organic shampoo by sofarsogood


									                                                                                                                                                       Sunday, May 18, 2003

 Is Organic Shampoo Chemistry or Botany?
            By JOHN LELAND                                       When it comes to soaps and shampoos,                                      The cleanser I used, selected at a lo-
                                                            “almost every product out there labeled                                   cal health food store, is made by Avalon

       HE other night I served an organic                   organic isn’t,” said Ronnie Cummins, ex-                                  Natural Products. Its components are
       pasta sauce and washed my face with                  ecutive director of the Organic Consumers                                 used in a range of shampoos, conditioners,
       an organic cleanser. The sauce was                   Association. At meetings of organic manu-                                 scrubs, lotions and lip balms labeled as or-
made from tomatoes and other farm in-                       facturers and federal regulators in Austin,                               ganic by numerous manufacturers.
gredients, all certified organic under strict               Tex., last week, the consumer group com-                                       Twenty years ago, an organic label
federal guidelines. The facial cleanser fea-                plained that companies are exploiting the                                 might have been of interest to a few health
tured a handful of synthetic and chemical                   term organic to sell products little different                            purists. But as organic foods have moved
ingredients, including some that ecological                 from any others — and with little oversight                               from farm stands to major supermarkets,
activists have questioned as possibly harm-                 from the government.                                                      the term “organic” has come to represent
ful to users or the environment.                                 The United States Department of                                      not a set of farming guidelines but a life-
     Both products came from the same                       Agriculture, which regulates organic food                                 style, accessorized with everything from
store and promised the same organic qual-                   labeling, has neither standards nor the au-                               unbleached cotton sheets to hemp cloth-
ity. But in each case the word organic de-                  thority to regulate labels on personal care                               ing, to beauty and body-care products.
scribed a different set of standards.                       products.                                                                      “These things are coming into super-
                                                                                                                                      markets on the back of organic foods,” said
                                                                                                                                      Peggy Northrop, editor in chief of Organic
                                                                                                                                      Style magazine, which comes off as Vogue
                                                                                                                                      for vegetarians. For young women, she
Despite their
                                                                                                                                      added, “organic doesn’t mean food, it
leafy labels,
                                                                                                                                      means an attitude toward your life.”
many personal
                                                                                                                                           The promise of organic, in foods or
care products
                                                                                                                                      body lotions, is that natural ingredients,
bearing the
                                                                                                                                      minimally processed, are healthier for
word organic
                                                                                                                                      people and better for the ecosystem than
contain ingredi-
                                                                                                                                      conventional products. Though this logic
ents that do not
                                                                                                                                      doesn’t always hold up, consumers are
exist in nature.
                                                                                                                                      willing to pay more for products bearing
The federal
                                                                                                                                      an organic label.
guidelines that
                                                                                                                                           When the Agriculture Department
regulate organic
                                                                                                                                      issued the first standards for labeling or-
food labeling
                                                                                                                                      ganic foods last October, after more than a
do not apply to
                                                                                                                                      decade of wrangling, it closed a loophole in
hair and skin-
                                                                                                                                      the food industry, putting strict limits on
care products.
                                                                                                                                      how manufacturers and stores could use
                                                                                                                                      the label organic. An organic label on one
                                                                                                                                      company’s food products meant the same
                                                                                                                                      as on another’s.
                                                                                                                                           But for cosmetics and personal care
                                                                                                                                      products, consumer advocates say, “or-
                                                                                                                                      ganic” means whatever manufacturers say
                                                                                                                                      it does. Products made using petroleum-
                                                                                                                                      derived and other synthetic or chemical
                                                                                                                                      ingredients, prohibited in organic foods,
                                                                                                                                      can be found among the organic shampoos
                                                                                                                                      and lotions made by Avalon, Nature’s Gate,
