The Center for Environmental Health filed suit against 26 cosmetics companies – including Kiss My Face Corp. and Hain Celestial Group – alleging that the defendants illegally marketed their products as “organic” in violation of California’s Organic Products Act of 2003.

The Act requires that products labeled as “organic” must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients; products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may use the term “organic” only on their ingredient lists. The suit, filed in California state court, alleges that some of the defendants’ products have few, and in some cases, no organic ingredients, while other products contain chemicals linked to potential health risks that include cancer, among other diseases.

The Oakland, California-based nonprofit organization claims that the defendants prominently placed the word “organic” on their products’ front labels while listing ingredients in a “substantially smaller font” on the back label, with an asterisk next to the organic ingredients.

Hold Up Styling Mousse by Kiss My Face, for example, has the word “organic” on its front label, but of 16 ingredients listed on the back label, only one is certified organic, according to the complaint. That ingredient – camellia sinensis – is the 12th most predominant ingredient and, as such, falls far below the 70 percent required under the California law.

According to the complaint, other products manufactured by the defendants contain no organic ingredients, and worse, some contain ingredients that are actually harmful to consumers’ health.

Kids Hair Softening System, made by Organics by Africa’s Best, contains BHA and cocamide DEA, “chemicals that have been classified as cancer-causing by government agencies,” as well as triethanolamine, which has caused asthma in exposed workers, according to the complaint.

The suit seeks relief to permanently enjoin the defendants from violating the California organic labeling law, as well as attorneys’ fees and the costs of suit.

To read the complaint in Center for Environmental Health v. Advantage Research Laboratories, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: As evidenced by the CEH lawsuit as well as the NAD decisions above, marketers making “organic” claims on personal care products face increasing challenges by competitors, consumer groups, and class action attorneys. The Center for Environmental Health noted that it had joined in a false labeling-based class action lawsuit brought in May by a California resident against Hain-Celestial, one of the largest makers of organic products in the United States.