What Do Organic Labels Mean?


We receive so many questions about Organic Labeling and Organic Logos. The whole process of labeling organic products can be very confusing. I hope the long (sorry) explanation below helps answer some of your questions!


The Meaning Of "Organic" As Defined By The USDA!


The organic food industry is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan,

"The USDA regulates organic personal care products only if they are made up of agricultural ingredients. We have no standards for personal care products and have no plans to develop standards at this time."



At this time there are no standards created specifically
for the personal care product industry.

Organic certification of personal care products is based on organic food
standards set by the National Organic Program of the USDA.

The National Organic Program (NOP) was created in 1990 after Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to ensure that agricultural products marketed as "Organic" would meet consistent and uniform standards.

The term "organic" refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed.

A product that is USDA Certified Organic is made from ingredients grown and processed without chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, GMOs, or synthetic pesticides.

  • Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventional products.

  • Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

  • The product must undergo yearly inspections and meet certain criteria for production, handling, processing, and labeling in order to receive USDA organic certification.

Natural Soap Ingredients

In 2002 the USDA announced that the scope of the National Organic Program would extend beyond food to other items including personal care products since most natural skincare products are made using agricultural ingredients.

Unfortunately, use of the word "organic" on the labels of personal care products is not held up to the same rigorous standards as organic labels on food--unless the company is USDA Certified Organic.



Chagrin Valley Soap uses the OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association).

OEFFA is a non-profit, USDA approved agency to certify our organic ingredients and manufacturing processes in accordance with the USDA’s guidelines.


The "certified organic" labeling system has three levels or tiers of certification...

100% Organic: Products can be labeled "100 percent organic" if they contain 100% organically grown and produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). These products can display the USDA organic logo and/or the logo of the specific organic certifying agent.

Organic: Products can be labeled as "organic" if 95- 99% of the ingredients are organic (excluding water and salt). The remaining 5% must consist of non-agricultural substances that are on the USDA approved ingredient list. These products can display the USDA organic logo and/or the logo of the specific certifying agent. 

Made with organic ingredients: Products can be labeled "made with organic ingredients" if at least 70% organic ingredients are used (excluding water and salt). The remaining 30% of the non-organic ingredients must be approved on the National List. These products may display the certifying agent's logo but not the USDA organic logo.

Our certifying agency is OEFFA (The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association)--you can see their label logo below!

The three-tier organic labeling system described above has been developed by the USDA and refers to organic claims and labeling on food and personal care products in the United States. The USDA has very strict guidelines for the percentage of organic ingredients necessary to receive organic certification. Other countries have their own certification procedures, requirements, and standards. Labeling criteria and allowable ingredients differ from those in the US.

USDA Certified Organic Skin Care

The USDA Organic Logo Label can be used on products that meet the standards of the first two tiers of the organic labeling system in which 95 - 100% of the ingredients are certified organic.

Most of our non-soap products fall into this category and display the USDA logo!




Certified Organic Skin CareThe Certified Organic by OEFFA (The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) label is used in our company for two reasons . . .

The first is for our natural Soap and Shampoo bars. Our "organic" soap is about 88% to 92% organic because the soapmaking process requires lye (sodium hydroxide), which comprises more than 5% of a soap recipe. Therefore, this is the proper labeling to comply with the USDA labeling rules.

The second reason has to do with this one sentence taken from the second tier of the organic labeling rules: "The remaining 5% must consist of non-agricultural substances." The operative word there is non-agricultural.


What Is The Difference Between Agricultural And Non-Agricultural Ingredients?

Agricultural ingredients have a biological origin and are made up of carbon. Non-agricultural ingredients have a non-biological origin.

For example, ingredients that come from plants and animals are agricultural, whereas salts, clays, baking soda, pumice, and water are non-agricultural.

The USDA has a long list of approved non-agricultural ingredients that can be used in certified organic products. However, since they want all agricultural ingredients to be certified organic, a problem arises when an agricultural ingredient is not available in organic form.

Alkanet-RootThere are some botanicals, like Alkanet Root (right) that only grows in the wild (wildharvested) and cannot be certified organic.

Also, remember that organic certification is based on organic food standards. Although there are many ingredients, like cocoa butter, that are used in both the food and the cosmetic industry, there are other ingredients, like illipe or kokum butter, that are not used in food.

Whenever an agricultural ingredient is used that is not available "certified organic," the product may only be labeled as “made with organic ingredients” and is only allowed to display the label of the certifying agent (in our case OEFFA).

Since we are a certified organic company, we are required to submit documentation that even our "non-organic" agricultural ingredients are grown and processed without the use of toxic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sewage sludge or irradiation.

Products that display the Certified Organic by the OEFFA seal undergo the same rigorous inspection as those that display the USDA organic seal.


