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What does it take for a Beauty Product to be Certified Organic?

What does it take for a Beauty Product to be Certified Organic?

When it comes time to find organic ingredients and products, you’ll quickly see that there are a few things that are never (and won’t ever) be classified as organic. Science is science and no amount of wishing it were different will change that.  So for all those who want an organic shampoo or soap — you’re pretty much out of luck. Let me help break this all down for you.

The “Scientific” Meaning Of Organic

In the most basic meaning, for something to be considered organic, it must contain a carbon atom. There are only very few classes of molecules that contain carbon that are not considered organic, but they are less common and we can ignore them for now (they include things like carbides and cyanides).

All known life that we have encountered uses carbon, which is why it is largely considered the building block of life. Thus we know that every plant-based product used in cosmetics must contain carbon, so in the strictly scientific case, they are organic material. To muddy the waters somewhat further, within the realm of organic chemistry you can have both organic natural and organic synthetic compounds—creating carbon-based compounds in the lab is considered organic synthetic.

Organic With The USDA & Beauty Products

So now we know what ‘organic’ means in the science world.  However, when it comes to agriculture and the plants used in cosmetics, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) limits the usage of the word organic to strictly naturally (in this case not synthetically) produced plants and compounds–no synthetic chemicals such as those found in pesticides, insecticides, or in food for livestock may be present. The term Organic really is derived from “Organically Grown” and was shortened to Organic.

For a plant to be considered organic by the USDA, several regulations must be followed. The land supporting the crops must not have had any synthetic or prohibited substances, no synthetic pesticides may be used, etc., in the past 3 years. The farmer/producer of the plant must be certified, any handler of the goods must be certified, and your manufacturer/filler must be certified by the USDA. 

The USDA does understand that ingredients such as water and salt cannot be organic (they have no carbon atoms and were never alive), and these are permitted in organic products. 

For Beauty products to be considered Organic by the FDA, they must have 95% Organic content.

Examples Of Non-Organic Ingredients

We know that synthetic, lab-created ingredients are considered not organic (aka they are ‘conventional’) by the USDA, but let’s explore other ‘natural’ ingredients. Water cannot be organic—it simply exists as two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules. There is no carbon and it has never been alive if it is simply pure water. The same goes for salt (composed of sodium and chloride atoms). But things like clay are also inorganic compounds. There is some evidence that microbes can affect the type of clay, but clay itself is primarily silicate rocks mixing with water. Life may well live within a clay, increasing the need for strong preservatives, and the USDA accepts some clays as organic, but often not. Kaolin, however, is typically permitted. All minerals are technically inorganic as well. 

And let’s talk about shampoo and body wash. You can’t have an 100% organic soap since to make soap, you need to combine fats/oils with an alkali (lye) which would make it a synthetic detergent. Surfactants, used in shampoos and body washes primarily, are almost always synthetic and therefore disqualify the entire product for Organic Certification.    but they don’t foam up like a surfactant cleanser.

Lab-Made Is OK!

Everything, including water, is a chemical, so it’s about knowing what type of chemical something is rather than immediately understanding a lengthy or intimidating name.  As mentioned, water is a chemical and its chemical name is dihydrogen monoxide–it can certainly look daunting or scary but simply describes the molecular structure. It’s important to remember that lab-created is the only way to manage certain plant-based resources as populations continue to boom.

Scientists have long had the capacity to synthesize molecules that are identical to those found in plants, providing the same effects and benefits. We are happy using these on our own skin, and as the drive for sustainable beauty, not just natural beauty, takes hold there will likely be no choice but to embrace these nature-identical compounds.  Water shortages, climate change, overpopulation, over-harvesting — all are eating into the availability of plant-based resources. Ironically, this means that sometimes the most sustainable, safest ingredients are not those grown in dirt, but those made with the science of green chemistry.


For a Beauty Product to be Certified USDA Organic it must have at least 95% Organic Ingredients. Water & Salt are two ingredients that can never be classified as organic. Your skin is your largest organ and the products that we use are absorbed into it, so when choosing your beauty products, look into the integrity of the company and their ingredients. 

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