Organic & Biodynamic Ingredients
Prior to the 1990s, organic farms were fairly small and family-run, most of which had their produce only sold through local markets. Since the 1990s, organic foods and organic personal care ingredients have increased dramatically in popularity. However, organic foods still only made up around 2-3% of the worldwide market share and organic ingredients in skincare products make up less than 5% of retail formulas. So even though the natural movement’s demand for more organic skincare products has become a popular concept, there is actually a limited amount of availability and options in the skincare market as a whole. This makes trust and high standards for organic products even more important, knowing that they are still relatively rare with fewer options to choose from.
Luckily for the consumer, organic methods of farming are heavily regulated in virtually all developed countries (the US, Canada, Japan, and all EU countries) as well as emerging standards in some developing countries. Because the term "organic" now carries an intrinsic legal definition in these countries as it relates to agriculture it cannot be used arbitrarily on products in the way that "natural" can. In the US there is the "USDA Certified Organic" label, which means that a special certificate has been attained from the United States Department of Agriculture review of a product or ingredient backing up its quality. However, anything claiming to be organic or having organic ingredients must meet certain minimum guidelines, even if they have not been certified by a particular board. If something is just labeled "organic" it still must meet all of the USDA guidelines. So certification is more a matter of marketing than substance since all organic ingredients and products claiming to be organic by law must meet certain prerequisites. These are the five main requirements of organic farming:
1. avoidance of: most synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. artificial fertilizers, pesticides, additives, etc), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage
2. use of farmland that has been free from chemicals three or more years
3. keeping of detailed production and sales records
4. maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-organic products
5. undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
Once laid out in a list like this it immediately begs the question, “Why aren’t all foods and skincare ingredients subject to these standards?” That’s a good question with no good answer. It is appalling that conventional agriculture doesn’t have to be subjected to these guidelines. It really gives one pause to think that conventionally grown, non-organic crops are not subject to these rules and could be tainted with a wide variety of harmful chemicals and degraded by irradiation and other processing forms. These stricter standards are the prime reason that organic ingredients are more preferable to non-organically grown ones for use in skincare.
From Organic To Biodynamic
But organic farming is not the only standard out there. There is also “biodynamic farming” that may one day become a popular addendum to organic agriculture. It is a method of organic farming first purposed by Rudolf Steiner in the early 1920's as part of his overall spiritual philosophy known as anthroposophy. The term "biodynamic" in relation to skincare ingredients refers to extracts of plants that were grown not only under the organic standard guidelines (i.e. without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc) but that also meet an extra layer of guidelines for natural farming like treating the farm as a unified organism and emphasizing holistic development of a self-sustaining ecosystem. Biodynamic farming is not only concerned with the chemical aspect of organic farming but also requires more disciplined soil enrichment, largely based on humus formation from manure and composts of several herbs. Planting must be done in consideration of astronomical influences, including lunar cycles. This latter aspect has given biodynamic farming some "new age astrological" overtones, but it should be noted that anecdotal evidence exists showing that lunar cycles can influence crop growth and nutrient content just like temperature and seasons do.
Currently there are no federal laws in any country that dictate what biodynamic farming legally is, however, the grassroots movement that follows biodynamic farming has formed very widely accepted guidelines, mostly through the works of Rudolf Steiner and his associate, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who brought the general principles of it to the US. These extra guidelines that constitute biodynamic farming currently only have a small rate of adoption by organic farmers. If products utilizing organic ingredients make up less than 5% of the overall skincare market then products that contain biodynamic ingredients likely make up less than 5% of that organic market (i.e. around 0.25% of the market as a whole). So this farming method probably has a long time until it really becomes a common term, in the same way that it took decades for even "organic" to be understood by the general public in relation to food and personal care.
Because there is limited availability of biodynamic ingredients in the market place the number of ingredients that can be called biodynamic in any given skincare line are going to be relatively few, and the consumer should be very cautious in dealing with companies that claim every ingredient in their products are from biodynamic farms (this may be technically possible but such products would probably have a very limited scope of effects due to the limited number of active ingredients available to formulate with). But an awareness of biodynamic farming and ingredients by companies (and an attempt to include such ingredients in products whenever possible) is the first step towards bringing about an even higher standard of organic extracts that only serve to better any formulation. In our formulas we strive to obtain our organic ingredients from farms that incorporate biodynamic standards in their growing and are constantly on the lookout for new actives from biodynamic farms.