How this Applies to Soap and Skin Care
Because of their chemistry, bar soaps can never reach the 95% level of organic content. Organic soap
and skin care products are among the most misrepresented organic products. This has to do with
formulation issues, labeling requirements, and a misrepresentation of the standards. All bar soaps, and
most skin care products, fall short of the 95% organic mark. Bar soaps require sodium hydroxide
(NaOH, or lye) for their production. Sodium hydroxide is on the allowed list of non-organic ingredients
that can be used in making organic products, and it accounts for approximately 10-15% of the
ingredients, by weight (not including water or salt and depending on the recipe). Even if every other
ingredient in a bar soap were certified organic, the soap would never have an organic content of more
than 90%, as this is the maximum level of organic content in a bar soap.
Sometimes, manufacturers “cheat” a bit to reach higher organic content levels. Take lotion for example.
A typical lotion has water among its ingredients, which does not count in any way toward organic
content levels. However, by steeping organic herbs in this water first, some manufacturers claim their
water is “organic,” thus counting it as an organic ingredient and raising their products’ organic content
levels. As always, it is crucial to understand the standards and read the labels.
It is also important to verify whether or not a company’s products are certified according to organic
standards. Many companies claim to use organic ingredients or call their products organic; however,
few have actual certification, which is the only proof for the claim. Part of the certification process
includes proving an audit trail and showing the ability to trace any organic product sold back to its
original organic ingredients.
At Old New England we maintain a minimum organic content level of 85% in all our bar soaps. We
have also taken the additional step of becoming certified under the USDA National Organic Program.
The term “organic” applies to products that contain a minimum of 95% organic contents
by weight. Usually, these are products that contain a small amount of a natural
preservative or processing aid that prevents them from reaching the 100% mark. For
example, many fixed oils (such as palm and coconut oil) contain a trace amount of citric
acid to increase their shelf life. Importantly, these trace ingredients must conform to the
USDA’s list of approved ingredients that can be used in organic products.