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Misbranded: The Unregulated Greenwashing of Cosmetics, by Rhylee Smith

Posted by: | April 29, 2014 Comments Off on Misbranded: The Unregulated Greenwashing of Cosmetics, by Rhylee Smith |

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) strictly regulates any food labeled as “organic”. [1] Unbeknownst to most consumers, cosmetics that use the word “organic” are not regulated by USDA. Cosmetics fall under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA defines cosmetics as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”[2] It is logical that such a broad array of products would be subject to their own regulations, but unlike USDA regulations, the laws and regulations that FDA enforces do not have definitions for “natural” or “organic.”

Several regulatory bodies working in concert should be able to create clarity for customers trying to buy organic cosmetics. However, this is not the case.  Because each agency has limited power over certain aspects of the industry, the process has become convoluted and filled with loopholes. The largest of these loopholes is centered around using the word “organic” on cosmetic labels. To consumers an “organic” label implies regulation by USDA. Yet USDA does not have the same power over cosmetics and personal care products as it does over food; the regulation of cosmetics lies squarely within the authority of FDA.

The term “organic” is familiar to anyone who spends much time in a grocery store. Recent years have seen exponential growth in the sale of organic fruits, vegetables and other food products. Grocery store shelves are littered with terms like “fair trade”, “sustainable”, “cruelty-free” and “green.” And the use of the word “organic” is not limited to food products. “Natural” and “organic” have become very important buzzwords words in the cosmetics industry. The same principles that lead the consumer to care about what they put in their body also guide them to be scrupulous about what they put on their body. And while it is more common to see news reports circulate about the dangers of food—GMOs, antibiotics in meat, and the use of pesticides—there is growing awareness about the dangers of cosmetics as well.[3]

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[2]Curiously, FDA does not consider soap a cosmetic and the regulation of soap is handled by yet another agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm

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