                                 Illustration by Marivi Pulido-Brown; photographs by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times (foreground)
                                                                                                                                      Jason Natural Cosmetics, Kiss My Face and
                                                                                                          and Premium Stock/Corbis
other brands, said Urvashi Rangan, an envi-        medicine at the University of Illinois at
ronmental health scientist.                        Chicago School of Public Health and chair-
     On a recent evening at Whole Foods            man of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, has
Market in Manhattan, Dr. Rangan, who               led some of the most aggressive campaigns
runs at Consumers Union,            against toxins in personal care products.
the company that publishes Consumer                Even natural-sounding ingredients, he said,
Reports, examined the labels in an aisle of        might break down to form carcinogens, or
shampoos and conditioners. She shook her           be contaminated by pesticides.
head.                                                    But surveying the ingredients of a doz-
     “Even with a Ph.D. in toxicology, I           en personal care products labeled organic,
can’t tell whether these are any different         Dr. Epstein saw few reasons for alarm.
from what you’d find in a drug store,” she         ‘’Good Lord, these are lower in carcinogens
said. Dr. Rangan did not think the products        than the average bottle,’’ he said.
posed big health risks. But reading a list               Even so, such products fall short of the
of ingredients — “Zinc gluconate, methyl           promises implied by the label organic, said       FINE PRINT The back label of an Avalon Natural Products
propyl paraben, olefin sulfonate, DEA,             Diana Kaye, a partner in Terressentials,          hair conditioner that claims to be 70 percent organic.
                                                                                                     A consumer group says the chief ingredient, a hydrosol,
steareth-2” — she added, “You have to ask          a small Maryland-based company that               mainly water, is used to inflate the organic content.
yourself, What are these doing in a product        makes shampoos and lotions without ar-
that’s called organic?”                            tificial ingredients or processes. Ms. Kaye,
     Allyn Jones, who runs the Whole Body          a former architect, started the company           hydrosol, with a hint of rosemary or other
division of Whole Foods Markets, said the          after chemotherapy treatments for cancer          herb throughout. The remaining 20 percent
company carefully chooses only products            left her sensitive to the chemicals in many       of the bottle may contain synthetic deter-
with no petroleum-based colors or oils, and        products, even those labeled organic. Such        gents and preservatives.
avoids brands “that were just using organic        products merit careful scrutiny, she said,             California, the first state to pass its
as a marketing gimmick.” She added that            because people use them daily over long           own guidelines for organic personal care
since personal care products are mostly wa-        periods of time.                                  products, allows manufacturers to include
ter and may be stored for long periods, they             The organic industry has formed a task      hydrosols in their percentages of organic
need preservatives not found in organic            force to develop voluntary guidelines for         ingredients. Earlier this month, the Organic
foods. Even so, she said, “it’s really confus-     cosmetics and personal care products, said        Consumers Association lodged a complaint
ing for consumers.” Standards that apply           Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of         with state agencies in California, singling
on one side of the store do not apply on the       the Organic Trade Association, which rep-         out Avalon Natural Products for claiming
other, Mrs. Jones said.                            resents many of the major manufacturers.          that hydrosols were organic, which the as-
                                                   ‘’We feel we should protect the integrity of      sociation said was deceptive.
Hair and skin can absorb                           the organic claim,’’ she said. ‘’It’s quite an         Mr. Cummins of the Organic
toxins quite efficiently.                          unregulated business.’’ Past attempts to get      Consumers Association said this practice
                                                   manufacturers to agree on standards had           allows products with very small traces of
     Because the word organic is used to           broken down, she said.                            organic oils or herbs to be labeled organic.
mean different things, it is difficult to tally          As first steps toward voluntary stan-       ‘’We’re afraid of the degradation of the en-
the sales of products using the name. The          dards, Ms. DiMatteo cited broad consensus         tire organic label,’’ he said.
Natural Marketing Institute, which analyz-         about banning petrochemicals, genetically              Emma Mann, the brand manager for
es the sales of products positioned as natu-       modified crops, irradiated ingredients and        Avalon’s organic line, said the company’s
ral, estimated that personal care products         certain synthetics or chemicals that are pro-     use of hydrosols, as well as synthetic de-
for this broader group accounted for $2.8          hibited in organic foods.                         tergents and preservatives, complied with
billion last year.                                       Manufacturers are divided, however, on      California law. ‘’We’d like to see those syn-
     Most people don’t monitor their hair          what to do about water. Under the guidelines      thetics replaced by organic ingredients,’’ she
products as vigorously as they do their pasta      for organic food, products labeled ‘’certified    said, but she added that such replacements
sauce, of course, for the obvious reason that      organic’’ must include at least 95 percent        were not available.
they don’t eat their styling gel. But the skin,    certified organic ingredients; those with at           Along with Consumers Union, Mr.
scalp and hair are remarkably efficient at         least 70 percent organic ingredients may be       Cummins’s group called for manufactur-
absorbing toxins and carcinogens. A group          labeled as ‘’containing organic ingredients.’’    ers and government agencies to hold open
of researchers at Stanford University in 1999      Food manufacturers cannot count water to-         meetings on standards, inviting the public
found they could deliver a DNA vaccine to          ward these percentages. The main ingredi-         to watch and comment. ‘’If it gets out there
laboratory mice as effectively by rubbing it       ent in many personal care products is water       that we’ve got this multibillion-dollar in-
on their skin as injecting it into muscle.         — with a little herbal extract dissolved in it,   dustry that’s a hoax,’’ he said, ‘’it’s going
     In fact, some toxins can do more harm         like a tea -- and manufacturers often count       to undermine people’s support across the
absorbed through the skin than through             the weight of water in their organic claims.      board.’’
the digestive system because they lodge                  This herbal ‘’tea’’ is sometimes listed          As for my own experience, the organic
directly in fat cells, bypassing the liver, said   on labels as hydrosol, and refers to water        cleanser was gentle and nonirritating, but
Dr. Rangan.                                        that has been used to extract essential oils      left my skin dryer than my usual synthetic
     Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, an emeritus pro-       for other use. A shampoo calling itself 80        soap. The pasta sauce was from Muir Glen.
fessor of environmental and occupational           percent organic may be 80 percent water or        To my taste it needed salt.

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