A mother’s inherent nature is to be always conscious and concerned about her baby’s needs. The number of decisions she needs to take for her loved one is quite overwhelming! The range of baby care products to use is one among those decisions. As a new parent, how many times have you had subconscious concerns before applying a product on the baby’s tender skin? How many times did you doubt if your child’s rashes or sudden flare up of eczema could be because of a skin product?

Recent studies show that skin development continues up to 12 months after birth (Fernandes et al., 2011). A newborn is subjected to a gradual process of adaptation to the extra-uterine environment, and special care becomes necessary during this period (Fernandes et al., 2011). Tapping this opportunity, manufacturers provide a variety of products with many claims for baby care needs. Use of a product containing harmful ingredients can lead to skin damage which includes nappy rash, pressure sores/ulcers, burns, infections and adhesive removal grazes. Apart from physically visible damages there can be invisible damages (systemic) that can lead to allergies, cancer, endocrine disruption, genotoxicity etc. These can prove difficult and expensive to treat. More importantly, the cost in physical and emotional pain is incalculable.

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Recent trend suggests that consumers are moving towards non-synthetic products since they appeal to be a safer option. However, how many of you have gone that extra mile to really find out if your choices are safe and harmless as they are being vouched for?

Often, the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ cosmetics are used interchangeably, despite the fact that they are different. Moreover, packaging and marketing of products can further confuse consumers. This article is a small effort to empower young mothers to make those right choices. Read on further and become a better informed consumer.

Natural or organic, what’s the difference?

Natural products are those that are sourced from naturally available raw materials. They could be plant/animal or mineral based. But there is no restriction on how they are grown or procured. They could be chemically treated at any or all stages and are not necessarily vegan too.

Organic products on the other hand are also based on naturally sourced raw materials, but grown in the absence of chemicals or with minimal treatment within the standards set by the NPOP (National Program for Organic Products) or other certifying bodies.

What is a NPOP seal, how does it apply to organic personal care products?

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A NPOP organic seal denotes that a product has an organic origin of 95% or higher. Products with 70% or greater organic composition can be labelled “Made With Organic Ingredients.” However, currently, organic certification is mostly aligned with agriculture and food products.

It is also important to understand that these organic certifications only pertain to a food or plant in its whole form – not its extract, concentrate, essential oil, etc. Once the ingredient has changed from a whole food or plant to a topical skin care or nutraceutical product, it can be considered organic based on the process involved during the extraction. Processes such as hydrogenation, sulfation, and synthetic preservation systems are often not allowed.

How to understand your personal care product?

The three main components for a product are the ingredients label, claim and accreditation.

Product Ingredients and claim:

It is a legal requirement that all cosmetic and personal care products must be labelled with ingredients in descending order of their quantity in the product.

A good rule of thumb is to divide the ingredient list into three parts: the top third usually contains 90-95% of the product, the middle third usually contains 5-8% and the bottom third, 1-3%. Here is an example to understand your product label: Look at the ingredients and assess the claim for this product.

Product name: Baby oil with aloe and vitamin E

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Total number of ingredients: 26

Product Claims: Aloe and Vit E oil

Is the product claim good, moderate or bad?

Bad – here is the reason – the claimed ingredients are not present in the first third of the label but in the last third of the ingredients label. This shows the claims are not present in major amounts in the product and the probability of the claim ingredients to show any benefits in the product can be expected as unlikely.

Product claims have minimum regulations,

a product with a low percentage of natural ingredients can still be advertised as “natural”.

For example, a product claiming ‘natural’ may contain synthetic chemicals up to 90% and only the rest with natural ingredients.

Products claiming they’re made with organic, natural or herbal ingredients could potentially contain harmful synthetic ingredients in the form of fragrance, preservatives etc.

Products may claim ‘organic’ without certification.

Other label concerns:

It is observed that a complete list of ingredients on the label is lacking in some cases. Manufacturers provide only the key active ingredients in their label. This means information about the product is incomplete.

Accreditation

There are no regulations that specifically address organic and natural cosmetics. Organic or natural cosmetic and personal care products do not undergo certification in India due to lack of cosmetic standards in this criteria. In the US and European Union, independent certifying bodies like NSF, Eco-cert, BDIH, Biocosc, Na True etc. carry out certification of natural and organic cosmetics. These certifications have their own standards for natural and organic cosmetics. Indian cosmetic companies targeting European and US market obtain these certifications to be able to export their products to Europe and the US. However, the companies are not bound to do the same for the Indian market.

Here is what you can do to ensure a quality purchase:

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1. Check for accreditation for organic claims in the product. Look out for the following symbols.

In the case of products with less than 70% of ingredients of certified organic origin, the indication that an ingredient is organic may appear in the ingredients list.

2. Check for presence and the position of synthetic ingredients in the label.

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3. Look for the product licence number on the label to ensure product manufacturing quality.

4. A good product label will contain all the information a consumer needs to know about the product.

Be informed, be ahead and be safe! Start doing your informed purchases today!

Reference

Fernandes, J.D, Machado, M.C.R and Oliveira, Z.N.P.D. (2011). Children and newborn skincare and prevention. An Bras Dermatol., vol. 86(1), pp. 102-110.