Natural and Organics: Where are we now?

The growth of the natural and organic personal care sector over the last decade has been phenomenal; growing five times faster than the overall personal care market. Over this period, global sales have been increasing by over US $1 billion per year. While most of this demand has been in Europe and North America, the highest growth rates have been in other regions, such as Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

This considerable growth in the natural and organic sector has attracted many new competitors into the market. New brands have been designed for mainstream retailers, and many established product lines have launched certified natural and organic cosmetics under their own brand names.

Large cosmetic companies have increased their market share by acquiring natural personal care brands, (such as Shiseido, which purchased Bare Escentuals Inc.; L'Oréal, which purchased the Body Shop; and Estée Lauder, which purchased Aveda), and by the launching of their own natural or organic lines (Thalgo's terre et mer, and Sothys' Beauty Garden).

Key to this market is a group of consumers referred to as the 'LOHAS' demographic, an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. Consumers in this market segment are focused on healthy lifestyles, sustainable living, the environment, 'green' issues and social justice.

In the salon environment LOHAS customers are easy to spot – they'll be the ones reading the ingredients lists on the back of bottles, asking questions about where the products are made and whether the containers are recyclable. To sell to these consumers, you must be able to answer their questions or they'll simply go elsewhere. Common questions include:

• Where are the products made?
• Are they tested on animals?
• Is the packaging recyclable?
• Do the products contain parabens, SLS, or mineral oils/ petrochemicals?

Concern about ingredients, however, is not restricted to the LOHAS consumer. Those with cosmetic allergies are at risk of Contact Urticaria, Irritant Contact Dermatitis, Allergic Contact Dermatitis, Photosensitivity, and even the rare condition Contact Anaphylaxis.

Common allergens in cosmetics are fragrances, paraphenylenediamine (PPD) found in permanent hair dyes, and preservatives. Allergy causing preservatives include:

• Parabens
• MIT (methylisothiazolinone)
• Formaldehyde
• Formaldehyde-releasers: Imidazolidinyl urea (Germall 115), Quaternium-15 (Dowcill 200), DMDM hydantoin (Glydant), 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and
• Phenoxyethanol.

It is important to remember that just as synthetic ingredients can cause irritation and inflammation in some people, so can natural ingredients. Essential oils, for example, can cause sensitivity in some people. In Europe, essential oils must be listed on the product label if their concentration is greater than 0.001% in non-rinse off products, and 0.01% for rinse-off products due to their potential to cause allergic reactions (Polla and Pouillot 2012).

Other health conditions cosmetic ingredients have been implicated in causing include cancer, immunity impairment, fertility issues, and endocrine problems. However, scientific proof to back up these claims is often inconclusive or lacking. For instance, aluminium salts found in antiperspirants are alleged to be linked to breast cancer. While low levels of aluminium salts have been shown to make their way through the skin via the hair follicles (Polla and Pouillot 2012: 7), the link to cancer has yet to be proven. 
Concern about cosmetic ingredients is often based on the idea that substances may accumulate in the body over time. Although a product may contain small amounts of ingredients, it is the cumulative effect of these that worries some people. The average woman uses up to twelve personal care products per day, which contain up to 168 ingredients (Xavia 2010, Environmental Working Group 2011); men use approximately seven products, and teenagers up to seventeen products per day (Xavia 2010). While women who use lipstick consume on average 1.8kg of lipstick over their lifetime (Environmental Working Group 2011).

There is concern that while many chemical ingredients used in cosmetics are considered safe, there is not enough data to prove the long-term safety of the cumulative effects of repeated exposure to these ingredients. Furthermore, these studies do not account for all chemical exposures in our daily lives such as the food we eat, the environment, as well as from other sources. Over time chemicals can build up, interact with each other, increase our toxic load and make us vulnerable to disease (Lesley Kenton 2003).

A number of cosmetic ranges have been developed in response to their creator's own health concerns, such as the Tease Botanix range, which Teena Cooke created after experiencing chemical overload in her system. In her journey back to wellness she started making her own cosmetic products, which lead to the launch of Tease Botanix in April 2011.

