Behind The Label: Organix’s Misleading Labeling

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ColumnWith a name like Organix, you might assume that the brand in question is organic… right?

You would be wrong.

The popular drug and big box store line of hair, bath and body products may share six of seven letters with the word “organic,” but its products surprisingly don’t contain any qualifying ingredients.

Owned by Florida-based Vogue International, Organix offers more than 70 personal care products featuring trendy, exotic-sounding ingredients like “pomegranate green tea,” “awapuhi ginger,” “acai berry avocado,” and “Moroccan argan oil.” At prices that easily compete with non-natural competitors, and distribution across major drugstores and superstores nationwide, Organix is viewed as a budget-friendly option for shoppers that desire conscience-friendly products, but don’t have the funds for more expensive all-natural brands.

But how much of the brand’s green marketing is real, and how much is just greenwashing? This week’s Behind The Label takes a look at the good, bad, and questionable.

The Good

On its FAQ page, Organix claims that all of its products are free from sulfates and parabens, those vilified groups of compounds that are said to be toxic and carcinogenic. Sulfate compounds like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are generally added to products like shampoo and body wash as a foaming and degreasing agent, while parabens like ethyparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben are commonly present as a preservative to prevent the growth of microbes in cosmetic products. Both groups of compounds are suspect: some sulfates are said to release 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen, while parabens have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation. While U.S. regulatory bodies maintain that the small amounts of sulfates and parabens in mass-market personal care products are unlikely to cause significant harm, products that are free from these ingredients are seen as safer for consumers.

Organix also says that it stands against animal testing, and that it carefully monitors all ingredients used in its products. PETA  included Organix on its most recent list of companies that do not test on animals.

Plus, Organix products are said to be sold in environmentally preferable packaging, with recycled materials and eco-friendly inks, though there was little online data to support that claim.

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The Bad

Organix’s tagline is: “Beauty, pure and simple.” But how pure and simple are we talking about?

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, the brand’s Renewing Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo lists the following ingredients:

Deionized Water, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium C 14 16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Dimethicone Copolyol (Silica), Cocamide DEA, Glycol Distearate, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil (Argan), Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) Extract (Cocoa Butter), Parfum, Cocos Nucifera Oil (Coconut), Persea Gratissima Oil (Avocado), Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Extract (Aloe Leaf), Panthenol, Polyquaternium 11, DMDM Hydantoin, Cetyl Alcohol, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, PEG 23M, Red 40, Yellow 5

Yikes. After water, the top three ingredients – Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium C 14 16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine – are synthetic surfactants used for their cleansing and foaming properties. Note that “Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil” is ninth on the list, a sure sign that it is not a prominent ingredient in the formula.

Organix’s Renewing Moroccan Argan Oil Conditioner has a similarly long list of ingredients. Though free from sulfates and parabens, the item does contain methylisothiazolinone – a controversial preservative that is commonly used in place of parabens but is suspected of causing immunotoxicity and skin toxicity. The United States, Japan, and many European countries have concluded that methylisothiazolinone is safe at maximum concentrations of 0.01 percent, but Canada has banned its use in cosmetics.

The Questionable

Organic shampoo, at your local drugstore, for about the same price as Pantene Pro-V and Garnier Fructis? If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

The funny thing about Organix is that the company never actually claims to include organic ingredients. There aren’t any stamps from the USDA on its packaging, nor are there organic claims on its ingredient list. There’s just that name, which so obviously implies organic even if the rest of the branding doesn’t.

It’s this kind of misleading labeling that has created a sense of distrust and confusion in the natural and organic personal care space. In June 2011, the Center for Environmental Health decided to take action, waging a lawsuit against 26 companies that use the label “organic” on products that list few or no organic ingredients. Organix’ Hydrating Teatree Mint Conditioner was listed among the offenders, along with products from Kiss My Face, Jason, Aubrey Organics, and Nature’s Baby. Eleven of the companies ultimately agreed to comply with clearer labeling restrictions; Vogue International/Organix was not one of them.

For consumers seeking a product that is free from sulfates, parabens, and animal testing, Organix is a decent budget option. But those seeking truly chemical-free products should educate themselves on ingredients and never take “natural” or “organic” claims at face value. Until a strict regulation scheme is in place regarding the use of misleading language on product packaging, the onus lies on us, the consumers, to be ardent questioners and readers of labels.

Images: Organix, Jessica Marati

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