We had an amazing guest speaker on our Be Organic Podcast recently. Lisa Fennessy AKA “The Organic Girl”, who’s all about clean beauty and living an organic lifestyle, talked with us about the importance of clean beauty and how different brands are certified “clean.” Here at Clean Juice, we pride ourselves with everything being USDA Certified Organic, but did you know that skincare can also be labeled as USDA Certified Organic.
As the clean beauty market continues to grow and becomes a little overcrowded and quite frankly, overwhelming, we wanted to give you a little help when it comes to choosing which brands to trust, why you should trust them, and which brands you don’t really want to buy.
A few clean beauty brands don’t have a certificate or verification (because it’s not the cheapest thing to acquire), but that doesn’t make them a bad brand.
On her podcast episode, Lisa mentioned innovative leaders in the industry like Laurel Skin, Maya Chia, Live Botanical, Josh Roseboork and Leahlani who have chosen not to get certified, but are the epitome of integrity. It just goes to show that slapping the word “clean” on a product doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but you can see for yourself after you’ve read this blog.
WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS TO LOOK FOR?
Have you ever heard of the word “greenwashing”? It’s when brands promise to be cleaner than they really are, which doesn’t leave us shocked when our smoothie competitors call their products healthy, when in reality, they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners and “natural flavors.” It doesn’t matter where you turn, everything is overloaded with fragrances, harsh chemicals, toxic ingredients, and brands that aren’t focused on long-term effects. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the good brands who are fighting against the current. We love anything USDA-certified organic, because we know how strict the process is and how they hold each brand accountable yearly, but that doesn’t mean you have to choose USDA Organic when it comes to skincare. Let’s figure out which brand fits your standards so you can make the best choice for you.
Let’s break down some of these certificates and figure out which brand fits us best, but first, let’s understand the difference between accreditation, certifications, and verifications:
Accreditation: Accreditations are recognitions from non-governmental third-party agencies that a certification body has met predetermined certification standards. Accreditation pertains to the certification body only and not brands or products.
Certification standard: Certifications are credentials that brands seek to prove and attest the quality of their product (like USDA, NOP, COSMOS). These are provided by a third-party certification body.
Third-party certification body (like Ecocert, QAI, Oregon Tilth, etc.): Provides a certification, which involves a manufacturing and overall brand audit on an annual basis, to ensure the brand’s adherence to the pertaining certification.
Verification: Verifications are credentials that brands seek to verify the quality of their product. The process generally involves a third-party reviewing all claims, paperwork and formulas to ensure they meet certain standards. In lieu of an annual audit, verification generally involves the brand signing an affidavit to confirm the brand’s commitment to the standard. And then there are retailer standards like Credo, Clean at Sephora™ and Whole Foods Premium Body Care, which can also technically be classified as a verification as well.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES?
USDA Organic: Primarily an agricultural standard that also allows for limited personal care products. Personal care products can be USDA Certified Organic if they are formulated with USDA Organic agricultural ingredients and “allowed non-agricultural ingredients.” Obviously this one is our favorite, but we might be a little biased. 😉
Things to note:
- Instead of a “banned list” like the rest of the certifications and accreditations, USDA Organic has an “allowed list.” This allowed list is super short and is a list of non-certified organic ingredients that can be used in USDA Certified Organic formulas.
- Prohibits several processes like bleaching.
Cosmos Organic and Cosmos Natural Certification: Recognized worldwide via 22,000 products and 1800 companies, and in over 70 countries. What we love about this certification is that it requires an environmental management plan and they’re strict about what cleaning materials can be used around products, which is similar to USDA Certified.
Things to note:
- Complies with European Union regulations, which is a list of 1644 ingredients that are prohibited via the EU’s Reach Program restricted list.
- Reviews and restricts cleaning materials in production facilities.
- Requires an environmental management plan.
- Reviews the formula as a whole and not just individual ingredients.
EWG Verified™: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan, activist organization founded in 1993 that specializes in research and advocacy for agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals and water pollutants.
Things to note:
- Avoid EWG’s ingredients of concern, meaning ingredients with health, ecotoxicity and/or contamination concerns.
