There are so many product labels that mean so many things – how is one to keep up? Which product labels are for food and which are for beauty? Which ones matter? I’ve broken down some of the most common labels I can think of and what I’ve learned they mean in my experience as a buyer and consumer.
Product Labels: What You Need To Know
Organic (Food) – This is, of course, the most common that most of us see, but in my experience, it is also the most misunderstood. First off, being organic does not automatically mean it is ‘healthy’ or good for you so don’t use this as a hall pass to eat an entire bag of cookies. Secondly, this does not mean that there are no pesticides used – while pesticides are still typically used (give the farmers a break, it is really hard work and getting an infestation of little buggers can really devastate them) there are restrictions on which ones so that means RoundUp Ready cannot be used (and this is pesticide that is proven time and time again to be an endocrine disruptor that causes or at the least will exacerbate disorders such as PCOS). For meat and dairy, this is especially important because this means that they are not given any growth hormones or antibiotics, must be fed primarily organic food and cannot be exposed to synthetics, GMOs, fertilizers and other synthetic contaminants. The hormones in meat and dairy have been pretty scary, so this is, in my opinion, the number one thing you want to consume organic above all else whenever possible. Organic also means that it is NOT genetically modified so please do not pay more for something because it says it is both organic and non-GMO (this is called ‘Greenwashing’ – when companies try to use words like this as means of marketing to mislead you).
Here is my disclaimer regarding things that are labeled as ‘organic’ – it could be a total lie, and a company could be producing everything entirely conventionally and greenwashing all of their customers – sure. I mean, who is holding them accountable to tell them truth? No one really… Unless they are USDA certified, they can call themselves organic and maybe they are, maybe they’re not, maybe they are but just a little (i.e. not using pesticides but using GMO seeds). What I have listed above is what the typical understanding of this label should mean, but unless they are certified by the USDA, I advise you to inquire what organic means to them and how they implement that in their products. In my experience, I can usually tell if someone is pulling the wool over my eyes and most of the time it is in the company’s best interest not to lie about this because if someone were ever to find out that they were untruthful, it would cause such bad PR that they might never be able to survive therefore most will not take this risk in jeopardizing their future.
Organic (Beauty) – Technically, there is no “official” certification for organic beauty products through the government. Instead, there are some great organizations such as my partner Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Positive Luxury that are independent organizations with a list of ingredients that they ban the use of. There are an infinite amount of ingredients used in beauty products and it ‘s hard to know exactly which are good and which are bad, so organizations like this make it easy to have some peace of mind when it comes to your purchase. Truthfully, you cannot trust the government to protect us by banning harmful ingredients in personal hygiene/beauty products because they only ban 11 ingredients that I could find according to their site, compared to the 1,328 chemicals Europe has banned since 2003. Again if it is not certified by anyone, then they could be lying but if you inquire most will be honest. What I want you to understand about this is that more often than not, cosmetics are not 100% organic as they cannot be and you don’t want them to be. Some preservatives are truly needed to maintain the product and keep it from growing harmful mold and bacteria, and many of these cannot be certified organic (some preservatives are more harmful than others which is an area where these independent organizations are especially useful). You’ll especially want to have preservatives in your eye makeup, or you could become blind from the harmful bacteria that can grow without it – so when you weigh the options – the preservatives are looking pretty good, aren’t they?
USDA Certified Organic – To be fair, I do purchase and support plenty of products and foods that are not certified organic – but hear me out. I’ve met soo many amazing people who are trying to do the right thing, some of them own the farm and oversee the entire process as closely as you possibly can, but they are not certified. “Why?” you ask? Because it is expensive for one, it can cost between $750-$1,200 on average, but depending on the operations of the company, I’ve met some brands that are paying in the thousands for their certifications and renewing them. Especially for startup companies, this can be a cost that they cannot afford. Even if they are willing to pay this fee, it can take an extended period of time to complete the paperwork and finally get approved. Some ingredients they use many not be certifiable so they might not be able to get approved although the ingredients are better alternatives to others. To be USDA organic, food must be 95% or more organic and the other 5% of ingredients must be on the approved ingredients list.
Non-GMO – Genetically modified (or engineered) organisms are created when scientists take the DNA of a plant and alter it by removing genes or adding the genes of other plants, animals, viruses or bacterium. For example, genetic engineers have transferred genes from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt into the DNA of corn. Bt genes express a protein that kills insects, and transferring the genes allows the corn to produce its own pesticide.
I’ve got a few more to share with you in part 2 next week but I’m curious, comment below which labels you see most often and which ones are you still unsure of?