Natural and organic cosmetics: An overview of certification options
There has been an increased interest in natural and organic cosmetics over the past few years. Consumers are becoming more conscious about the cosmetics they are using every day and want to make sure they are using the best products for their skin and the environment. For some, that means avoiding certain ingredients or looking for organic and natural cosmetics.
Cosmetics brands are well aware of the consumer interest in 'green’ cosmetics, and the plethora of cosmetic products on the market clearly show that. But with little regulation around the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, it can be difficult for consumers to know whether these products are indeed organic or natural or if everything is just a marketing move.
Here is where the certification and standards come into play, as they provide an important role in providing a guarantee to consumers, who can be sure that the products meet certain criteria for natural/organic and environment-friendly products. Certificates, as well as consumer awareness about this topic, helps them to recognise unsubstantiated claims which convey a false impression or provide misleading information about a product’s origin - so-called ‘greenwashing’.
In this article, we look at the major organic and natural certifications in cosmetics, which will hopefully provide some clarity for cosmetic brands and consumers who are only beginning to learn about this topic.
The NATRUE label was created in 2008, and it allows only the highest level of natural and organic ingredients to be NATRUE certified.
The NATRUE standard divides the permitted ingredients into three categories: natural substances, natural-identical substances, and derived natural substances. It prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the predisposition for certification is that all products must comply with the Cosmetics Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009.
The NATRUE Standard applies to raw materials and finished cosmetic products. For the latter, there are two levels of certifications: natural and organic. To meet the definition of a natural cosmetic product, the formulation has to comply with the minimum levels of natural substances and the maximum levels of derived natural raw materials. Organic cosmetics, on the other hand, have to comply with the criteria for natural cosmetics as well as with the additional requirement that at least 95% of the natural substances of plant and animal origin and derived natural substances contained in the product come from controlled organic farming and/or wild collection.
The COSMOS standard is an international certification for cosmetics, and it is one of the most popular certifications for cosmetics. There are over 29 000 products in 71 countries and over 12 000 ingredients that carry this COSMOS organic or COSMOS natural signature.
This Standard was founded in 2002 by BDIH – Germany, Cosmebio – France, Ecocert-France, ICEA – Italy and the Soil Association - UK. It includes both product and ingredient certifications. The COSMOS Standard covers sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, and control of cosmetic products.
The key sections of the COSMOS Standards cover:
- Origin and processing of ingredients
- Product composition
- Storage, manufacturing, and packaging
- Environmental management
- Labelling and advertising
- Inspection, certification, and control
The certification process is done by COSMOS Certification Bodies, which inspect all aspects covered by the COSMOS Standard and they provide the official logo and COSMOS signature.
COSMOS offers two signatures for cosmetic products COSMOS ORGANIC or COSMOS NATURAL. The first signature is available for products that comply with the COSMOS Standard in all aspects and contain the required percentages of organic ingredients as defined in the Standard. Products that comply with all aspects of the standards but do not meet the required minimum organic percentages may apply for the COSMOS NATURAL signature.
Ingredients and raw materials can be COSMOS CERTIFIED, or COSMOS APPROVED. The first one applies to agro-ingredients that are physically processed and chemically processed with organic content that meets the COSMOS standard. The second signature is available for non-organic raw materials that are approved for use in cosmetics products certified to the COSMOS standard.
The BDIH certificate was developed in 1996, and it stands for Association of German Industries and Trading Firms. It applies to pharmaceuticals, food supplements, health care products and personal hygiene products.
The guidelines cover raw materials from plant, animal, and mineral origin, animal protection, production processes, prohibited substances, allowed preservatives and fragrances. This certificate rejects genetic manipulation and modification as well as radioactive irradiation.
ICEA is an Italian non-profit consortium involving institutions, associations, companies, and civil society organizations. The ICEA certification goes beyond the organic concept toward a sustainable and fair economy and protection of the environment, workers, and the rights of consumers. The certification covers both food and non-food areas.
Soil Association Certification is a UK based organic certification body that offers a wide range of organic and sustainable certifications for different areas – food, farming, health and beauty, textiles, forestry, and catering. They launched their first standards for organic cosmetics in 2002.
The Soil Association is part of COSMOS standards, so the products that want to gain certification have to meet these standards. However, The Soil Association Health & Beauty standard still exists for products that aren’t classed as cosmetics. It covers household cleaning products, intimate health products and medical products.
The EU Ecolabel was established in 1992, and it is a label for environmental excellence. Products that want to gain this label have to meet high environmental standards throughout their life cycle: from raw material extraction to production, distribution, and disposal. The main goal of Ecolabel is to promote a circular economy and to encourage companies to make recyclable and durable products.
The EU Ecolabel criteria for cosmetic products are set out by COMMISSION DECISION (EU) 2021/1870. However, this label is not exclusive to cosmetics, but it also applies to paints, varnishes, electrical food, furniture, as well as services, such as hotels or campsites.
The ISO standard helps to provide an international definition of organic and natural products. It includes guidelines on technical definitions and criteria for natural and organic cosmetics ingredients and products. Part 1 (ISO 16126-1) was published in 2016, and it includes definitions for natural and organic cosmetic ingredients. Part 2 (ISO 16127-2), which was published in 2017, includes criteria for ingredients and products. It describes how to calculate natural, natural origin, organic and organic origin indexes that apply to ingredients defined in Part 1.