Why organic skincare may not be better for you

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As more people buy into the healthy, organic angle used in food consumption, the market for organic beauty products is growing, too.

Going organic certainly sounds more holistic and Goop-approved, but are the products as effective as their mainstream counterparts? And what exactly makes a product organic anyway?

“There is no scientific proof that organic skin care is better for you,” says Emma Hobson, education manager for The International Dermal Institute. While many people buy organic out of fear that non-organic products contain harmful pesticides, Hobson points out that these fears are largely unfounded. Today’s sophisticated, high-tech world of cosmetic chemistry and product formulating, combined with ultra-strict safety testing and quality control, mean that any contaminating agents from the raw materials would be discarded in the production process.

According to Hobson, 100 per cent organic products simply can’t deliver the results consumers are seeking, especially when it comes to advanced anti-ageing skincare. “They are not able to use efficacious ingredients such as synthesised peptides, vitamins and the like,” says Hobson.  “Compare any age-fighting organic skincare product to one that uses a blend of natural and laboratory-derived ingredients and there is no comparison.”

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This carries over into other product types, too. There are no wholly organic permanent hair-dyes, for example, as the strength of chemicals required to deposit colour in the hair shaft simply don’t exist in nature. And if you do happen to spy so-called organic hair-dyes on the shelf? “The addition of certified organic ingredients and other plant extracts doesn’t mean it’s any better for your health. The only possible benefit lies in its marketing potential, and possibly agricultural producers, who get a premium for the organic products,” says Karina Bray from Choice.

Theoretically, it’s hard to argue with the idea that minimally processed and preservative-, petroleum-, paraben-free products would be better for you. Why use microbeads when cane sugar does just as good a job? And who hasn’t considered coconut oil as the be all and end all of moisturisers? As Irene Falcone, founder of toxin-free beauty website Nourished Life says, “When up to 60 per cent of what we put on our bodies can be absorbed, slathering vitamin and mineral-rich plant extracts and cold-pressed oils on our skin is going to be much better for us than petrochemicals and parabens.” Marie Jenkins, founder of skincare brand Kosmea, agrees. “Women who use makeup on a daily basis are absorbing more than two kilos of chemicals a year into their bodies.”

Though some claim non-organic products are more likely to cause skin and eye irritations, dermatitis, hormonal disruptions, headaches and respiratory stress, research of their far-reaching effects remains scant. Organic products also tend to have a shorter shelf life than their non-organic counterparts, and can do harm to the skin if used after the expiry date.

The production of organic cosmetics involves more complex processes than organic food and Australia currently has no government standard to set the benchmark. At the moment, the best way to assert a product’s organic status is to look for a certification label from ACO, which require a minimum of 95 per cent organic ingredients. “When the logo is placed on the front of the bottle, it means the entire product is certified. However, the logo can also be at the back of the bottle, which means that the product contains certified organic ingredients but the entire product is not necessarily certified,” says Falcone. And even within the organic market, there are vast variations in ingredients, quality and other factors that may come into play. Consider each with the same scrutiny as you would any other supermarket beauty product.

Then again, not everyone chooses organic for its health benefits. With fewer pesticides used in the production process, more biodegradable and sustainable packaging methods and a cruelty-free ethos, organic beauty products are largely regarded as being better for the environment. They are less toxic to waterways when they end up down the sink.

We’re not saying plant-based organic ingredients aren’t great. They are, especially when combined with laboratory-made ingredients. Just make sure you do your research – ensure the brand really is eco-friendly, be a detective with the ingredients list and learn about the company’s philosophy before buying into the hype.