Misleading Organic Labels – How to Tell the Real from Fake

3 min read

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The good news is that most brands that use the word “organic” on the label are worthy of our trust. Their shampoos, lotions, cosmetics and other hair and body products really do contain organically grown ingredients.

The bad news is that a fair share of unsavory companies take advantage of our desire for healthier products by misusing the word “organic” to imply their products are healthier when, in fact, they are not. Their products are often filled with chemicals, but their clever marketing ploys can trick us into thinking they are all-natural.

These companies can get away with misleading us, because of a crazy loophole in labeling regulations for personal care products.

The ridiculous loophole

The USDA governs how agricultural products are labeled when those ingredients have been certified organic. But if the ingredients were created in a lab and not cultivated on a farm, then the product cannot be certified as organic and therefore would not be regulated the USDA.

Jenette's Organic Skin CareOr if the company has simply not certified its products as organic and is not making any direct claims that their product is organic, then again, its label would also not be regulated by the USDA.

You’d think the FDA would step in when the company makes an indirect claim that its product is organic. But when it comes to personal care products, the FDA defers to the USDA for regulating the use of the word “organic”. As a result, we consumers are left to fend for ourselves.

This loophole only exists for personal care products, not food.

Only products whose ingredients were grown or raised on a farm can be regulated by the USDA. If the ingredients are synthetic, then the USDA cannot regulate them.

But if the label says “organic”, then the FDA cannot step in, because “organic” is a term that is supposed to be regulated by the USDA. Unless we’re talking about food — then the FDA can step in.

How can you tell if a product is truly organic?

It’s easy for brands to dupe us into buying a product, simply because the product or brand’s name seems to indicate its ingredients are organic. It’s incredibly misleading and there are several organizations fighting to close this loophole. In the meantime, it’s important to take a moment to read the label and know what to look for.

Yes, it really is organic

  • IUSDA certified organicf the product has a certified organic seal, then its organic claims are true.
  • Ditto if the product makes a direct claim on its label that ingredients are organic or 100% organic.
  • If it uses the words made with organic ingredients, then at least 70% of its ingredients are organically grown and produced.
  • If the product specifically calls out organic ingredients on its ingredients list, then those ingredients are organic.

If any of the above is found on the label, then the brand is correctly communicating to consumers that it falls under USDA regulation. Therefore, any ingredients the brand claims are organic are legally required to have been certified organic and you can trust that they are.

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No, it is not organic

If the product does not follow the USDA requirements above, then it is not claiming to be regulated by the USDA and it is therefore not governed by USDA rules. (It’s absurd, I know!)

  • The product is not truly organic if some variation of the word “organic” (such as organix or organics) is in their brand name or product name, but the label does not specifically call out any organic ingredients.
  • If there is no certified organic seal and there are no words that directly say that the ingredients themselves are organic, then the ingredients are not organic.

Great info, easy to digest

The intro is kind of long, but the rest of the video is well-worth it. Skip past the first 28-seconds if you’re in a rush.


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