Terms such as ''all natural'' and ''organic'' are often misused on labels for household cleansers, shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products.
Consumer watchdogs actively scrutinize labels and test products for accuracy and safety.
In mid-March the Organic Consumers Association and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps jointly issued cease-and-desist letters to a number of companies using ''organic'' labels on merchandise made with nonorganic or petrochemical ingredients linked to cancer.
'We've grown increasingly frustrated with the companies in our industry who seem to feed off each others' misleading practices and show no inclination to clean up their formulations and live up to their organic branding claims,'' wrote David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's.
Dr. Bronner's, a personal care company, is certified through the USDA's National Organic Program. To be certified, the product cannot contain petro-chemicals and at least 95 percent of the ingredients must be organic.
If a personal care or household product company is not certified under that optional program, a consumer should be wary of organic claims, says Adam Eidinger of the Organic Consumers Association.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid products with chemicals that end with the suffix: ''eth,'' such as laureth or myreth sulfate. Also avoid labels that mention PEG, a harmful chemical compound, said David Steinman, author of The Safe Shopper's Bible.
- Phrases like ''made from organic products'' and ''all-natural'' should be backed up by independent tests.
- The Organic Consumers Association posts information about products with harmful ingredients at http://www.organic/consumers.org/bodycare/index.cfm.