Öko Testing Cosmetics

    Today I wanted to write about one of the reasons I like living in Germany. An important shopping guide for me here is this label:

     Öko Test is a German magazine that runs tests products, with emphasis on their effect on the health of the consumer. They analyse everything from deep-frozen pizzas to baby carriers to gardening tools to florist roses. Their test methods range from ingredient analysis and lab tests for undeclared harmful chemicals to consulting experts, testing in action etc. Products that get good grades proudly carry the Öko Test label on the packaging.

     When I show an Öko Test mag to a friend and flip to the cosmetics section, they are usually very surprised that the brands they thought were high quality got classified as unsatisfactory. "Whaaaat ? I thought Vichy was all right, they sell it in pharmacies!" -- a friend shrieked recently.
      I learn a lot from this magazine. For example I always knew that mineral oil and other petroleum derivatives weren't good for the skin, but now I know that they are harmful taken internally, and that they often get into food from the packaging. but I won't talk about food here, I just wanted to share a bit about cosmetics:

Multinational brands usually get the worst scores.
     L'Oreal, Vichy, Garnier, Maybelline, Art Deco, Pantene, and the like regularly grace the bottom of most tests, with grades like "unsatisfactory" and "poor". Those sold in the pharmacies, like Vichy, don't fare any better. Sporadically a product from them makes it into the "adequate" section. 
    The top of the list isn't reserved for higher end certified natural cosmetics like Dr Hauschka and Weleda. Discounter natural brands like Alverde and Alterra regularly receive ratings "good" and "very good", proving that a safe cosmetic doesn't have to cost a lot. 
    Interestingly, many lower-end German products made for supermarkets (Schlecker, Rewe) often get better marks than the cosmetic gigants like L'Oreal. My guess is that brands with a gigantic market spread all around the globe care less for the consumers. So what if a bunch of Germans doesn't buy L'Oreal shampoo anymore, they have a fast-growing market in India that is probably much more profitable to them.
     High-end products from the like of Chanel, Dior and Lancome have also recieved poor scores, and were often reluctant to disclose their ingredients stating that these are "trade secrets" (although they are obliged by law to do so).

Tests for you:
     The test results appear in their monthly magazine, and can be bought online on their site, but are only in German. Overviews are free though, and Google Translate does a good job with it. I really recommend reading those, it will give you an overview on which brands to trust and which not.

Here are short reviews of the products, sorted alphabetically.

Some free short summaries of some tests (via Google Translate):

What are their criteria ?
   Although the Öko Test sets higher standards for cosmetics than the European laws do, still the requirements are not too fancy. For example points are subtracted for ingredients like silicones, mineral oil and paraffin derivatives. Same with formaldehyde, PEGs and UV- filters that act like hormones. Perfumes, dyes and conservatives are carefully analysed for ingredients that cause iritations or are otherwise harmful to health.

The After-Effect:
   Even though products with bad rating are not forced to display the rating on their packaging (I wish), the people who subscribe to the magazine (and their friends -- every time I see a friend using a product that has been proved to be E-vil in the latest issue, I don't hesitate to mention the fact) usually will stop buying it.
   Some manufacturers (even the ones with better notes) react to the published tests by improving the ingredients of their product. They get tested again and usually get better scores. In cases that the product was well below legal standard, it has sometimes been taken off the market by the manufacturer. Of course there are many brands which refuse to comment on unacceptable chemicals in their products and pretend nothing is wrong. But on the whole I think the efforts of the Öko Test make the producers more accounatble, and the consumers more aware.

On an endnote: 
   I don't think the Öko Test tests are perfect, nor do I buy everything they rate as good. I still read the product labels, but I'm glad that there is someone out there doing some lab tests for pesticide traces.

   Have you heard of the Öko Test ? Do you have a independent watchdog like that in your country ? Would you trust them or do you prefer to listen to your gut ?

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