The counter argument to controversial ingredients maintains that as substances are used in complex combinations in products, where they interact with other ingredients, this will alter or balance their effect. For example, when an ingredient is bound into an emulsion, the amount of product used is small, and the ingredient's ability to contact and penetrate the skin is insignificant (Self Care).

The difficulty lies in extricating fact from opinion. While the scientific data on controversial ingredients remains divided, many organic cosmetic manufacturers take the 'precautionary principle' and specifically exclude certain ingredients from their products, such as Botanical Extracts, which promotes its products as 'formulated without the NASTIES'.

What is Natural?

Today many of the products produced are advertised as 'natural' or 'organic' when they in fact contain synthetic ingredients such as silicones, petroleum-derived ingredients, artificial fragrances and colours.

As Garth Wyllie, Executive Director of the New Zealand Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, notes, “The issue of what is natural has been vexing the industry for some time...”

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to establish official definitions for the term 'natural' in cosmetic products but this was overturned in court. This decision enables companies to use the term 'natural' on cosmetic labels, regardless of their ingredients.

In New Zealand, the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CFTA) developed a guide on Green Advertising for its members, and has worked with the Commerce Commission, and most recently with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) in developing standards for Natural and Organic Product labelling and claims. While the ISO standard is only in its third draft, (and as such, it is not known when it will come into effect), the International Standard will set benchmarks and guide regulators on best practice, providing internationally consistent practices.

In the meantime, the CTFA has power to ensure its members follow its ethics code which requires them to be truthful about their products. If they are not, the CFTA can take disciplinary action. However, the CFTA is a voluntary membership organisation and not all companies that market cosmetics in New Zealand are members. This means non-member organisations can, and do, fall though the gaps. This is often evident in 'organic' product claims.

Officially only certified organic products may use the term 'organic', either in the name of a product or in its description. In reality there are still many products labelled 'organic' being sold that are not actually certified.

Organic certification guarantees the product has been audited throughout the production chain to comply with strict organic standards for organic production, ingredients, handling, processing and product composition.

Certification protects consumers from unjustified claims and ensures product quality. Without certification, consumers are not protected from misleading claims and have no guarantee they are purchasing a genuine organic product.

However, the issue of certification is complex. As no universal standard for organic cosmetics exists, private accreditation bodies around the globe have established their own standards.

Each country has one or more bodies, each with their own criteria. There is no simple way of comparing the standards against each other, as the criteria are not always comparable across bodies, let alone countries.

Research shows consumers are becoming more confused as marketing claims intensify. This has led to consumer distrust of marketing claims (

In the United States, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has been running the 'Coming Clean Campaign' to clean up the 'organic' cosmetics industry. The goal is to remove falsely labelled products from the marketplace and to ensure organic claims are only on products certified to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. The OCA has initiated and supported complaints, boycotts, and even lawsuits against cosmetics manufacturers which used the term 'organic' on the labels without proper certification.

In line with the campaign, Whole Foods Market supermarket chain, America's first national certified organic grocer, announced all organic cosmetic and personal care products sold in its stores must be certified. As of June 2011, all products carrying non-certified organic claims, including the use of 'organic' in the brand name, will no longer be stocked. Non-organic products will still be available, as long as they don't make organic claims. According to Whole Foods Market's blog, “...the meaning of the word “organic” shouldn’t change as you walk around the store.” The policy aims to create consistency in every department of the store, from grocery to body care. As a company that made US$2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2011, Whole Food Market's stand is a significant move in creating organic compliance.

In New Zealand, if a business makes claims about a product, which are false or misleading it can face investigation by the Commerce Commission under the Fair Trading Act 1986. False or misleading representations are prohibited under Section 13 of the Act, and misleading or deceptive conduct is prohibited under Section 9.

The Commerce Commission has received a number of complaints about organic claims on cosmetics. (It should be noted that none of these complaints have been about members of the CFTA). In the main, the complaints have come from the cosmetics industry itself.

Recent organic claims cases the Commerce Commission has dealt with include:

• A company that promoted a nit treatment as “Certified Organic” - they were not certified as claimed and as a result of the Commission’s intervention they removed all such claims from their website and advertising. The Commission issued a Compliance Advice letter to the company.

