By Tara Gould
When Spiezia Organics founder Amanda Barlow stood in front of a conference hall full of skincare industry delegates and ate a mouthful of one of her own beauty creams, it was to make a salient point: If what you put on your skin is not clean and natural enough to eat, then you shouldn’t be putting it on your skin–the body’s largest organ.
When you consider that propolene glycol is commonly used in a plethora of beauty products found on the shelves of the biggest supermarkets, her point hits home even more powerfully. Propylene glycol is used as an anti-freeze in helicopters, is banned in France, has provoked serious allergic reactions to people with eczema and can cause liver and kidney damage.
The good, the bad and the ugly of the beauty industry
Spiezia was set up 14 years ago, and they were the first U.K. company to receive Soil Association organic certification across the board. The regulations that govern organic standards for food in the U.K. are not the same as those that govern the health, beauty and textile sectors. For food to be labelled as organic it must, by law, go through a stringent, two-year accreditation process and be certified by one of several certification bodies, the Soil Association being one of them.
In contrast, lax EU regulations make it possible for beauty, skincare and cosmetics companies to brand their products “organic,” “natural” and “pure” with as little as 1 percent organic ingredients, even if they also have anti-freeze, engine oil, formaldehyde and other petrochemicals lurking in those innocent-looking bottles.
Speizia Organics has won awards for sustainability. There is nothing harmful in its products or supply chain. It never tests on animals; uses traditional processes such as maceration and cold-pressing to distill herbs and flowers; packaging is sustainable; and they go local and carbon neutral in every way possible–even making sure products are made on-site in their Health and Wellbeing Innovation Centre.
A drive to nurture and protect
Alongside other certified organic U.K. brands, such as Essential Care and Green People, Spiezia is one of a handful of beauty companies that can be relied upon to deliver what it promises in its branding messages. What’s more, all of these companies are run by women. It makes sense: Throughout history women have used herbs, flowers and handmade concoctions–handed down through mothers and grandmothers–to heal and protect their families by tapping into the curative and therapeutic powers of nature. Thinking about it in this way, any company trying to market a face cream, or children’s shampoo laced with toxins, whatever the clever branding may tell us, is not driven by the same intention.
I asked Barlow how she felt, given that Spiezia put so much love, effort, commitment and energy into being organic and earth friendly every step of the way, when other unethical brands are getting away with deceitful greenwashing.
“It pisses me off,” she told me, unapologetically. “I know how much companies have to go through to get organic Soil Association accreditation. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of money.”
Barlow is not a maverick or eco warrior. She lives in Cornwall, England, with her family and is a dedicated woman who cares very deeply about what she does. Integrity is the driving force behind her philosophy for life and work.
“Authenticity underpins everything we do at Spiezia. Any business driven purely by commercial gain is not sustainable.”
“Imagine if companies started thinking about the social impact they wanted to create in the world and tied it to bottom-line performance. The potential impact could be incredible.” So says Phillip Haid, CEO of Public Inc., an agency that creates scalable social impact campaigns that profit by doing good. Even Richard Branson has been recently extolling the virtues of altruistic business.
Unfortunately, in the same way that it’s easy for beauty brands to say they’re organic when they’re not, many businesses now use the “ethical” label as a way to garner respect and increase business without really looking at what the word means. But Spiezia goes the extra mile:
“I have a belief that you get out what you put into it. It’s not about paying lip service.” Barlow says.
That’s why Spiezia established the Made for Life Foundation supporting people diagnosed with cancer.
Spiezia products and ingredients are good for even extremely sensitive skin, even for those people going through chemo or radio therapy. Spiezia offers “organic days,” where cancer patients can enjoy holistic treatments, organic makeovers, nutritional advice and lots of warmth and support.
In the last year, more than 600 people have come through their doors, and Barlow says that through working with people going through the cancer journey, she became even more aware of the problems associated with the lack of strict EU regulation:
“I even spoke to my local MP about it. I said please can you raise this at government level, there’s a lot of confusion.”
She explained how consultants often advise patients to eat and use organic as much as they can. So people pick up skincare and beauty products that say they’re organic when they may not be good for them at all.
Uncompromising quality control
Abi Weeds, director of the organic beauty company Essential Care is equally dismayed by the current loophole which allows “fake” organic brands to proliferate:
“This yawning gap in regulation has created a very uneven commercial playing field and is something we’ve struggled with throughout our 10-year history.”
Essential Care refuse to compromise the quality and effectiveness of any of their products to cut costs. All of the products are handmade by Margaret, Weeds’ mum and Essential Care founder.
For Margaret, it was a long but worthwhile journey to arrive at where they are now. She began researching the formulations back in the 1980s, after studying aromatherapy and herbal medicine. There was a lack of suitable products for her own and her family’s very sensitive and eczema-prone skin. Margaret set about creating effective formulations, using only organic herbs, plant oils and natural, active ingredients.
The efforts they needed to go to in order to source organic ingredients at the beginning set them on a steep learning curve. The record-keeping and paper trail that was required in order to satisfy the standards for Soil Association certification was vast. But this established a doctrine of “Good Manufacturing Practice” which means, in their own words:
“Exacting traceability systems, label accuracy and quality control. We can literally trace all the [of] ingredients of our skincare back to the field they were grown in.”
Keen for green
Like Margaret, Charlotte Vøhtz, founder of Green People and author of Naturally Gorgeous, was motivated by a desire to create a product for ultra-sensitive skin. As a small child, her daughter suffered from eczema and allergies. and she wanted to treat them herself. Charlotte spent 11 years in the pharmaceutical industry gaining knowledge in the fields of chemistry and pharmacology and then went on to the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy in order to gain knowledge in herbal medicine.
Green People operates a strict cruelty-free policy and uses no animal-derived ingredients in its certified organic, synthetic free beauty products. The business has seen massive growth since its modest beginnings more than 17 years ago, when it was run from Vøhtz’s kitchen in Sussex, England. More than 100 of their products are certified organic by the Soil Association or EcoCert.
Charlotte is passionately committed to natural and organic ingredients, and to creating a sea change in the beauty industry:
“I see this as a ‘mission.’ I am meant to be doing this. It is so satisfying to be sent testimonials telling us how we have helped transform a customer’s skin problem–and the buzz we get from knowing we can make a difference makes it all worthwhile.”
One might question why the laws set up around certification for beauty and skincare are so sloppy when those for food are stringent and reliable. It’s not easy to find answers. Big beauty brands have considerable lobbying power with governments to whom they pay substantial tax dividends. In the end, it usually comes down to money. But we can keep the power in our own hands by making informed choices.
If you really want to be sure you are not helping to support companies that pollute and deceive then look for these certifications on your products:
- Soil Association: A U.K.-based charity founded in 1946, Soil Association certification requires a product contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, or more than 70 percent with amounts clearly stated on the bottle.
- EcoCert: Founded in France, EcoCert conducts inspections in more than 80 countires. At least 95 percent of the plant ingredients and total content must be certified organic and of natural origin.
- USDA: Products must contain 95 percent minimum organically produced ingredients.
- CosmeBio, also known as the Professional Association for Natural, Ecological and Organic cosmetics: Certification criteria demands that 95 percent of the vegetable ingredients result from organic agriculture and the ingredients must be of natural origin.
Image credit: Spiezia Organics
Tara Gould is a writer and senior editorial consultant at Ethical SEO (www.ethical-seo.eu). She writes about all aspects of sustainable and ethical business, design and culture. She lives in Lewes, UK with her family.