Certified organic beauty products: the organic certification meaning
I have been recently interviewed by Karen from Blomma on what certified organic really means. Here are my answers to her questions:
Alessandra, let’s start by defining the term organic, what does this mean?
Organic means grown or manufactured without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In skincare, it means that the ingredients used are as organic as they can possibly be, and they would be used as opposed to their natural form, where available.
You still need to pay particular attention then to the percentage of organic content in an organic skincare product, as well as the certification in place.
And why do you think using organically grown ingredients in skincare is important?
Organically grown ingredients have no toxic pesticide and chemical residue.
There is a study that proves that organic ingredients are one and a half times more nutritious than non-organic ones. In skincare, you then have a more nourishing product that brings more vitamins and minerals to the skin, so more healing properties to help several skin conditions. The antioxidant level of organic ingredients is much higher than the one of non-organic ones. And higher anti-oxidants means a higher anti-ageing factor.
What does it mean for a brand to be organically certified?
- There is no law/regulation on the words organic and natural for skincare, so they can be used freely. Buying certified organic means someone has done the work for you, and carried out the checks for quality and integrity.
- Ingredients in the products can be traced all the way to the source, and certified brands are rigorously checked every year to make sure they are following the standards.
- From the very beginning, before a brand is certified, the certifier looks at and needs to approve: packaging used to make sure it can be recycled; the cleaning products used before and after manufacturing, to make sure they also follow the strict guidelines and do not contain harmful ingredients that could leak into the products; the chain of ingredient provenance, to make sure this is traceable back to the source; and also environmental chain management plan, therefore how the company operates its recycling, and what program it has in place.
- In a few words, the production of organic ingredients and products is environmentally friendly, natural resources are used responsibly and biodiversity is respected, there is absence of GMO, packaging is recyclable, absence of petrochemical ingredients except for authorised preservatives. And human health is the most important aspect.
What are the benefits of the organic certification of skincare products?
- The consumer benefits from selecting a certified organic product, so looking for the certifier’s logo is very important when purchasing a skincare product, or in my personal view, food products as well. He will benefit from the nutritional content, as well as less invisible harm going into his or her skin or body, in the case of food intake.
- The soil also benefits tremendously from organic farming. A bigger request in organic products means the need for more organic ingredients, therefore more organic farming practices. The animals will also benefit, organic practices don’t stop with the soil but include the wellbeing of animals and best practices for the rearing and feeding as well.
- If we go a bit further, better recycling and more glass products purchases, also means the oceans can benefit from less plastic pollution, and so on.
What are the organic certification standards?
Organic certification standards are what the brands need to comply with.
If we only look at the UK, the main organic standard in the UK is the Soil Association, both for food, textiles, and skincare. A few years ago, BDIH (Germany), COSMEBIO & ECOCERT (France), ICEA (Italy) and SOIL ASSOCIATION (UK), got together and created COSMOS, which is an international standard developed at the European and international level by so approved by each individual standard, and COSMOS is now the recognised standard for beauty and wellbeing products. Of course, there are other smaller standards, but I certified with COSMOS as it is the strictest and more widely recognised.
Are there particular ingredients that aren’t allowed to be included in the certified beauty product?
Yes, there is a list of ingredients that are not allowed, and this can be found if you do a simple search for COSMOS non-approved ingredients. This can also be very helpful when selecting all sorts of skincare products that you are using every day.
Who are the main certifiers here in the UK?
In the UK, you still have the Soil Association certifying food and textiles, as well as certifying skincare products using the COSMOS standards.
There are a couple of other certifiers such as Organic Farmers & Growers and Organic Food Federation.
When purchasing organic products, we need to be aware that the shops, both online and brick & mortar, might carry products that are COSMOS certified, but with a logo that is less known by us in the UK. This is because the logo used by each individual certifier differs. It is a bit confusing, as the COSMOS logo is comprised by both the COSMOS organic words together with one of the five certifiers’ individual logos.
