Lawsuit Launched to End Mislabeling of “Organic” Personal Care Products

Oakland, CA-Dozens of shampoos, lotions, toothpastes,and other personal care products sold by national retailers including Target, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Whole Foods and other stores are mislabeled as organic, in violation of California law, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH). Several of the products, including products intended for children, contain potentially toxic ingredients, including chemicals suspected of causing asthma, disrupting hormones, or causing cancer and other health problems.

“For years, organic advocates have called on personal care companies to fix their improper ‘organic’ labels, but our recent purchasing shows the industry is still rife with unsubstantiated organic claims,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We want to encourage companies to use organic ingredients, and insure that consumers can trust organic labels to be meaningful and consistent.”

The USDA has not created its own rules regarding cosmetic products, but it has approved California’s organics program, including the state’s rules regarding cosmetics and personal care products. The California Organic Products Act of 2003 outlines rules for labeling of organic personal care products, requiring that any product using the term “organic” on the front of the package must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may only use the term “organic” on the ingredient list.

But in its purchasing in May and June, CEH found dozens of products made by 26 companies that are labeled on the front as “organic” yet contain few or, in some cases, no organic ingredients, based on the ingredient lists on the items. Items included products made by major national companies, including Hain-Celestial (one of the largest US organic companies), Alliance Boots (a leading UK cosmetics maker), Kiss My Face, and other major brands. The products were purchased from Target, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Whole Foods, and local natural products retailers in the Bay Area. In addition to the false labeling suit, in May CEH joined with Rosminah Brown in filing a class-action suit against Hain-Celstial for its mislabeled products.

Some of the “organic” labeled products contain ingredients linked to health concerns. For example, a “Kids Hair Softening System” made by the company “Organics by Africa’s Best” contains BHA and cocamide DEA, chemicals that have been classified as cancer-causing by government agencies, triethanolamine, which has caused asthma in exposed workers, and parabens, chemicals that have disrupted hormones in laboratory tests. The package, colorfully decorated with images of young girls, warns: “Keep away from eyes. Can cause blindness…Serious injury can result…if ingested…” and “Keep out of reach of children.”

CEH has a fifteen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution and has uncovered toxic health threats to children from wood playground structures, toys, vinyl baby bibs and lunchboxes, imported candies, children’s jewelry, children’s medicines, and many other products. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. Last year the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond.

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See a full list of companies using improper organic labels here.