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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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:
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.