How can we spot a certified organic beauty product on the shelf?
There will always be a logo on each product you are buying that is organic. For food, there are no misrepresentations, as by law, a product cannot be called organic if not certified, but for beauty products, unfortunately there are no such laws yet, so you must be careful when you read the words organic and natural all over products that are not certified. A minimal content of even 1% of organic ingredients, unfortunately allows brands to call their products organic, believe it or not. So, you really must look for that logo.
What is the difference between COSMOS organic and COSMOS natural?
Well, just as the words say, COSMOS organic ensures that there are stricter rules in place for that product, and a high percentage of organic content is needed. COSMOS natural on the other hand, ensures that the COSMOS standards are followed in every way, nonetheless, but it does not require the organic content, as the natural content is sufficient. As far as excluding the other harmful ingredients, etc. though, the standards are the same, from what I know. Careful though as if you want specifically organic, the Soil Association logo can be misleading as we normally recognize Soil Association as being organic, not natural.
Can a beauty product still be organic without the certification?
It is up to each brand to decide how organic their products are going to be, and what aspects of organic and pure will be covered.
Obviously, there is no way of making sure that what it is stated on the bottle is true for non-certified brands, while certified brands are audited every year, and every ingredient in every product can be traced back to the source at any time.
Secondly, the certification covers all organic aspects at 360 degrees, not just the organic content, but the packaging, how accurate the label is, your recycling processes, etc. I think that everything is important, and only after I finished to certify organic, I realized how much more I could offer to my customers.
Why does the organic certification only apply to certain percentages within the products?
The certification does apply to the full product, but the organic content could vary from product to product.
There are some ingredients that cannot be found in an organic form. Take for instance vitamin E, which could be found in a synthetic form, tocopheril acetate, and in a natural form, tocopherol, but not in an organic form. Also, clays and minerals for instance are not organic but are natural. The certification doesn’t want to penalize brands to not include these and other natural ingredients, as well as the ones that are very difficult to be produced organic.
Is there a minimum percentage of organic ingredients that is required to become certified?
Every certifier has different rules, but for COSMOS certified products, 95% of the plant ingredients need to be organic, and at least 20% are present in the total formula (and 10% for rinse-off products). The 20% takes into account formulations where there is water or minerals for example which are not regarded as organic, even though they are of natural origin.
Are there any ingredients which are difficult to source organically?
Yes, of course. Some ingredients either don’t have demand for their organic form, so the suppliers will just not source them, or they might be too expensive to produce, as there could be a big loss due to the choice of pesticides used, etc. I still remember when I was a little girl, my grandmother switched her vineyards from non-organic to organic, she suffered a loss of two thirds of the harvest. A lot of farmers don’t want to make that choice, but organic farming is best overall, and I am sure that there are lots of options today versus 40 years ago.
What should I be careful of when buying a non-certified product?
You would need to learn to read the labels properly, and stay away from a long list of harmful ingredients, including, in my opinion, fragrances which are most of the time synthetic and the vague word tells you straight away that you will never be able to know what it is exactly made of. Also, SLSs (sodium lauryl sulfate), which could be harmful for your eyes for instance, and petroleum-derived ingredients, the so-called petrochemicals.
And finally, please tell me more about the process of becoming certified organic.
It took me about a year to become certified organic for our oil-based products, and 2 years for our water-based organic moisturiser, our NeroliPom Moisturiser.
It might take less time if a brand was to look into it now, as when I signed up, they were moving from Soil Association to COSMOS, and a lot of the suppliers were not approved for COSMOS yet, so there was a lot of work involved for me to get the right ingredients from the right suppliers who were getting approved.
Along with this, your processes, labels, and packaging need to be approved. Your technical forms and manufacturing recordings also, and a handful of other things.
If something in your manufacturing or formulation is not following the standards, then you cannot be certified under the standards, so all the boxes need to be ticked.
For our readers, if you wish to know more about organic skincare, please read another one of our articles that explains why it is important to use organic here.