Expert's Opinion

It's Not Easy Being Green

By Philip Pelusi, Internationally recognized stylist and product artist | September 20, 2011

Philip Pelusi explores the scope of natural hair care ingredients.

It can be hard for most consumers to know the truth about organic hair and skin care products.It is difficult to tell just what is real and what is just marketing fluff.We have all heard the eating organic is better for our bodies but how does that translate to the hair and the skin?In 2009, Women’s Wear Daily reported that 65% of women in the US fall into the “sustainable mainstream” category, but while they’re interested in organic products, they do not want to sacrifice performance.

The NPD Group also reports that more than 70%of women 18 to 35 are very interested in organic products, while 32% of them use organic products.In addition, 50% of women in the US are using natural or organic products, because they believe they’re safer to their hair and on their scalp.So there is a real interest out there.It’s just a matter of getting the facts straight.

With competing organic standards and the myriad of labels and marketing claims, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.Today’s hairdressers and aestheticians face the critical task of assessing not only what is an appropriate treatment, but also must know the facts because the demand for natural and organic products is exploding.However, in many cases, the consumer is more well-informed than the average hairdresser…or at least they believe so.

There are four factors to when looking for an organic hair care or skin care product.First, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification is the gold standard.Products don’t qualify as organic, per se, without USDA certification, which is awarded only to product lines that contain a minimum of 95% of their content as “Certified Organic” ingredients along with a limited amount of approved “non-organic” additives.While the vast majority of organic products are legitimate, there are also many products that make false claims to confuse the customer to make them think they are getting organic products when in reality they are not.If an entire product is at the 100% USDA certified level, then and only then can the label can bear the USDA Organic seal.Another fact is that products bearing the USDA seal must be certified by an organic certifying laboratory, a further indication of the quality of that product.

Another thing to know is that USDA standards are based on food, but food is ingested while personal care products are applied to the skin.This is an important difference because it demands that different standards should be and are being developed for personal care products, but may not be finalized for some time.Another consideration is that organic food items do not stay on the shelf for nearly as long as personal care products, necessitating the need for organically certified, safe and effective means of preservation.

International organizations like the USDA, the National Organic Organization and a relatively new group called NSF-ANSI 305 are trying to find a middle ground to establish acceptable standards for hair and beauty.The downside is that this will take time. You still see stories in beauty magazines about home hair care remedies that use ingredients you can find in your refrigerator like avocados or mayonnaise.The problem is that the molecular structure of these foods is not optimal to penetrate hair’s cuticle, making them ineffective.Even certain beneficial certified organic herbs are difficult to deliver to the hair because of their method of extraction and preparation satisfies the USDA (Food) standards, but does not optimize them to be effective hair care ingredients. Tela Beauty Organics employs a newly developed micro-emulsion technology that can optimize herbs without compromising the integrity of the organics.We use micro-emulsion technology at Tela Beauty Organics.

Here is another interesting fact about the organic or natural ingredients used in organic body cleansers or hair shampoos.Anyone can make a natural soap, but the pH will be well above pH of 7, perhaps as high as pH 8.5, which will blow out the cuticle, causing hair color to fade and chemical services to wear off more quickly.This means a client’s investment in a color or chemical process is going to go down the drain.Also these shampoos don’t lather well and conditioning effects are virtually non-existent, not to mention the soap “scum” that can precipitate on hair from hard water.That’s why most people are unsatisfied with the results they get when they use an organic shampoo with the USDA seal on it.Unfortunately, modern, sulfate-free surfactants create low pH shampoos that condition and do not strip color or affect chemical treatments but are not allowed to be used under current USDA Certified Organic restrictions.

Health and beauty is our credo at Tela Beauty Organics.Meaning, we try to make products that are good for you, but we also want them to perform well on the hair.We do not want to just be organic for the sake of saying we are organic.As a stylist and a product artist this is so incredibly important to me because I will see the results in the clients we service.At Tela, our cleansing system contains 85%organic ingredients including sugar cane, sugar maple and apple seed.We augmented that with 15 percent sulfate-free surfactants, aka detergents.

A less commonly known certification to be on the look-out for is known as Ecocert.This is another classification accredited by the USDA under the National Organic Program.This is more popular in Europe.To have this certificate you have to be 70%organic.This certification is fairly easy to obtain but it is expensive.People often assume that Ecocert is better, but it’s really just another form of certification. The reason it’s not as popular in the US is because there’s not enough marketability for it here and therefore, most manufacturers and fillers are reluctant to pay for the certification process required by Ecocert. Like the USDA seal, Ecocert-certified products not only have to be certified but so does the plant where they’re made.

When shopping for an organic hair or skin product, look at the ingredients on the label.A product can say it’s organic but not have a lot of substantial ingredients to it to benefit the hair and skin.Look for unique ingredients such as super fruits organic tomato, kiwi and carrots plus flowers such as Chinese orchid, dandelion and forsythia help to protect color from fading.Also look for antioxidants such as organic Chinese foxglove, reishi mushroom, wolfberry and fo ti extract, which help protect and retain the strength of the scalp and the hair fabric.Weightless moisturizers such as marshmallow root, water celery and milk thistle bind to the hair and scalp to help protect it flexible and healthy.Organic burdock root, plantain and sprouted soy help strengthen the hair and the scalp for more resilient hair and a healthier scalp environment.Also look for organic moisturizing powerhouses such as argan oil, cupuacu and acai.These are not only fantastic for the hair and scalp but also incredibly conditioning to the skin.

And lastly, check over the amount of ingredients in an organic product.Generally speaking, the more ingredients in a formula the better the formula is built.Just like in cooking, the more complex the recipe the more thought, effort, time and energy the chef has to put into it.The range of ingredients is an important factor too.At Tela, we want to tackle and ward off every hair problem the customer will encounter.Our “recipes” include a wide variety of strengtheners, weightless moisturizers, antioxidants, anti-irritants, healthy scalp ingredients and super fruits.We are always striving to create a perfect hair fabric because the better quality the hair fabric, the better the design, the cut, color and hairstyle, will look.

About the Author
Philip Pelusi is an internationally recognized stylist, photographer and product artist. Having gone from one salon to 13 locations as well as a magnificent industry centerpiece in New York City, Pelusi has created a philosophy, a product line, P2 by Philip Pelusi and systems for success.Philip created and trademarked, within the industry, the phrase “A Cut Above The Rest” to coincide with his creation of the registered Volumetric haircutting technique around which he built his empire.

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