Why do some soap companies use the word "organic" on their labels--even though it is against the rules? Click Here to Read More about Rules for Organic Labeling of Soap!


An Unofficial Label 

Natural Organic Skin CareAlthough not official labels, we use the label on the left on our website and the label on the right on our packaging. We use them for products, like the Dead Sea Black Clay, All Natural Skin CareBamboo Charcoal, Rhassoul Clay & Yogurt, and Loofah Pumice Foot Soaps and our Mud & Clay and Rosemary Mint Charcoal Shampoo Bars because although they are made with organic ingredients, they do not fit the criteria for either label category described above.


THE PROBLEM (Sorry, but I have to hop on my soapbox for a moment!)

Unlike some countries, the USDA does not have a branch that deals with organic certification for personal care products. The certification of personal care products is based on the same exact standards as organic farming and agriculture standards.

To be honest, the USDA never really wanted to certify personal care products and they do so reluctantly. (Imagine the small child saying, “I’ll do it, but I don't have to like it!”)

Organic Skin Care

Even though we go through the exact same rigorous and expensive process, certified organic manufacturers of personal care products are not treated with same, respect, care and concern as organic food and agriculture producers.

For example, here is one major distinction. In the food and agricultural industries, the rules apply to EVERYONE. If a company is not certified organic, it is NOT allowed to use the word “organic” on a product label or to describe a product. If they do, the company will be prosecuted and fined.

For personal care products, the rules only apply to those who choose to go through the certification process. Any type of personal or body care company can use the word “organic” wherever, however, and whenever it would like—unless they choose to be certified organic—then they must follow all of the rules.


According to the USDA website, “We've created a level playing field by developing clear standards, investigating consumer complaints, and taking action against farmers and businesses that violate the law.”


They may have leveled the playing field for food items, but there is still no "organic police" that prevents unethical body care companies from making fraudulent "organic" labeling claims.

While organic food producers and handlers can be assured that their competitors are not gaining an unfair advantage in the marketplace by using the word "organic" or a misleading brand name on products that do not meet the USDA organic regulations, certified organic companies that manufacture personal care products are not protected in any way.

Have you seen companies that use the word "organic" in their name? Like . . . if I would name my company Ida's Organics.

Many of these companies sell products that don't even contain organic ingredients. Even though most of our non-soap products contain the USDA organic symbol, because we sell products, like soap, that is "made with organic ingredients, I would not be allowed to use the word "organic" in my brand name--because our company is bound by the NOP rules. When you search for organic products on the internet--guess which companies come up first?


How The Rules Affect Some Of Our Products

Natural Clay Face MasksAny non-agricultural ingredient used in a certified organic product must be on the NOP National List of Allowed Substances for non-agricultural ingredients. Since organic certification is based on organic farming and agriculture standards, the list of allowable non-agricultural ingredients (like clay, salt, mud, etc) is based on raw materials used in agriculture or food production.

This can be a big problem for companies like ours. We are trying to do the right thing and we believe in organic certification--but it often places roadblocks in our path. Sometimes we have to choose between using an ingredient that we believe to be beneficial or better and our organic certification of that product.

Since clays like kaolin and bentonite have farming/agricultural uses, they appear on the list. Unfortunately, ingredients like Rhassoul Clay, Pumice, Dead Sea Mud and Bamboo Charcoal are not used in farming or food production and thus do not appear on the list.


Other examples include some of our vegan products like our Body Lotion Candles and Butter Me Up Body Balm. We received so many requests to make more vegan products.

We tried Natural Skin Care Body Creamreplacing the organic beeswax with organic carnauba wax. But since carnauba wax has such a high melting point the candle lotion was way too hot when it melted. We decided to use soy wax because its low melting point made it perfect for a warm body lotion. Although you may see companies claiming to use "organic soy wax," there is no such thing!

Since we are a certified organic company, we are not allowed to call products that contain these ingredients "organic," even though these products are made with certified organic ingredients that meet the same rigorous standards as those required for our "Organic" products.

For these products, we are only allowed to list organic ingredients on the information panel of the packaging or the ingredients list on the website. These products cannot display the USDA Organic seal or our OEFFA seal.

Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve is a USDA Certified Organic company, so we MUST follow the rules. Ironically, if we were not a certified organic company, we could use the word "organic" whenever and wherever we wanted -- with no problem or penalty. Yes! It makes no sense!

Although businesses in the food industry can petition for the addition of new non-agricultural raw materials to the list, the NOP refuses to accept "...the addition of nonorganic substances to the National List when the intended use is limited to personal care products."

The USDA issued a memorandum in December 2013 explaining their decision to deny our petitions. So at this time, we have no recourse. We hope that someday the USDA will follow the lead of other countries and include a branch of organic certification that understands the needs of personal care product manufacturers.

Read more . . . "Why Did We Become a Certified Organic Company"