What the USDA Biobased Certification Means

USDA Biobased logo with 100%

An important motivation for us to make Nuthatch Naturals® lotion for kids was that we could not find any natural and sustainable children’s skin care products.  The few children’s products that were available contained fragrances and synthetic ingredients derived from fossil fuels.  Many products were marketed to parents of babies, not school age kids.  Children’s skin is different from babies’ skin and adult skin.  It needs special care.

More and more skin care products claim to be natural.  The market size for natural products is growing faster than for skin care as a whole.  Researchers have found that consumers perceive products with natural claims as higher quality, safer for skin, and more fashionable.  Even though they believe that natural products are less effective and find them more expensive than mass market skin care products.

However, the fast growth caused a proliferation of natural claims that are not always trustworthy.  There is no legal or regulatory definition of “natural”.  Other claims such as “nontoxic” and “plant-based” also are not clearly defined.  Such products can still have synthetic or fossil fuel-based ingredients.

For example, what would you call an ingredient that is chemically identical to a natural material, even though it is synthetic and derived from natural gas, a fossil fuel?  What about a product that is mostly naturally derived, but contains low levels of preservatives or other synthetic ingredients?   Would it still be natural?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned about this issue and established the BioPreferred® Program in 2018.  The goals of this program are to increase the use of renewable farm products and reduce the adverse environmental and health effects of petroleum-based products.  It includes a voluntary labeling initiative for biobased products, including personal care products.

On the USDA website, you can find a growing catalog of biobased products, from toiletries to dishwashing liquids and even building materials such as carpets.

Children’s skin care products can apply for certification with the BioPreferred® Program.  The catalog has a list of about 40 lotions, moisturizers and oils in the Baby and Kids category.  However, quite a few are not 100% biobased.  For example, a kids lotion from a competitor is listed as 95% biobased.

The percentage biobased content is measured analytically by a third party testing lab.  The test method is based on carbon isotope analysis.  In brief, most ingredients in personal care products contain carbon atoms.  Carbon occurs in nature in several varieties called isotopes.  The most common isotope is carbon-12, but about 1% is carbon-13 and an exceedingly small amount is carbon-14.  All these forms of carbon have the same properties so we can’t tell the difference.

Carbon-14 is continuously created in the atmosphere by reaction of nitrogen with cosmic rays.  It also breaks down slowly over time to form nitrogen again.  The level of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is unchanging due to these constant creation and breakdown processes.

Fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) contain almost zero carbon-14, because they have remained underground for eons so that almost all carbon-14 has broken down over time.  Only carbon-12 and carbon-13 are left because those don’t break down.  Animals and plants in the biosphere (including us) breathe in carbon-14 along with carbon-12 and carbon-13, so their carbon-14 level is about the same as in the atmosphere.  If we measure the amount of carbon-14 compared to carbon-12, we can tell whether a material is biobased or derived from fossil fuels.  This is the test method that the USDA uses.  The test result is the percentage of biobased materials in the test product.

Nuthatch Naturals® Daily Soothing Lotion is one of only a few lotions in the Baby and Kids category that received the 100% biobased content certification from the USDA.  We are proud of this accomplishment because it required careful screening of our ingredients to eliminate any fossil fuel-derived content.

Biobased products are safer – they don’t contain contaminants from fossil fuels or synthetic processes.  This is especially important for children and older adults who have thinner, more permeable skin.  They are also more sustainable – less polluting, biodegradable, and require less energy to produce – and healthier – natural products contain natural antioxidants and nutrients that align better with the chemistry of the skin.

Nuthatch Naturals® Daily Soothing Lotion is clinically tested by dermatologists, certified animal cruelty-free by the Leaping Bunny program, and USDA Certified 100% Biobased.  It is available on our website and on Amazon.com.  Free shipping is available for Amazon Prime members and on the website if you purchase a 3-pack.  Let us know how you like it by rating and reviewing our product!