Globally, sales of natural and organic
cosmetics have been increasing by over $US 1 billion per year, growing five times faster than the overall personal care market. With this rising consumer interest in natural and organic cosmetics, it’s no wonder manufacturers want to meet this demand.
The term ‘natural’ is not legally protected, which means any product can use the term, regardless of its naturalness. The use of the term ‘organic’ however, is regulated.
Australia and New Zealand authorities have tightened the regulations around the use of the term ‘organic’ to ensure consumers are buying truly organic products. Officially only certified organic products sold may use the term ‘organic’ in the name of a product or its description. Unfortunately, there are still many products available using the word ‘organic’ that are not actually certified.
The certification mark informs the consumer they are purchasing a genuine organic product. This product has been audited throughout the production chain to comply with strict organic standards. The standards define what cosmetic manufacturers can and cannot do – including what ingredients can be used, the physical and chemical processing of ingredients, and product labelling and composition.
Critics of organic standards argue the standards are simply a marketing tool. However, the standards protect consumers from unjustified claims and ensure quality standards of organic products. In conjunction with their specific certification mark, organic standards inform the consumer they are purchasing a genuine organic product. Without an organic certification logo, consumers are not protected from misleading claims.
Yet, organic certification of cosmetic products has to be one of the most confusing and complex systems for consumers to research and evaluate.
At present, a universal international certification body or standard for organic cosmetics is non-existent. While the need for an international organic standard was raised at the annual Natural Beauty Summit back in 2007, a standard that everyone can agree on is still a long way off.
Without an international standard for organic labelling, private third-party accreditation bodies have developed their own criteria for cosmetic products. And this is where the confusion begins...
Each country has one or more certification bodies, each with their own set of criteria. These bodies may or may not have specific standards for organic cosmetic products. The criteria are not necessarily comparable across bodies, let alone countries.
For example, some certifiers, such as ECOCERT, require only 10 percent of the product to be made from organic ingredients, while others, such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic), expect up to 95 percent of ingredients to be organic.
Under some certification standards, such as the Soil Association (UK), and NAASA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia), certain ingredients in cosmetics such as water, salts and minerals cannot be certified as organic because they are not sourced from agricultural production. This means products that are mostly composed of water, such as floral waters, cannot be certified organic under these standards. This regulation benefits consumers in that it prevents manufacturers from manipulating their organic content levels by using water to boost their organic percentage.
In contrast, under other certification standards, such as ECOCERT (France), water is an allowable ingredient, meaning the greater the water content, the less organic ingredients from agricultural sources are required.
These differences in standards create confusion for consumers and create a competitive environment for standards to be ‘more organic’ than others.
Therefore, consumers must be aware of each certification’s standards to ensure they are purchasing products that meet their requirements.
Yet, as the complexity of certification continues, there is still no simple way of comparing the standards against each other. Therefore, consumers who wish to purchase organic cosmetics should educate themselves on the certification requirements of the product they wish to purchase, to ensure they meet their expectations.
Key questions when purchasing certified organic products are:
• Are the ingredients 100 percent naturally derived?
• What percentage of organic ingredients is in the product?
• Are minerals or water counted as certified organic ingredients?
• Are petrochemicals, SLS, or parabens in the product?
Remember, there is no guarantee that a product is actually organic unless it is certified and displays an organic certification logo. Organic certification guarantees authenticity. Finally, as each of the certifications have different criteria, check out the certification requirements – do they meet your expectations and those of your clients?