• A company that advertised an organic bee venom mask - it was alleged that this was misleading as the organic bee venom was only a part of the final product and other ingredients in the product were not organic. The Commission discussed this with the company, which resulted in a change to the claims being made to show it was only the bee venom that was organic. The Commission issued the company with a Compliance Advice letter. In addition, the company removed claims that the product was a natural sunscreen, as they could not demonstrate that it was.

• A company that marketed its product as 100% organic - it was alleged that this was not possible in cosmetics. It was also alleged the claim breached Cosmetic Fragrances and Toiletry Association (CFTA) guidelines. The Commission found that the company was not a member of the CFTA, and therefore was not required to abide by their guide. The company stood by its claims and pointed to the clarification it had made in small print. The Commission issued a compliance advice letter in relation to the small print issue, as it was likely to change the headline message, thus risking breaching the Fair Trading Act. The company indicated it would take more care in the future when using clarification messages to ensure they were not lost in small print.

In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took action in 2009 against the manufacturers of Natural Instinct and Organic Instinct hair and skincare products for incorrect labelling.

Natural Instinct omitted chemical ingredients such as sodium laureth sulphate, cocamide DEA and cetrimonium chloride on its labels. Later the manufacturer used incorrect names for some of its chemical ingredients. Further, the manufacturer did not list its ingredients from greatest to least, as required by the INCI1 standard.

The key issue for the ACCC was the inaccuracies in product labelling would mislead consumers about the composition of the products, and therefore prevent them from making informed decisions about their purchases.

However, unlike their Australian counterpart the ACCC, the Commerce Commission does not have the power under the Fair Trading Act to require companies to substantiate claims. Greg Allan, Competition Manager at the Commerce Commission, explains “The distinction is that the ACCC can demand a company substantiate its claims, whereas the Commerce Commission currently must take a company to court and prove its claims are wrong.”

Proving an unsubstantiated claim is misleading or false can be a drawn out and expensive process. While there are amendments to the Fair Trading Act before Parliament at present, which include a provision for substantiation, it is not known whether this will be included in the final Act.

To ensure advertising is not deceptive or misleading or likely to be deceptive or misleading the Advertising Standards Authority upholds the Advertising Code of Ethics. The Code for Environmental Claims enables the public to hold marketers responsible for misleading 'Green washing' claims in advertising. The Code covers all forms of advertising that contain claims of environmental benefits, and includes any packaging shown in the advertisements. Under the Code, advertisers are required to substantiate environmental claims made about a product if a complaint is received.

1. The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) is an international system of naming cosmetic ingredients. The use of INCI is a legal requirement for cosmetic product packaging to ensure consumer safety. In countries where INCI is mandatory, it allows consumers to accurately identify ingredients in cosmetic products.

Advertisements for products that make generalised claims for environmental benefits, such as 'environmentally friendly' or 'kind to the environment' are not acceptable under the Code. This is because generalised claims are assessed on the complete life-cycle of the product and its packaging, including any effects on the environment from its manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. Claims that are qualified, such as 'kinder to the environment' may be acceptable when the advertised product can show a significant environmental improvement or benefit over its competitors, or its previous formulation, composition, packaging, manufacture or operation.

For those who have concerns about product claims in New Zealand there are a number of things they can do:

1. Check to see whether the company is a member of the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association though: If they are a member, contact the CFTA via email at

2. If the company is not a member of the CFTA, contact the Commerce Commission via their website complaint form at or email or phone 0800 94 3600.

3. If the issue relates to advertising claims, the Advertising Standards Authority has detailed information on their website about how to make a complaint or they can be contacted by phone on 0800 ADHELP.


One of the common features seen in the marketing of natural products is the emphasis on what the products do not contain – 'no GMOs', 'no 'phenoxyethanol', 'no PEGs', 'free of pollutants, harsh detergents and chemical fragrances', 'paraben-free', 'SLS free', 'petroleum-free', 'petrochemical free', 'aluminium-free', 'phthalate-free' and 'cruelty-free', to name just a few. While this style of marketing may appeal to the consumer, the skin professional needs to understand what is actually in the products that makes them effective.

