The Lotion Loophole

| July / August 2006

Confusion over the 'organic' label extends beyond the food aisle to the realm of foot creams and toothpaste. In late 2005 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) broadened the range of products that could receive organic certification to include items like body care products, cotton, and cleaning solutions. Strangely, however, the USDA does not enforce the requirements behind the label when it comes to body care products.

'A vast array of body care products labeled 'organic' . . . differ little from run-of-the-mill drugstore commodities,' report James Hahn and Diana Kaye in Mothering (March/April 2006). The catch is a loophole in the regulation: If a company certifies just one product as organic, the USDA allows the company as a whole to market itself as 'certified organic.'

What are concerned lotion enthusiasts to do? Hahn and Kaye recommend getting familiar with the labels. Watch out for synthetic chemicals that make their way into 'natural' products, including common additions such as surfactants and synthetic fragrance. And keep a close eye on the preservatives that are added to body care products; those known as parabens have been pegged as hormone disrupters and possible cancer-causing agents.

And be wary of the company name. There are no rules when it comes to naming a new body care products company. If Philip Morris started a new lotion-making division, they could call it Altria Organics, and no one would stop them. -Laine Bergeson

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