Beyond Organic? {an overview of real & fake certifications}

I recently watched a Facebook live video recorded by a successful essential oils multi-level marketer to learn how she used essential oils in her home and also learn how she was sharing content with her followers (full disclosure: I also offer essential oils so I am always interested to see how others in the field market themselves!). She described her oils as being "beyond organic." First of all, that is not a thing. 

Second, she offered absolutely no evidence that her products are organic or any substantive information about how the oils are sourced. As I mentioned, she's reached a prominent position within her multi-level marketing essential oils company and her audience seemed to trust her, and judging from comments on the post, her assurance was all they needed to feel confident in purchasing these oils.

I have a lot to say about essential oils marketing, particularly by multi-level marketing companies, but today I just want to focus on claims made by both multi-level marketing companies and retail brands around their products.

Companies often use terms that are not regulated at all or have no relevance outside of their company. One popular essential oils company uses the phrase "seed to seal promise" to suggest the care they take in sourcing and bottling their oils. It's lovely and it may very well be true, however, that "promise" is just a marketing term created by that company. It is not verified, regulated, or meaningful in any way. It is the equivalent of Carlsberg beer calling itself "probably the best beer in the world" on its label. It's simply a marketing slogan, but it has serious implications as it attempts to assure consumers or potential consumers that they can trust the process behind the creation of those products, or that they are about to have possibly the best beer ever, depending on which product we’re discussing.

Companies also misrepresent their products, and a trusting consumer can be misled into believing they are purchasing a non-toxic, organically sourced product that is, in fact, toxic, or only contains a minimal amount of organically sourced ingredients.

So how do we know what to trust? I'm sharing a short list of third-party, non-profit organizations below. These organizations have no skin in the game and have a strict and thorough process by which they evaluate and/or certify products and companies. They will often put their “seal” on products and offer lists of safe products on their websites. If the latter, I am linking to those lists below:

MADE SAFE – the first comprehensive human health-focused certification of its kind in America, MADE SAFE screens for ingredients against a toxicant database of known harmful chemicals including behavioral toxins, carcinogens, developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, GMOs, High-Risk Pesticides, reproductive toxins, and more. I’m linking their member brands here, all of which make products free of the screened toxic ingredients. They also provide a seal for MADE SAFE certified products and have a partnership with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which is fighting for sensible legislation to protect American consumers from toxic products.

Soil Association – an amazing and pioneering organization founded in the aftermath of World War II, it is the U.K.’s foremost organic certifier. For any products manufactured in the U.K., we already know that they are free from the thousands of chemicals that are banned in the U.K. and E.U. but permitted in the United States. Soil Association certification means a brand has gone above and beyond what is required to ensure the safety and thoughtful sourcing of their ingredients.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) – a fabulous resource. I rely heavily on their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to look up products I’m interested in purchasing and see how they rank in terms of safety. You will be shocked that some “natural” brands have a few products that rank well on EWG, and a few that rank approximately at the toxic sludge level.

Think Dirty App - obviously, there's an app for this. A friend told me about this app, and I love it - it's like an "easy button" to shopping safely. While out and about, simply scan the barcode of a product you're considering purchasing and the app ranks the items on a one-to-ten scale based on the potentially harmful ingredients it contains. Scary but amazing.

More and more, we’re seeing brands warmly embrace non-toxic and organic ingredients – some doing so with full transparency and honesty, some….not so much. Confirming the authenticity of a brand’s claims through the third parties listed above provides an extra layer of assurance that you are getting the safe, high-quality products you think you are. I have bought items I thought were safe, and paid a premium price for them, only to later discover they were just as toxic as the cheapest, most transparently non-organic brand on the shelf. Don't be like old me!

Aaaaaand...I'm back!

If you've been following this blog, you know that I was pregnant. I am delighted to share that I am no longer pregnant, as our sweet baby girl is now living on the outside! Grace Amy joined our family on May 4th, and I soaked up every second of my time at home with her. I chose to step away from the blog and largely step away from my social media accounts (follow me here and here if you aren't already!) to focus all of my energy on my baby. I feel so strongly about the importance of saying "no" to certain obligations and opportunities to say "yes" to bigger priorities. There is no bigger priority for me than my daughter, and I am so grateful for the nearly three months I got to spend with her with limited distractions. 

Now she is in day care and I am "back" in the real world. I am eager to bring more valuable content to this space. I know that some of this content will come from my new perspective as a mom (I still find it so surreal to refer to myself as a mom!) and some of this content will be consistent with my previous posts. Even in my new role, most of my interests and commitments remain the same - I'm still me! 

Thank you for your patience during my blogging hiatus and stay tuned for more (hopefully) good stuff! 

House-iversary!

Today marks exactly one year since my husband and I signed the papers that made us homeowners! We love living in our home. Some days it seems like we've just moved in, and on other days I can't even remember what it was like living in our old apartment. 

We had a relatively painless experience shopping for a home, which I know is not the norm. We only looked for a few houses before landing on "the one," and we were able to purchase our home at a relative bargain. Even though I would not be so brazen as to assume that our next home purchasing adventure will be so seamless, nevertheless I did learn a few valuable lessons which I will surely apply to my next significant purchase.

  1. Get pre-approved, but don't let your pre-approval maximum determine your budget. We were approved for an amount that, when broken down into monthly payments, and taking into consideration the additional costs of home ownership (taxes, insurance, utilities, additional furniture, savings for possible emergencies), would have had us living way beyond our means. Being pre-approved expedited our purchase process, but I am so glad we weren't looking at homes at the high-end of our approved amount.
  2. Don't be afraid to walk away if the price isn't right. We were able to negotiate our price down to a red hot steal because we stuck to our "best and final" and were comfortable walking away, certain there would be other great homes on the market. Truth be told.....I haven't seen another home in our school district, in our home's condition, and at our price point, since, however, that confidence did give us the result we were looking for!
  3. Have a list of "must-haves" - but don't be too picky. We were crystal clear on the area in which we wanted to live, the minimum square footage we needed, and the price we were willing to pay, but beyond that, we had an open mind. We would've preferred a new home, but our completely renovated 1950s home is perfect. We both love 2-story homes, but the open floor plan of our ranch feels so clean and spacious. Wants and needs are very different, and be sure to understand which of your wants are realistic for your budget.
  4. If it's your first home purchase, bring along a trusted advisorOnce we knew we were seriously interested in our home, we brought along my brother (with significant contracting experience), my dad and my father-in-law (both with significant home-owning experience). They thought to look for things we would never have considered - is the foundation solid, what's up with the furnace, how does the attic look, etc. - and their vote of approval increased our certainty in the quality of our home.
  5. Request quotes on mortgage rates from multiple companies. We were able to achieve a low rate by having two lenders compete against each other. 

Those are just a few tips from my limited home purchasing experience - I could certainly go on and on about the minutiae of our experience but I will save that for another day! Until then, we will spend the weekend feeling extremely grateful for the beautiful home we are able to call our own.

Any homeowners out there with more or better tips? Any home shoppers out there with questions?