Many a therapist would recognise the client who tells them they use a product because it is 'natural' but wonders why they are not getting the results they want. Products need to have more than just a nice skin feel and appealing fragrance to get good results.

Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of taking out the 'bad' ingredients and replacing them with 'good' ingredients. This would be like baking a cake with gluten-free flour instead of standard flour and expecting the cake to taste and look exactly the same as it usually does. It doesn't, and neither do cosmetics when ingredients are substituted. Just like baking, adjustments are required to balance out the changes.

One of the key challenges in formulating natural and organic products is maintaining product efficacy. Some of the factors that influence this include:

• the ingredients approved by individual certifiers and country regulations
• the cost of ingredients, which are often higher than conventional ingredients
• the stability of active ingredients within a formulation 
• the quality and consistency of ingredients, which are much more open to variation than synthetic ingredients, and
• the range of ingredients currently available.

New ingredients are continually being developed to increase the range available to manufacturers. Natural ingredient supplier Oat Cosmetics, for example, launched its Ecocert accredited Superfine Oat Flour for use in natural cosmetics last year. With its patented manufacturing process, the flour is able to absorb 18% more oil than traditional oat flours. This year the company followed up with the launch of its Cosmos certified Colloidal Oatmeal, a skin soothing ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties.

Food-based ingredients are attracting manufacturers and suppliers for their natural beneficial properties, partly because, according to Randive and Riley (2007) “...natural product oriented consumers, generally reluctant to use anything unfamiliar when it comes to personal care products, are more likely to accept products with food derived ingredients because of their familiarity and long history of safe use.”

One company taking this philosophy to heart is OmVeda, which specialises in natural Ayurvedic skin, body and hair care. Their philosophy is very simple, "if you cannot eat it, do not put it on your skin. What is put on the skin should be filled with nourishment, naturally occurring vitamins and minerals safe enough to be taken internally.” Two OmVeda products that sound truly delicious are Saffron Face Oil and Date Enriched Moisturiser.

Eminence Organic Skincare is another professional brand using food ingredients in the majority of their products. The Chocolate Mousse Hydration Mask not only smells good enough to eat (and I'm sure many a client has been tempted!) but the cocoa is high in antioxidant flavanols and smoothes the skin.


Being seen to be good to the environment is good for a company's image - and its bottom line. Cosmetic companies have started to invest in sustainability initiatives to demonstrate their 'environmental friendliness' to customers. From corporate social responsibility programmes to community sponsorships, cosmetic companies are greening their image.

For example, this year emerginC will donate 10% of proceeds from the sale of Triple Threat Peel to charity:water, a non-profit organisation bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. The company is also partnering with Plant-It 2020, a non-profit foundation that plants indigenous trees in countries around the world. For every retail-sized emerginC Scientific Organics product sold, a tree will be planted.

As packaging has the highest environmental footprint of cosmetic products, many companies are looking at sustainable packaging alternatives. These include reducing packaging, using biodegradable plastics, recycled and recyclable materials, and natural sustainable materials such as bamboo.

For instance, Aveda has significantly cut waste and reduced the use of virgin packaging materials by using 80% or more of recycled materials in its packaging. In recognition of its environmental efforts, the company was awarded AmeriStar’s special 3M Integrity Award for its packaging of its 2006 Earth Month candle. The packaging reused leftover printed (with soy inks) paper board (which had already been recycled) inside the box. The glass candle holder contained a minimum of 95% post-consumer recyclate. In addition, Aveda has recycled more than 37 million polypropylene caps through its 'Recycle Caps with Aveda' campaign.

With consumer concern over preservatives in products, some manufacturers have been looking to reduce the use of preservatives in cosmetics. Packaging companies have responded with innovative 'airless packaging' to ensure product safety is not be compromised by bacterial or fungal contamination.

This type of packaging was first used by toothpaste manufacturers in the 1980s. Today the cosmetics market makes up 95% of the airless packaging market (Premium Beauty News 2012).

Airless systems are suitable for a wide range of textures - gels, liquids, pastes, and creams - and can be used with bottles, syringes, pens or jars. Container sizes can range from 15ml to 250ml and are available in a range of shapes, and dosages can be precise, ranging from 0.1ml to 3ml (Premium Beauty News 2012).

