sheamoisture organic line

As a conscience community, many of us curlies and naturals strive to find products that are better for us and our families. Understanding just how the organic certification process works may help us better comprehend why it may be worth going out of our way to find and even spend more on our beauty products.

What does "organic" mean?

Organic, in a nutshell, is a product made using all-natural ingredients and free from pesticides or harmful chemicals. However, the issue is much more complicated than that simple definition.

Organic agriculture produces various products that help to preserve the natural environment while avoiding synthetic materials such as pesticides. Organic farms also support animal health and welfare and do not use genetically modified ingredients. In 1990 the US created the Organic Foods Production Act, setting up standards for the production and handling of organic agricultural products.

So, who can be certified?

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, any farm or handling facility can be certified organic by any entity--or certifying agent--that is accredited by the USDA. The USDA certifying agents work throughout the US, and around the world, ensuring products and meet the organic standards. By being certified as an organic farm or handling facility, it means these places have met the qualifications to sell, label and represent organic products.

Farms and handling facilities that receive less than $5,000.00 in gross annual organic sales do not have to be certified and are considered “exempt” by the USDA. Note that these businesses may not use the USDA organic seal on any of their products.

What is considered before a brand becomes certified organic?

  • A history of the substances applied to the land and products for the past 3 years

  • A detailed description of the operation and products

  • A written organic system plan

  • In-depth inspection of the facility or farm and operation

  • Certifying agent reviews the inspection, paperwork and plan to see if they meet the credentials then issues the certificate.

Once a farm or facility receives certification they may use the organic USDA seal for their products. There is an annual recertification process as well. Also, farms and facilities applying for certification can typically spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars on fees for for the certification process. The fees vary depending on the size of the facility and types of products. Currently there are over 25,000 farmers and businesses that have been certified organic, and of course more who annually apply for organic certification.

What about beauty products?

It is important to note that just because a product uses natural ingredients does not necessarily make it organic. Many products, especially beauty, body, and hair care products, use natural ingredients, such as honey or shea butter, and combine it with chemical compounds. Unlike food that is strictly regulated by the USDA for organic standards of conduct, the beauty industry has no official body governing the truth of a company claiming their product is organic.

Unlike food that is strictly regulated by the USDA for organic standards of conduct, the beauty industry has no official body governing the truth of a company claiming their product is organic.

How to shop organic

As a broad, general rule most natural ingredients found in nature will sound familiar and any ingredients ending in “cone” are most likely chemical compounds created in a laboratory. For more a more precise of understanding of what is in your products, it's best to research the specific products you have or want to purchase to ensure that the products are free from harmful ingredients. You should also keep in mind that while organic is often deemed as healthier and better, there are many additives that may get a bad rap, but do not put you or your hair at risk. For example, sulfates, like most chemical elements in beauty products, are not inherently evil, and some serve a great purpose, like retinol in the fight against wrinkles. Using shampoos with sulfates can dry out your hair, but only in shampoos with high concentrations of them. Another chemical that causes concern is silicone. Silicones, much like sulfates, serve a purpose. They coat hair to make it appear shiny and for slip. While this is nice to look at and makes your detangling job easier, it may not be ideal for everyday use because of buildup.

When it comes to choosing organic beauty products, it is a personal choice of what works best for your individual body and preference, but this is a general guideline for hair care ingredients to avoid:

  • Parabens
  • Added Fragrance
  • Sulfates
  • Silicones
  • Chloride
Ultimately it will be about finding the products and ingredients that work for you. Some curlies have great success using sulfates on a monthly or as-needed basis, while others avoid them entirely.