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Are Organic Beauty Products Really Better for You?

We love getting healthy and often we associate “healthier” with “organic” or “natural” but how can be sure the products we buy are that much better (and what’s the difference)? Gladys Chung of The Straits Times investigates organic and natural cosmetics products to help you be a more informed consumer.

Walk into any beauty department or personal-care store and chances are you will find an ever-widening array of cosmetic products that claim to be “organic” or “natural”.

But can you always trust labels that claim to be both?

Probably not, says Mr Amarjit Sahota, managing director of Organic Monitor, a London-based specialist research and consulting company which focuses on global sustainable product industries.

“Asian consumers don’t really know what organic means. It is a sustainable form of farming. There is a lot of confusion,” he says.

There is no single official definition of what makes a product organic, but generally, organic cosmetic ingredients are those that come from organic plants, while natural cosmetic ingredients are those obtained only from plants, animals and substances of microbiological or mineral origin.

Mr Sahota adds that in Asia, the absence of mainstream retailers of such products and a lack of large natural food shop chains lead to “a disorganised sector where there is strong competition for shelf space with pseudo-natural brands”.

Small speciality retailers which carry a relatively sizeable range of reputable organic and natural beauty products in Singapore include SuperNature, Bud Cosmetics and Pure Tincture.

Mislabelling is one of the biggest problems.

Mr Sahota says: “In Asia, many brands put self-designated logos on their products. It could just be a conventional formulation with one organic ingredient and it will have a large organic logo on the label. Or, it could be that the product’s name includes the word ‘organic’ in one form or another, but there is nothing organic inside the bottle.

“And there are also cases where brands use false logos and seals on their products. This greenwashing is more common in Asia than in other parts of the world.”

Greenwashing is a term coined by environmentalists to describe products and services which claim to be environmentally friendly when they are not.

Mr Sahota estimates the global natural and organic cosmetics market to be worth US$11.7 billion (S$16.6 billion), with the United States and Germany being the largest markets. He was in town last month to give a presentation at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Singapore’s Annual Workshop on the natural and organic market in Asean.

The good news is the confusion over organic and natural cosmetics in the region may be solved by the middle of next year, says Dr Alain Khaiat, president of the association and vice-president of technical and scientific affairs at the Asean Cosmetic Association.

The International Standard Guidelines on Technical Definitions and Criteria for Natural and Organic Cosmetic Ingredients are in the final rounds of a six-year- long discussion involving representatives from countries such as Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand.

The guidelines will cover topics that include the definition of a natural or organic cosmetic ingredient and the amount of organic ingredients that a product should contain to be labelled as organic. This move will mean major changes for the industry.

According to Dr Khaiat, when the standards are published, they may be adopted by the Asean Cosmetic Committee as guidelines to control products that are imported into and exported out of Asean.

If and when the standards are adopted by local regulators, the standard guidelines will be used as a reference to check on claims made on a label. Companies can also use the guidelines to formulate their products so they can make the right claims on their labels.

Read the full article to get more about finding organic products and the growing demand in Singapore.

By Gladys Chung, The Straits Times, November 12, 2015

Photo: 123rf.com

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