In the future there is likely to be a move away from jars to tubes and pumps to minimise product exposure to the air, as well as touch contamination. OrganicSpa is one company that has made this move, redesigning its retail products to use airless eco pumps, which have no metal parts and are 100% recyclable.

Increasing consuming interest in sustainability and social responsibility has created demand for ethically sourced ingredients. Fair Trade certification is one route manufacturers are taking to help reduce social inequality in international trade and protect the rights of workers. Fortunately, Fair Trade certification is much more aligned than organic certification, so consumer confusion is reduced.

Fair Trade helps support disadvantaged farmers with the development of long-term and supportive trading relationships. These relationships ensure farmers receive a guaranteed fair and stable minimum price for their goods, as well as a Fair Trade social premium. The social premium is an additional sum of money paid to producer groups, which enables them to invest in community projects and business development to support their community.

Fair Trade, which initially promoted commodity goods, such as coffee, is now moving into ingredients for composite products, such as cosmetics. Some of the Fair trade ingredients currently available for cosmetics include vegetable oils, honey, plant products and extracts.

While the content of Fair Trade ingredients in an individual product may be small, the overall volume purchased by a cosmetics company can make a big difference to a small community. The purchase of Fair Trade cocoa butter supports communities in the Dominican Republic, the sale of Fair Trade Shea butter and mango extract helps those in Burkina Faso, and Madagascar communities benefit from Fair Trade vanilla exports. Other Fair Trade products include Rooibos from South Africa, sugar from Paraguay and Malawi, Brazil nut oil from Peru, olive oil from Palestine, and honey from Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua.

One company using Fair Trade ingredients is French skincare line Bernard Cassière, which is part of the Sothys International Group. The company uses Fair Trade ingredients in its Tribal spa ritual treatments, as well as Fair Trade cocoa extracts in its Chocolate Anti-Stress Care range. Clients can relax knowing the treatments are not only benefiting them, but others around the globe.

What does this all mean for the beauty industry?

Even with the recent economic downturn, which has seen personal care sales and market growth slowing, consumer demand for natural and organic cosmetics remains high.

The hope is this demand may motivate more cosmetics manufacturers to improve their formulations, packaging and business practices. As Lesley Kenton (2003: 33) so piercingly states, “It is past time that both the huge cosmetic corporations as well as the so-called 'natural' skincare manufacturers (many of whose products are anything but natural) shed their complacency. They need to invest heavily to clean up their act ...”

With consumers joining forces to hold companies accountable for their environmental claims, cosmetic brands need to be realistic about what they are selling. Any claims that a brand makes about their products need to be backed up; overstated claims will no longer be tolerated.

With the continued growth in the natural and organic market, manufacturers will be kept busy sourcing new ingredients, formulating new products, improving packaging, and reassessing distribution channels. Creativity and stamina will be the keys to their success.


• In 2009 the Australian organic personal care market was estimated to be AU$19 million, with the overall natural personal care market estimated at AU$719 million, up from AU$13 million and AU$462 in 2004 respectively (Organic Monitor).

• Global sales were predicted to reach US $9 billion in 2011 and US $14 billion by 2015 (Organic Monitor).



Baumann, L. S., 'Update on Organics' in Skin & Allergy News 40.12 (2009): 28.

Environmental Working Group. 'Skin Deep Database'

Kenton, L. 2003. Skin Revolution: Authentic Beauty from the Living Matrix. Vermillion, London.

Polla, A, and Pouillot, A, 2012. 'Controversial Ingredients: Setting the record straight', in Skin Inc. Feb 2012, pp58 – 65.

Premium Beauty News, 2012. 'Airless Packaging: High expectations',3763, 31 January 2012.

Randive, V, B, and Riley, M, S, 2007. 'Natural Ingredients for Creating Food Textured Cosmetics' in Cosmetic Science Technology, 2007: 33.

Self Care. ‘Is It Natural or Chemical?: Myths and misinformation about cosmetic ingredients’

Xavier, K. 2010. 'More Than Just Skin Deep' in Organic NZ, Sep/Oct 2010, pp.18-19.

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