Bath & Body · Skincare

Organics – Separating the Wolf from the Lamb

I’ve seen it far too often…

Businesses pop up in the skincare industry with the word “Organics” in their name or on their label but have harmful chemicals in their ingredient listing.

wolf and lamb 1080With names that include words like “Organics”, companies lead consumers to believe that their products are indeed – Organic. Unfortunately this is not always the case and too often I am finding “Organic” claims in marketing and on labels for products that are not truly organic and in many cases also not all natural.

How do you know who to trust? How can you discern the Wolf from the Lamb? Consumers should know the basics to protect themselves.

*What is Organic?

Close Up Of Farmer Working In Organic Farm FieldOrganic means that the plants used in the product were grown and processed without chemicals such as chemical fertilizer or chemical pesticide. Because using chemical controls is cheaper than all natural controls, organic products tend to cost quite a bit more than non-organic products.

*Is Organic the Same as All Natural?


Many times I snatch up a product with the word “Organic” on its label or in the company name and flip it over to read the ingredient list. I am often disappointed to find ingredients such as sulfates, parabens, chemical preservatives, and more.

All Natural means the product is made from materials that come from a plant or earth based all natural origin. They are derived from a natural source. This does not necessarily mean these materials were grown organically, without use of chemicals. It also does not mean the ingredient is being used in its original “natural” form. It may be a constituent of a plant – without getting too technical that means it might be drawn from a part of the plant using a chemical process.

Products can actually be made with USDA Certified Organic materials and still be “Nearly” Natural because they include fragrance oil, chemical preservatives, or other chemicals.

*USDA Organic

usda labelThere is a difference between a product being made with Certified Organic materials and the cosmetic company/product/lab itself being certified Organic.

The USDA has a stringent and rigorous program which allows companies to have their lab spaces certified Organic. This calls for taking measures to ensure that production facilities and methods protect against contamination of Organic material with non-organic materials.

The government uses the same standards it applies to produce – i.e., produced without conventional pesticides and by companies that put an emphasis on conservation. They offer three levels of certification: “100 percent organic” (a product contains only organically produced ingredients), “organic” (at least 95 percent organic ingredients), and “made with organic ingredients” (at least 70 percent organic ingredients).

For “organic” and “made with organic ingredients” the remaining 5% to 30% of the product’s ingredients can include chemicals, fragrance, parabens, etc.

Chemical use in skincare products is largely unregulated beyond ingredients that are clearly banned. Even with banned ingredients, the monitoring agencies are stretched very thin, the skincare/cosmetics industry remains primarily self-regulated.

*If a Company uses the word “Organics” in its name can I assume it is Certified Organic?

No. Unfortunately there does not appear to be a hard and fast rule for companies with the word “Organic” in their name to be held to the standard of providing a certification for proof.

I had a conversation with the owner of a company that has the word “Organics” in its company name however their product labels do not have the Certified USDA Organic mark.

Here is how our conversation unfolded:

Me: Do you make your own products or do you private label products that come from another maker?

“Other Organics” Company: We make our products in our studio behind our house. It’s a really cute shed.

Me: Cool! Is your “Studio” certified Organic?

“Other Organics” Company: No – but we use ingredients that are certified organic from another company.


This tells me that this company may or may not be following protocols to ensure their products meet the criteria for being USDA Certified Organic. Because they’ve not gone through the process of having their workspace USDA Certified Organic we cannot know how the materials are being handled once they enter the lab.

This company, whose products are featured in many magazines and review blogs and used by thousands of consumers is not Certified Organic, it just has the word “Organics” in its name. We are asked to trust them based on their word that the products they are making in the shed behind their house are being produced in a trustworthy manner that ensure the Organic materials are not mixing with/being contaminated by non-organic materials.

Because this company is not certified Organic but uses the word “Organics” in its name customers just assume that this company is providing an Organic product that meets all of the standards of Organic production. In reality, this company is not monitored by any agency and we must rely on their word that they are following good manufacturing practices.  (Please note – I’m not saying their products are bad – they actually have a great company and product line. I’m just pointing out how quickly we trust labels when purchasing Organic products.)

Brown Barn Botanicals uses Certified Organic ingredients throughout its line. We also use Organically Grown/Produced ingredients. Brown Barn Botanicals lab and farm are not Certified Organic (but we hope to eventually obtain this certification). We do not use the word “Organic” on our front label because we would never want to mislead a customer. We do indicate in our ingredients area on our website which ingredients are certified or grown using organic methods.

*What is the Difference Between Certified Organic and Organically Cultivated?

20621106_10155647894702372_3158040932505432325_nAn example of a Certified Organic ingredient is the flowers from a Chamomile plant that is grown on a USDA Certified Organic Farm where all elements are controlled and with government oversight ensuring no chemicals have been used on this plant. An example of an Organically Cultivated (or Grown) ingredient would be the leaves from a Birch Tree grown in the woods where no chemicals are present (this is called “Wildcrafted”) or a Chamomile plant grown outside in a field that has not been USDA Certified Organic but whose farmer promised he used no chemicals.

Unfortunately we cannot always just “trust” that everyone is true to their word. Because of this we strongly recommend that if you desire Organic products you either stick to companies that use the USDA Certified Organic mark on their label (it is illegal to use this unless you are indeed Certified Organic) or only purchase from companies you can trust.

*What about other types of “Organic” certification?

Because organic and all natural claims are so valuable whole industries have emerged with additional certifications. These include

  • Cruelty Free – not tested on animals
  • Additional Certifications – add-on certifications from independent organizations (i.e. EcoCert, Soil Association, Organic Food Federation)
  • Alternative Certifications – instead of the USDA certified organic symbol some companies use a different certifying body and their symbol. Be aware that these alternative certifications may have less stringent guidelines than our USDA program.

organic certification

Not every certification means the same thing. Look carefully at the certification symbols and do your research on each to ensure the certification truly means this company was inspected and is regulated for maintenance of good organic manufacturing practices and that is ingredients are exactly what you desire.

The next time you pick up a product from a company with the word “Organics” in the name look for the ingredients and look carefully at any certification seals to be sure you are getting what you are paying for. If it has an alternative seal be sure to investigate to ensure the seal is meaningful. Or, best of all, make sure the company you are purchasing from is one that you are familiar with and trust.

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