Your organic shampoo may not be what you thought. Photo: Getty Images

Think all organic shampoos are all-natural? Hardly.

When it comes to food, the definition of "organic" is very clear, thanks to the USDA's National Organic Program, which sets rigid standards for how meat, dairy and produce must be grown, raised, processed and sold. However, when it comes to shampoo (and other beauty products), its meaning grows murky.

According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), many shampoos have the word "organic" in their brand name or on their product label, but unless they are USDA certified, the main cleansing ingredients and preservatives are usually made with synthetic and petrochemical compounds.

So how can you tell which hair cleansers are truly organic and which ones are just washing your money down the drain?

Look for the USDA organic seal on shampoos that claim to be organic. Although there are multiple "organic" and "natural" standards, each with its own varying criteria, the USDA Organic Standards are the "gold standard" for personal care products.

"Most products I see labeled as 'natural' aren't," Diana Kaye, co-founder of the hair care company Terressentials, told StyleList. "People are really at the mercy of the marketers."

Kaye created Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash, which cleans hair without any chemical detergents, foam boosters, protein thickeners and coating agents, emulsifiers, preservatives or fragrance, after she nearly lost her battle with a type of cancer she believes is linked with exposure to man-made chemicals.

"We absorb more toxins through our skin and via inhalation than through the food that we eat," Kaye deduced after extensive research, which led her and her husband, Jim, to develop simpler body care products without synthetic chemicals.

Terressentials' line of organic shampoos. Courtesy Photo



Terressentials shampoos are made from certified organic cocoa butter, organic coconut oil, essential oils and swelling clay which absorbs dirt, grime, pollution and excess oil without drying out the hair. And while users won't experience the bubbles and suds they are used to and there may be a transition period where the hair feels rough and not as shiny, Kaye said her customers eventually grow a whole new head of healthier hair that's never been touched by chemicals.

Other quality organic shampoos include:

Tela Organics – Balance Shampoo -- The formula consists of 35 organic USDA certified ingredients selected to penetrate and enhance every hair type.

Intelligent Nutrients Harmonic Shampoo – A multifunctional daily use shampoo with a fresh minty smell that is anti-aging, antioxidant rich, volumizing, super smooth, non-frizzy, scalp and hair nourishing, non-toxic and color safe.

John Masters Lavender Rosemary Organic Shampoo – Made with gentle corn and coconut cleansers and infused with conditioning plant extracts and essential oils.

Depth Drench Hydrating Shampoo -- This shampoo contains no parabens, SLS/SLES, phthalates, artificial colors, synthetic fragrances, PEGs and glycols. It is formulated with 70 percent organic ingredients and delivered in bottles made from 50 percent post-consumer resin.

Another adopter of stricter standards on their organic shampoos and other beauty products is Whole Foods Market.

In June of this year, they adopted a new policy mandating that "organic" products must be certified under the USDA National Organic Program, just like food. This means "organic shampoos" must have 95 percent organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the substances that can be used in the remaining five percent. On the other hand, shampoos claiming to be "made with organic ingredients (i.e., "Made with organic essential oils and extracts") must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients with the same restrictions on the remaining 30 percent.

The bottom line? Know what to look for in an organic shampoo. Be a savvy shopper, do your research and don't forget to look for the USDA organic seal.

Want more tips on all-natural products? Check out this organic educational web site, and read our article investigating paraben-free beauty products.