describe food as organic, it has to meet European legal standards,” explained Peter. “The European Union does not have its own standards for health and beauty products, so here the general law of the land applies – that labels should not be misleading.
“There is no doubt that many products claiming to be organic or something similar are, quite simply, misleading consumers. Under Soil Association standards, to use the word organic in the product name, it must contain over 95% organic ingredients, excluding water.”
Boots were recently reported to the Advertising Standards Authority over the marketing of their product ‘Little Me Organics, Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash’. The Authority ruled that Boots’ advertisement was misleading as the product contains less than 5% organic ingredients. They said that a product should be defined as organic only if it contains “a high proportion of organic ingredients”.
But Boots does not seem to have learned its lesson. The Soil Association discovered a Boots facial oil currently on sale which says it is 100% organic on the box, but actually contains at least four non-organic ingredients.
Peter reacted to this by saying; “To provide their customers with an accurate product description, Boots should say on the box which ingredients are certified organic, and what proportion of the product, excluding water, this represents.”
The Soil Association found other Boots ‘botanics’ products which claim to be organic – and some which even use their own Boots logo to claim their ingredients are organic; including Organic Hot Cloth Cleansing Balm and Organic Rosewater Toning Spritz.
While some of the ingredients in these products may indeed be certified as organic, the products themselves are not certified, and Peter believes this is misleading customers.
Potentially dangerous ingredients
But Boots is not alone. The Soil Association found a Nivea ‘Pure and Natural’ handcream which carries an unofficial leaf stamp that claims the product is 95% natural, but among other things it contains Methylisothiazolinone, a preservative which could be carcinogenic and is suspected of causing nerve damage.
They also discovered a range of hair and body products branded Organix, from a US beauty company (not the UK baby food company of the same name, which sells high quality organic products). The US Organix coconut shampoo contains no organic ingredients, is not certified, and contains potential carcinogens among other ingredients. Neither product would be permitted under Soil Association certification.
Organic September Campaign
To try and help tackle the problem of misleading labelling, the Soil Association is launching ‘Small Changes, Big Difference’ as part of their annual Organic September campaign. A major event in the campaign will be a national Organic Beauty Weekend on the 7-8 September. (Click here for details.)
The Soil Association will be coordinating a range of taster and sample sessions with some of the UK’s most significant organic health and beauty brands, producers and retailers. Botanicals will be taking part in the campaign. Full details to follow.