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The Near-Impossible Quest to Create a True Organic Mascara

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Kjaer Weis mascara. Image via <a href="http://kjaerweis.com/store/eye-shadow-1/mascara.html">Kjaer Weis</a>.
Kjaer Weis mascara. Image via Kjaer Weis.

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Organic makeup's popularity is booming, and not just because Josie Maran is a huge fan. It's touted as less irritating, healthier, more pure—basically, think of the same adjectives used to describe organic food or anything you'd find in a shop scented with patchouli. Better for you beauty formulas abound, from shampoo and conditioner to nail polish and foundation—all catering to shoppers that agonize over the back of a label like an indecisive person confronted with a wine list. But mascara is proving to be the one hitch in the natural beauty wearer's routine.

After some digging around, we were repeatedly told that a mascara's full formula is impossible to grow 100% organically, simply because it includes minerals for which plant-bred alternatives don't exist. Wait a minute. What does that mean for mascaras that claim to be organic?

"Organic is a growing process such as herbs, oils, butters, etc.," Rose-Marie Swift of noted organic beauty line RMS Beauty told Racked. "They do not stay on the eyes by themselves. They need so-called natural ingredients or 'less of the evil' chemicals if you want any of the mascara to stay on the eyelashes." She is reportedly working on her own mascara formula.

Physician's Formula Organic wear 100% Natural Lash Boosting Mascara, $9.95

The "evil" chemicals worth avoiding include petroleum and synthetic-based solvents, parabens, and phalates. But, as Swift and other organic mascara developers pointed out, finding alternative organic materials to replace everything in a regular mascara formula just isn't an option. "It is impossible to make a completely organic mascara that has any acceptable performance, since the black pigments are mineral," said Ingrid Jackel, CEO of Physician's Formula, Inc. "The next best thing is a mascara with the highest possible organic content."

According to the USDA, in order to label a cosmetics item as certified organic it needs to contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients. But, if a cosmetics product has at least 70% organic ingredients, it is allowed to use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and can use the word "organic" on the principal display panel, although it can't be marketed as certified organic. Anything below 70%, and the product can't use the word "organic" anywhere on the principal display panel; however, singling out which ingredients are certified organic in the information panel is still fair game.

"If it has a certification, it is a stamp of approval that it has a high level of organic ingredients," said Kirsten Kjaer Weis, owner of natural beauty company Kjaer Weis. "Our [organic mascara] is produced in Italy, so it has the Italian certification, called CCPB. In order for it to be certified organic, it must have at least 95% of what can be sourced organic ingredients that come from organic farming." Kjaer Weis' certified organic mascara (it's at 99.8% organic) costs $38, compared to the more mass market friendly Physician's Formula option, which claims a 70% organic formula and costs $9.95.

Either way, seeing the word "organic" splashed across mascara packaging doesn't mean the product is much better than its non-organic cousins—it takes a bit of sleuthing to determine what the mascara actually claiming. "[Look for] what is the percent organic, and are the non-organic ingredients at least natural," said Jackel. "The formula should be at least 70% organic to be considered truly organic. The eye area is particularly prone to sensitivity and irritation, so using a formula with 100% natural origin and 70% organic ingredients means you are treating your eyes with the utmost of care. More specifically, this translates to less lash breakage, less lash loss, less chance of irritation, even for contact lens wearers."—Erika Graham
· USDA National Organic Program [USDA]
· 10 Organic Skin Care Products For Detoxing Your Face [Racked]
· The Dramatic YSL Mascara Worth Upgrading For [Racked]