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County companies tap into demand for organic beauty products

Just about every supermarket produce section features a selection of organic vegetables and fruits. Now the quest for organic goods is moving from what you put in your stomach to what you put on your face, and the beauty industry is taking note.

“If you’re already conscious of trying to be healthy and eat well, it’s definitely another step in the direction of taking care of yourself,” says Joanne Stoner, owner of The Loft hair salon and herbal clinic in Bellingham. “I think it’s the wave of the future.”

As an increasing number of people are taking the organic step, the beauty industry is responding. Last year, personal-care products that label themselves organic accounted for $318 million in sales. This is a 20 percent increase from the previous year, making organic skin-care products one of the fastest-growing categories in the U.S. beauty industry, according to a July article in The Wall Street Journal.

But organic products still have a lot of room to expand, as cosmetics and toiletries are a $46-billion industry in the United States, according to Euromonitor International, a world provider of business and consumer information.

Among the burgeoning list of companies that specialize in organic skin care is Bellingham-based Organic Complexion. Daniel Pry is CEO and formulator for the company, which he conceived about five years ago after working on organic skin care products for nearly 20 years.

“I think it’s a booming time for all organic products and in specific skin care because it’s an item we use and reuse,” Pry says. “In 2006 there was an exceptional growth (at Organic Complexion), and the trend was the same in 2007. As consumers, we’re becoming more aware of what we put on our skin and in our body.”

The organic beauty trend is already earning slews of fans in cities like Los Angeles and New York City, and in a place as environmentally conscious as Bellingham, it’s bound to get big here too.

“We are just breaking ground here in the Northwest,” Pry says. “I believe it is catching on.”

ORGANIC VS. NATURAL

The rules are pretty strict for a product to earn the organic title.

“Essentially, there is a regulation standard that verifies whether a particular ingredient is organic,” Pry says. “There are no pesticides or herbicides, and there have been no chemicals or fertilizers used in the growing of a product.”

This means every ingredient in a product has to meet organic standards for the product as a whole to be deemed organic. It’s a process that can be expensive to undertake because the organic ingredients and their quality control cost more than products that use traditional ingredients. This extra cost can be reflected in product prices, but Pry says it’s worth it to take care of your body’s largest organ.

“The skin is always the first defense,” he says.

A growing number of women and men are choosing to slather their skin with natural and organic items, rather than manufactured chemicals. The big three ingredient to avoid when shopping for skin care are preservative parabens, petrochemicals and colorants, which Pry believes can be absorbed into the skin. Though some or all of the ingredients in natural products are found in nature, they aren’t necessarily organic.

“You can have a natural product that still does have pesticides, herbicides and chemicals,” Pry says. “The bottom line is that those things then get onto your skin.”

Consumers who are concerned about what is in products they own or are looking to buy should check out the ingredient label.

“It’s all in that ingredient list,” Pry says. “You turn the package over and you read it.”

EARTHY OPTIONS

Though organic items can include cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, soaps and serious skin care items, Stoner says she has yet to find an organic, rather than natural, version of some of the items she uses in her salon, such as dyes and permanents.

“All my products — the color, the perms, the hair products, the shampoos — are plant-based, no strong chemical smells,” she says. “So hopefully (they are) safer for the environment, safer for people, not as toxic. The old salon products with all their chemicals truly were dangerous, and still are. There are gentler products out there nowadays.”

Offering a more natural product has been a boon for Stoner, as clients who are usually sensitive to salon chemicals will come to her.

“It really does draw a great number of people,” she says. “A lot of people are very aware of their health. It’s kind of an environmental attitude as well as your own personal health attitude.”

Other salons and spas are also picking up on the organic trend as they offer more natural and organic beauty and skin items. At Zazen Salon Spa in Bellingham, owner Shelly Martin says she is hoping to take a more organic turn.

“I think it’s kind of what the area is,” she says. “It really has a lot of people who are much more organic-minded, and I also agree myself that I think it is better for your skin.”

DOES IT WORK?

From a dermatologist’s perspective, the trend toward more natural and organic products is a positive one.

“I’m aware of it, and I think it’s a good trend,” says Bellingham dermatologist Bruce Bowden. “I guess I’m supportive in the sense that most people are supportive of natural compounds ... It just makes sense to me that the body evolved with natural chemicals, and it would be good to use those when you can.”

A concern Pry often hears from potential organic users is the fear that organic products aren’t as effective as skin care that uses more man-made ingredients.

As far as Bowden is concerned, anything that can be done with traditional skin care can be done with organic as well.

“I think they’re getting more and more sophisticated with them,” he says of organic products. “I think you can get almost anything you needed done with organic ingredients.”

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