When you buy makeup, lotion or shampoo labelled “organic,” how do you know that it’s guaranteed not to contain synthetic chemicals and that its plant-based ingredients were grown without fertilizers or pesticides?
Check to see that it has a certification logo on the label. On a few Canadian products, you’ll see the Ecocert or Certech stamps — two private labels from for-profit companies. On imported goods you might see Ecocert, or a stamp from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the U.K.’s Soil Association. A “BDIH” seal shows that the cosmetic was certified natural by the Association of German Industries and Trading Firms.
Under federal government Organic Products Regulations (slated to go into effect this June), agricultural products with “organic” claims must be certified, and certification will be standardized. But cosmetics certification will remain voluntary and in private hands. Cosmetics could be included sometime in the future, but not any time soon, according to the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
Since 2002, Ecocert Canada, a division of France-based Ecocert, has certified three Canadian companies: Cargo Cosmetics, Cosmaceutical Research Lab and Druide. Any approved products must contain 95 per cent plant-based organic ingredients and the remaining five per cent must be from Ecocert’s list of acceptable substances. Ecocert also recognizes natural products. For these, 50 per cent of the plant-based ingredients must be organic and five per cent of the overall product must be organic. “We verify the ingredients and what’s written on the label, and we do at least one inspection a year,” says France Gravel, director of Ecocert Canada, which charges $5,000 and up to assess a product line.
Over a year ago, Certech Registration, a Canadian company, created a standard for cosmetics that requires 95 per cent organic ingredients and excellent quality management systems at a company’s factories.
“We look at the entire process,” says Brian Lane, president of Certech, which has been doing quality assurance certification for various industries since 1987. “We want to know where the ingredients were grown and that the company has the correct controls in place.” It only approves products not tested on animals and packaged in recyclable containers.
Costs vary depending on the size of the operation, but it is typically between $2,000 and $8,000 for an entire product line (annual retesting of products can run up to $3,000 a year).
Thus far, Certech has approved d’Avicenna, the only Canadian cosmetics company to go through its certification process. D’Avicenna president Shahin Kalantari says it was a big challenge to make the company’s product without using chemical emulsifiers and preservatives.
For now, any reference to “organic” or “natural” on a cosmetic product label — unless it has a certifier’s stamp — could mean anything. The product may well be what it claims to be. Or it could be that the closest whiff it’s had to nature was on the truck ride from the factory.