- Provides full transparency by meeting the EWG’s standards for ingredient disclosure on the label and disclosing fragrance ingredients to the EWG.
- Uses good manufacturing practices to further ensure the safety of their products.
Made Safe®: is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that’s promoted as America’s first nontoxic seal for everyday products like apparel, baby items, cosmetics, household, intimate care, bedding and more.
Things to note:
- Restricts the use of 6500 ingredients.
- It’s a verification process only. Which means it doesn’t involve a manufacturing and overall brand audit on an annual basis from products it has already approved to ensure the brand’s adherence to MADE SAFE® standards.
Whole Foods Premium Body Care: Amazon-owned Whole Foods prohibits 140 ingredients storewide (36 of which match the EU’s Reach Program restricted list), while The Whole Foods Premium Body Care standard prohibits “100+ ingredients and counting.” Whole Foods maintains that their Premium Body Care standard goes “beyond clean beauty” and is “the best there is.”
What we love about this is that if a brand markets themselves as organic on the front of their packaging, but isn’t USDA Organic Certified or NSF/ANSI 305, they won’t allow it on their shelves. Talk about power! 💪
Things to note:
- There is no third-party oversight on their regulations or ingredients chosen based on their regulation.
- It’s a verification process only & doesn’t require an annual audit.
Clean + Planet Positive/Clean At Sephora: This is one that is super helpful for those that are lovers of Sephora because now it might become kind of a turn off. If you’ve shopped at Sephora, you’ve seen their Clean Beauty mark that has now progressed into two better beauty programs. Their Clean at Sephora™ program features “brands formulated without phthalates, formaldehyde, formaldehyde releasers, oxybenzone, octinoxate and more.” And their newly released Clean + Planet Positive program, which Sephora is calling “beyond clean.” This program takes into consideration not only ingredients but also the environmental impact of products through the lens of climate commitment, sustainable sourcing, responsible packaging and environmental giving.
Leaping Bunny vs. Certified Vegan: These are two of the certifications you might see on a beauty product. For most brands that claim to be vegan, it doesn’t necessarily make them “clean,” it just might mean that they didn’t do any animal testing. What about what’s in the product?
Certified Vegan by Vegan Action certifies products (not brands) and mostly focuses on food.
Leaping Bunny certifies that no animal testing was used in any stage of product development. It does not evaluate ingredient components. This is not a tool to help you shop for vegan products.
Tara Pelletier, founder of Meow Meow Tweet says “Leaping Bunny is the best standard for certifying cruelty-free. They’re the only certification body that requires you to follow your supply chain and submit proof. For PETA, you can just sign an affidavit.”
So what do you look for when it comes to beauty and skincare products? Petit Vour is dedicated to carrying cruelty-free and vegan beauty which makes it easy to shop for vegan products.
Petit Vour says,
“For many beauty products, omitting animal ingredients and swapping for plants makes no difference whatsoever in the quality. If we can choose healthier and safer ingredients, while also causing less harm to animals, why not? At Petit Vour, we take the guesswork out of finding those products. We’ve poured over countless brands to showcase vegan products that truly surpass expectations.”
We’re sure you’ve also seen the saying, “vegan-friendly.” It can be used to mean a product IS vegan but not certified vegan. And it has also been used for brands who sell both vegan and non-vegan formulas. Or a brand who is cruelty-free but not vegan. Some clean beauty products aren’t labeled as vegan because they use honey, which means it’s important to see if they’re sourcing their ingredients ethically, and RMS beauty seems to do an amazing job at that.
Want to know even more about vegan beauty? Head over to The Organic Girls blog and find her Master List.
A BRAND TO LOVE ON & A BEAUTY STANDARD TO LIVE BY
There you have it! Thanks to The Organic Girl and the power of the internet, we’ve been able to break down accreditation, certifications, and verifications with the hope of helping you create a beauty standard to live by.
The Organic Girl also shared deats about Think Dirty App that has specific studies, journals and data to back up their ratings, EWG Skin Deep Database to look up ingredient intel as a touchpoint, and MADE SAFE® Banned List and Hazard List to find more information on ingredients, with links to studies, journals and data.
Looking for an even more in depth reading on what everything means? Head over to The Organic Girl’s blog for even more info.