Soil Association hits out at beauty brand “greenwashing”

The Soil Association’s policy director Peter Melchett has hit out at “greenwashing” claims made by some natural beauty brands.

In a talk at the Organic & Natural Beauty Show (3 June), he highlighted a number of harmful chemicals found in beauty products labelled as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ or ‘nature inspired’.

Melchett said that ingredients often found in antifreeze, floor cleaner, oven cleaner or car oil and ingredients banned in children’s food and toys were making their way into non-certified beauty products labelled as organic or natural due to a lack of industry regulation.

While strict EU laws ensure any food product labelled organic meets legal standards and is independently certified by a recognised body, there are currently no EU regulations concerning the labelling of organic or natural beauty products.

Melchett said consumers were being misled and that the Soil Association was calling on the health and beauty industry to use terms like ‘organic and ‘natural’ “accurately or not at all”.

He said the only way consumers could be sure they were buying a genuine organic beauty product was to look for an official certification label. Under the Soil Association standard, for example, to use the word organic in the product name, a product must contain over 95% organic ingredients, excluding water.

The Soil Association has singled out Boots for particular criticism over the issue. It points out that in 2012 the high street retailer was investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over the marketing of ‘Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash’. The ASA ruled Boots’ advertising was misleading as the product contains less than 5% organic ingredients. The ASA found that a product should be defined as organic only if it contains a high proportion of organic ingredients.

The organic charity claims Boots and other retailers have failed to take on board the implications of the ruling (in some cases brands have simply changed advertising and website claims but retained those original ‘misleading’ claims on pack designs which fall outside the ASA’s reach). It says other leading international brands continue to market products misleadingly as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ while using synthetic ingredients, some suspected of being carcinogens.

Peter Melchett, told an audience in London: “It is wrong that people are putting chemicals found in antifreeze, paint, oven cleaner and floor cleaner on their skin, when they thought they were buying  a product made from only natural  or organic ingredients. This must stop.

“There is a lot of confusion about organic health and beauty products and the Soil Association is always happy to give advice to producers and retailers. To try and help tackle this problem, we are coordinating a national Organic Beauty Weekend on the 7th and 8th of September.  The Soil Association will be organising a range of taster and sample sessions with some of the UK’s most significant organic health and beauty brands, producers and retailers. We would be delighted to hear from other producers and retailers who would like to join in.”