Dr Organic’s Vitamin E lip balm is an alternative to petrochemical based cosmetics. For the most part, it contains environmentally friendly ingredients, and the brand does claim to avoid nasty practices like animal cruelty and modern slavery. However, due to the lack of information on the production processes and ingredient sources, I cannot decidedly confirm the ethicality of their products. More work needs to be done to drastically increase the transparency of their brand. They also need to ensure that their packaging improves and that they sustain the communities in their supply chain.
Dr Organic’s Vitamin E lip balm is made of a combination of vegetable fats, oils, synthetic chemicals and beeswax. Let’s break it down. The vegetable fats include shea butter, candelilla wax, carnauba wax and sunflower seed wax. These are environmentally friendlier choices because they are renewable and biodegradable. For the same reasons, this lip balm contains castor seed oil, jojoba seed oil, argan oil and sunflower seed oil. Beeswax is also present for much of the same reason.
Beeswax is secreted by bees during their normal activities in the hive and is used to build the honeycomb structure. Because bees travel, they could be exposed to chemicals if they land on pesticide-covered plants, which could, potentially, be processed and secreted with the beeswax. However, using beeswax is advantageous because it requires beekeeping, which protects bee colonies, and its removal from the hive allows bees to lay their eggs more productively.
The synthetic chemicals are a bit more complicated. For the most part, they seem to be sustainable. For example, caprylic/capric triglycerides is derived from coconut oil. Of slight concern is the ingredient Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, which is used for UVA protection (there are 2 types of ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun: UVA and UVB - UVA causes tans but can also be very damaging). It is widely considered to be environmentally friendly because of its biodegradable properties. Though more research needs to be done, there have been studies that flagged its bioaccumulative properties (where a substance is absorbed by an organism taster than it is eliminated) because it can cause developmental and reproductive toxicity and ecotoxity in fish.
Generally speaking, I couldn’t find any information on where Dr Organic obtains its various ingredients. The website limits itself to stating that they strive to use a minimum of 70% organically grown ingredients, and that they do not use parabens, SLS, synthetic colours, mineral oils, DEA, BHT or isothiazolinones. This is great, but I found the proof to be a bit lacking. Dr Organic does not use any certifications because they argue that they sell their products in too many countries. Though there are many problems related to certifications, they do involve a process of objective assessment to achieve certain criteria. Taking Dr Organic’s word for it is, in my opinion, not enough.
The packaging does leave a bit to be desired. It is not yet recycled or recyclable. According to the website, tubes are moving towards PCR (post-consumer recycled) and sugarcane materials. There is not mention to any targets they may have or if they’ve made any progress. Comparatively, sustainable brands like River Organics use compostable or reusable containers, sugarcane labels and recycled envelopes for shipping.
They state that all their products are manufactured in the UK or Italy, and that the parent company (The Bountiful Company) have manufacturing, packaging, warehouse, distribution and administrative facilities in the US, Canada and the UK. I was unable to find any information on how their factories and offices operate, in terms of energy efficiency, water consumption, recycling etc. Additionally, given their multinational production process, I was unable to find any information on what actions, if any, they are taking to offset or reduce their transport emissions.
What raised some issues for me is the lack of information about the sources of their ingredients. Because most of these natural ingredients are produced in developing countries, there is a risk of exploitation. For example, UK broadcaster BBC Three aired a documentary in 2020 showing severely underpaid Mexican farmers producing candelilla wax handling sulphuric acid, a hazardous chemical that can cause lung damage, without any protective equipment in dirty, uncontrolled environments. The farmers said that big companies purchasing the wax provide the acid and rarely visit the farms for inspection. Another example relates to carnauba wax, which is mostly produced in Brazil. German documentary Markencheck (“brand check”) slammed Haribo for using wax produced in Brazil by workers living and working in inhumane conditions. These workers were also underpaid, were denied toilet breaks and were forced to drink water from rivers. Another case is that of argan oil, mostly produced in Morocco. Argan oil saw a rapid spike in demand, leading to the rise of female co-operatives. This is a great thing, but many of these women are ill-equipped to deal with international organisations and are often illiterate, leaving them open to exploitation.
Dr Organic has made a commitment against modern slavery, and they do have a reporting system for unethical behaviour along their supply chain. This commitment is part of their Code of Conduct and is available on the website. Encouragingly, Holland & Barrett, a EU retailer that sells Dr Organic products, has a very firm stance against modern slavery. However, they merely require their suppliers to declare a confirmation that they adhere to addressing the risk of slavery and human trafficking. In both companies it seems that the investigation and prevention of unethical practices are dependent upon employee reports. This is not that efficient.
Dr Organic is part of the portfolio owned by The Bountiful Company. Founded in 1971, they claim to be global leaders in nutrition. Other brands in the portfolio include Nature’s Beauty, Pure Protein and Solgar. As part of their CSR programme, they have a foundation dedicated to supporting wellness. They provide grants for NGOs and, according to their website, over the past 13 years have given more than $40 million in financial and in-kind donations to communities. They also state that they encourage their employees to give back to their communities and that they have made a commitment to sustainability.
Dr Organic specifically has been the recipient of several awards. These include the Natural Health International Beauty Awards and The Green Parent Awards. These are very encouraging, for they support Dr Organics claim about seeking ‘the treasures of the natural world’ with their products. Although both awards websites state that they celebrate holistic, ethical and environmentally friendly brands, I was unable to find the judging criteria.
They also assert that their products are not tested on animals (awesome), avoid using GMOs, preservatives, petrochemicals and palm oil (also awesome) and that they try to substitute water with aloe vera juice. Beyond these statements, there is not much more information about production processes or the inner workings of their supply chains (not awesome).