There's no doubt that environmental messages are increasingly being heard and that more and more people are doing what they can to live greener lifestyles. With this growing interest and demand in products which are ecologically-responsible, ethical and non-toxic, organic or eco products are taking established places alongside their conventional, mainstream, counterparts.
There seem to be two main aspects to the heightened popularity of eco products – there are, of course, the environmental and ethical attributes, but there's also the idea that "eco" equates to natural and non-toxic.
To what extent though, are we being misled - or even outright conned - by ambiguous labelling or gratuitous use of the words "eco" or "organic"? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this, in fact, is a widespread problem, with the exception of organic food items, which are very strictly monitored.
Too many manufacturers are exploiting the good intentions of the public with cleverly worded descriptions which can suggest that a product is something it's not, with the beauty and textiles industries being amongst the worst culprits, although they're not the only offenders.
Did you know that a beauty or personal care product can be called organic even if it only contains 1% of organic ingredients? Theoretically, you could have a product which is identical to a shop's own brand no-frills range, containing a cocktail of undesirable chemicals and irritants, but with the mere addition of a very small amount of one organic ingredient and some attractive packaging, you can be easily lured into paying a premium price for something that really isn't what its labelling suggests.
A similar tactic is commonly used to further mislead, by stating "With 100% certified organic ingredients". Again, this could mean that it contains only a minimal proportion of organic incredients which, individually, have been certified as 100% organic. This organic element which only form a tiny percentage of the whole product's composition, rather than most or all of the ingredients, as the wording would imply to most of us. It can be really quite tricky for the consumer to establish this distinction without laboriously checking the ingredients list against the claim. It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that manufacturers wouldn't be able to get away with such deception, but we're not protected by tighter legislation about this and often don't realise there's a need to verify this by checking the ingredients list.
The ideal is to opt for skincare products which carry organic certification, as an end product. There are two levels of this – the lower level confirms that an end skincare product contains at least 75% certified organic ingredients and a higher level to certify a product has at least 95% organic products.
Surely "natural" or "mild" products can be trusted?
Given the perceived close association between green, natural and non-toxic products, it's worth also mentioning that claims or insinuations of "natural" or "mild" ingredients should also be regarded with a healthy degree of caution. Just because an ingredient is natural, doesn’t mean it isn't harmful….. in the same way that sugar is natural, but is nevertheless still the main culprit in most modern day chronic diseases and conditions, not to mention being capable of rotting our teeth. In the context of beauty products though, an example of this is that natural fruit acids can have an extremely irritant effect on eczema-prone skin or sensitive skin, despite their image as a desirable additive to a skin preparation.
A false sense of trust can also come from our perceptions of well-known brand names. It's staggering how many top household-name brands of baby skin, bath and hair products promote their mild qualities, yet they almost all contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (or SLS) as one of their main ingredients. This chemical and its derivatives are used as foaming agents and detergents in the vast majority of brand name and shop-branded personal care products.
This widely used chemical is a known irritant but, more worryingly, it can react with other commonly used ingredients to become known carcinogens. Staggeringly, SLS and its derivatives can even be found in many products from a renowned fragrance-free brand, which is particularly famed for its claims of using simple, pure, ingredients. The example of this chemical being used even in this brand really demonstrates how susceptible we are to being misled. Even long-established and widely trusted brands are profiting from us making a positive judgement on a whole product or range, based on the very selective information they highlight.
Does it really matter?
It's so tempting to dismiss talk of irritants and toxins in beauty and hair products as just scaremongering, but it's worth bearing in mind how extremely effective nicotine and HRT skin patches are at absorbing chemicals straight into the bloodstream, via a very small area of skin. Yet we apply literally hundreds of harsh chemicals to our skin every day – the figures very quickly mount up when you consider the chemical cocktails making up each one of our many daily personal care and cosmetic products. Hair, shower and bath products can be even worse, because they're usually applied in the presence of hot water, which opens the pores, allowing an army of chemical Trojan horses to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, with ease. The mere fact that we can still smell the products on our skin after a bath or shower demonstrates that they're not even completely washed away. High-profile media reports a few years back, highlighted that common ingredients in deodorants have been specifically linked with breast cancer, but do we really want to wait until national headlines draw our attention to a problem before we adopt a more cautious approach?
Babies and children are more vulnerable
Babies and children have much thinner skin and under-developed immune systems than adults, so it's all the more important to be very selective on their behalf. They're so much more vulnerable and sensitive to the effects of irritants or toxins which they might inhale or have in contact with their skin. It's no wonder that eczema, asthma and allergy statistics are sky-high with so many (not-so) "mild" baby skincare products dominating High Street and supermarket shelves.
We can't protect ourselves completely from the invisible chemical invasion that is part of modern life but, where there are safer alternatives, surely there's much to be gained by at least reducing the extent to which these accumulate in our – and our children's - bodies?
Bamboo: Bamboo continues to enjoy its reputation as an ideal eco fabric and is often claimed to be an organic textile, simply because it is bamboo, but things are not quite as they seem with this either. Bamboo is certainly a very sustainable resource, being a fast-growing crop which requires little water or pesticides. However, bamboo is always (unless it iscertified organic) saturated in extremely toxic chemicals in order to harvest the fibres for textile production. In more recent years, Authorities in Canada and the US have been cracking down on the labelling of bamboo fabric in order to address this flawed implication of it being such an eco-friendly fabric.
Organic cotton: The benefits of organic cotton are becoming more widely recognised, particularly for baby products or for eczema or allergy sufferers. Conventional (non-organic cotton) is one of the worst crops in the world for pesticide use, causing far-reaching and devastating environmental, social and health problems. Residues of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals can remain on the fabric as an end product, yet ironically it's regularly hailed as "pure" cotton. Only certified organic cotton provides a solid assurance of purity. Again though, there remains scope for companies to make false statements about organic cotton products
Organic cotton toys have become a firm favourites as newborn baby gifts or as choices for savvy parents who want the most natural toys for their babies and children. Organic soft toys eliminate the worry of harmful or irritant chemicals being ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin when babies and children put their toys in their mouths or cuddle them against their delicate skin. Numerous retailers though have mis-stated the organic integrity of a toy, likely through their own false assumptions rather than intentional deceit. This may be by claiming that a toy is entirely organic when it has a non-organic filling or if it is only partially made with organic cotton, but wrongly assuming and/or implying that it is 100% organic. .(MiYim's toys are a perfect example of this…. do be aware that the fillings are non-organic conventional cotton, but MiYim toys are often touted as being 100% organic, misleadingly giving the impression that the fillings are organic cotton too.) Once again, the consumer is not really getting what they think they're paying extra for.
Most of us lead busy lives and we just don't have time to analyse every product in depth in the supermarket or in busy shops with young, easily-bored, children accompanying us. This does leave us more vulnerable to misleading claims but internet shopping does allow us more time and better opportunities to investigate green or organic claims more fully.
It's surprising though, how hard it can be to break the habit of being generally trusting of claims but it does pay to dig a little deeper, to know exactly what you're buying.
We're really passionate about the issues within this article, which is why we provide as much information as we possibly can on every product's description. All of our soft toys have a minimum of 100% certified organic fabric as their outer composition. In order to meet all our customers' needs and budgets, not all of our toys' fillings are organic and some toys may have some minor non-organic outer trimmings, but we do our utmost to provide you with as much information as possible, to enable you to make an informed choice.
In relation to skincare or personal care products, we only sell brands that we - as parents - completely trust, as having a high percentage of certified organic ingredients.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about organic food companies you might think twice about supporting...!