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Cosmetics Companies Sued For Mislabeling "Organic" Products

Illustration for article titled Cosmetics Companies Sued For Mislabeling Organic Products

Beauty products are far less regulated than you might think, and now several popular companies are being sued over their use of the word "organic." While manufacturers claim their products are more natural than that of their competitors, a watchdog group found many products don't have the required amount of organic ingredients, and some even contain potentially toxic chemicals.

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Last week the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed a class action lawsuit against 26 cosmetics companies for allegedly violating a California law that says products must contain at least 70% organic ingredients to use the term on packaging. Use of the label has been in dispute for years, and according to the Associated Press, and the federal government never established rules for what constitutes an organic beauty product. Then again, the USDA has approved standards instituted in California in 2003.

CEH decided to file the suit after its researchers performed tests on beauty items bought at several Bay Area stores including Target, Walgreens, and Whole Foods. Based on their ingredients lists, these "organic" products contained very few, or in some cases no ingredients considered organic. The group said in a press release:

Some of the "organic" labeled products contain ingredients linked to health concerns. For example, a "Kids Hair Softening System" made by the company "Organics by Africa's Best" contains BHA and cocamide DEA, chemicals that have been classified as cancer-causing by government agencies, triethanolamine, which has caused asthma in exposed workers, and parabens, chemicals that have disrupted hormones in laboratory tests. The package, colorfully decorated with images of young girls, warns: "Keep away from eyes. Can cause blindness…Serious injury can result…if ingested…" and "Keep out of reach of children."

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CEH has compiled a list of all 26 brands named in the suit and an example of one of the allegedly mislabeled items, though there are many more. If you've bought any ostensibly natural beauty product in the past few years, there's a good chance items made by these companies are in your bathroom.

  • Advantage Research Laboratories, Inc./Murray's Worldwide, Inc.: Parnevu T-Tree No Lye Conditioning Relaxer System
  • Aubrey Organics, Inc: Collagen & Almond Enriching Moisturizing Lotion
  • Beauty Without Cruelty/Lotus Brands, Inc: Organic Aromatherapy Facial Cleanser
  • Boots Retail USA Inc: Boots Amazon Forest Brazil Nut & Vanilla Body Wash
  • California Inside & Out, Inc: Out of Africa Handwash Tea Tree with Essential Oil
  • Colomer U.S.A.: Crème of Nature Kiwi & Citrus Ultra Moisturizing Shampoo
  • Cosway Company, Inc/Head Organics Company: Clearly Head Conditioner
  • Curls, LLC: Curlicious Curls Cleansing Cream Organic Shampoo
  • derma e® Natural Bodycare/Stearns Products, Inc: Psorzema Body Wash
  • Hain Celestial Group: Jason Thin-to-Thick Conditioner and Baby Avalon Organics Silky Cornstarch Baby Powder
  • House of Cheatham, Inc: Organics by Africa's Best Hair Mayonnaise
  • International Trade Routes of New York, Inc/Laboratorios Phergal: Naturtint Green Technologies Permanent Hair Colorant
  • Kinky-Curly Hair Care: Kinky-Curly Spiral Spritz
  • Kiss My Face Corporation: Hold Up Styling Mousse
  • Lafe's Natural BodyCare/Lafe T. Larson, Inc: Deodorant Stone With Holder
  • Morrocco Method, Inc: Euro Organic Oil Simply Pure Hair & Scalp Therapy
  • Namasté Laboratories: Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Replenishing Pak
  • Nature's Baby Products, Inc: Nature's Baby ORGANICS Shampoo & Body Wash in Vanilla-Tangerine Scent or Lavender-Chamomile Scent
  • Nubian Heritage Group/Sundial Group LLC: Coconut & Papaya with Vanilla Bean Extract Body Wash
  • Nutrition Resource, Inc. dba NutriBiotic: NutriBiotic Everyday Clean Conditioner Botanical Blend
  • Rainbow Research Corporation: Rainbow Baby Oh Baby Unscented Organic Herbal Shampoo
  • Renpure, L.L.C: Renpure Organics I Love My Hair! Body and Shine Shampoo
  • Strength of Nature Global, LLC: Elasta QP Intense Fortifying Hair Conditioning Treatment
  • Sundial Brands/Sundial Group LLC: Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
  • The Himalaya Drug Company: Organique by Himalaya Toothpaste
  • Todd Christopher International, Inc/Vogue International: Hydrating Teatree Mint Conditioner

If these claims are proven to be true, these brands are going to have plenty of pissed-off consumers to answer to. (And there will probably be quite a few easy-going hippies among them.) While these companies paint themselves as some sort of conscience-pleasing "alternative" (as opposed to huge manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson or Unilever), it appears that they may have slapped on an "organic" label just to scam people into shelling out a bit more for toothpaste and shampoo.

Cosmetics Companies Sued Over "Organic" Labels [AP]
Products From National Retailers Labeled Organic But Contain Few Or No Organic Ingredients [CEH]
Mislabeled "Organic" Personal Care Products [CEH]

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Image via Christo/Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

I really resent the blatantly inaccurate marketing of most beuty products. Frankly, it's really insulting most of the time. I'm glad they nailed these brands.

For some useful research/reviews on beauty products, I recommend The Cosmetics Cop, Paula Begoun. She runs a site called [www.beautypedia.com] where she reviews products (1,000s of them — she is hard-core about this stuff) for their claims, ingrediants, safety and results. I know her published books also list manufacturers who test and don't test on animals, so the web site probably has it, too. Is she infallible? No. But I feel like it's a pretty compehensive resource and she keeps up with the research.

I'm using an "organic" Neutrogena facial cleanser, on her recommendation, but she wrote an extensive caveat in the vein of "this is a good product on its own, but DON'T just use it b/c they say it's organic b/c that term is thrown around willy nilly in this industry and — hello! — everything, somewhere in its production "comes from nature" so don't fall for that gimmick, either". I appreciated that she addressed the marketing angle. For the record, I am very happy with the cleanser and several other products.

Be advised, she started her own line of products, and, naturally, the "Paula's Choice" stuff all has great reviews. You can argue that she knows where manufacturers fall short, so she made better stuff, but, you know "objectivity" can't be guaranteed.

Any other trusted resources out there?