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Organic Salon Industry LingoCommunication is important and how we communicate to other professionals within the organic beauty industry requires some basic knowledge of key terms. As the $12.7 billion organic beauty industry continues to expand, so does the complexity of the language that we use. Here, Organic Salon Systems decodes the lingo to make it easy being green.


Any plant, mineral, or animal by-product is considered “natural.” “Organic” refers to how an ingredient was cultivated: without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, or antibiotics. Check labels for the real dirt. “There’s no regulation of the word natural. A completely synthetic product can claim it on the label,” says Mike Indursky, CMO of Burt’s Bees and chairman of the personal care committee for the Natural Products Association.


Using natural ingredients is not always good news for the earth. The demand for palm oil, found in everything from cosmetics to biofuel, led to the destruction of rain forests in Southeast Asia. Subsequently, companies such as Unilever and the Body Shop joined forces to purchase only palm oil culti­vated sustainably, i.e., without depleting natural resources, polluting the air, or disrupting local ecosystems.


“Cruelty-free” products have not been tested on animals; “vegan” items are also free of animal by-products such as beeswax. Even if a product says it wasn’t animal tested, most ingredients, at some point in their history, have been tested on animals, says Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. Log on to the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics website ( to find products approved by the nonprofit.


No single system monitors all products; companies choose which seals to apply for. Although most certifications address a product’s ingredients, some rate its environmental impact as well including the products recyclable or biodegradable design, use of renewable energy,
social responsibility, and overall safety. The most strictest and most reputable certifications are those that are affiliated with governments, especially European ones. The United Kingdom Soil Associations has, by far, the lowest acceptance ratio with only 1 in 264 product that apply for certification receiving their coveted seal of approval.


The common preservatives known as parabens have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body; one study found them in breast tumors. Both the FDA and National Cancer Institute maintain that parabens are safe, but some companies rely on alternatives. Burt’s Bees, for example, prevents microbial growth in products by using milk and sugar enzymes; other brands reduce the need for preservatives by cutting water content.


Even non-eco brands are giving the boot to popular sudsers sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Studies have found potentially harmful contaminants in SLES, and SLS is known for causing inflammation and eventually contact dermatitis. For a gentler alternative, look for formulas with natural coconut oil (lauryl glucoside and decyl glucoside).

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