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Ethical labels for organic and natural cosmetics

Terms like ‘natural’ or ‘naturally-derived’ are often found on health and beauty products, leading to claims of greenwashing. 

So what ethical labels can you trust in the sector?

The health and beauty sector faces a wide range of ethical issues from animal testing to toxic ingredients. Certifications can be an important way to identify products that are produced to more ethical standards.

Many common terms used in the cosmetics sector do not have a legal definition. Phrases like ‘natural’ or ‘naturally-derived’  have little meaning, and can be used as a marketing ploy.

Below we identify a few of the more meaningful labels, to help you avoid greenwashing.

Image: Vegan Society

Vegan Society logo

This logo from the Vegan Society indicates that a product is free of animal testing and animal ingredients. At a product level, it is arguably the most holistic label when it comes to animal rights. However, there is one big drawback. It does not apply to a whole company or brand.

Under its certification, companies must not test ingredients on animals – but only for that specific product. Technically, that does mean that a brand’s supplier could have tested the ingredient on animals for another brand or purpose, which could then end up in a Vegan Society certified product.

Logo: Cruelty Free International

Leaping Bunny

Leaping Bunny is the leading certification when it comes to finding cruelty-free products.

Under the label, an entire brand must have a ‘fixed-cut-off date’ to ensure animal testing of ingredients is not taking place. (See ‘What is a fixed cut-off date? in our introduction to animal testing policies).

Both raw materials and ingredients suppliers must be checked annually. The brands are then audited every 2-3 years by Leaping Bunny to make sure these processes are taking place.

Unfortunately animal testing is sometimes required by law, something which Leaping Bunny permits under its standard. But it does try to minimise the risk that brands are using this as a convenient caveat, something no other label explicitly does.

Vegans might want to be aware that a Leaping Bunny symbol does not mean the product is vegan, as it only concerned with animal testing, not inclusion of animal ingredients. Find out what animal products might be in our cosmetics in our separate article

To compare other cruelty-free certifications, read our quick guide >

Soil Association Organic logo

Soil Association Organic

Unlike in the food industry, cosmetics companies can say that a product is ‘organic’ without getting independent certification. This means that the term may be open to some dodgy claims and weak enforcement.

If you want to ensure that your cosmetics meet organic standards (i.e. without synthetics pesticides and fertilisers, or genetically modified seeds), look for either Soil Association or COSMOS organic labels.

To qualify for Soil Association Organic, at least 95% of agricultural ingredients in a product must have been produced under organic conditions.

soil association organic cosmos certified


COSMOS Organic ensures that:

  • 95% minimum of the plants it contains are organic

  • At least 20% of organic ingredients are present in the total formula (10% for rinse-off products)

Note: water or minerals are not regarded as "organic" for they are not from agriculture. Since water is a major component of numerous cosmetic formulas, it implies a dilution of the proportion of organic ingredients out of the total of the product.

The label also shows:

  • no genetically modified (GM) materials
  • no nanoparticles
  • no ingredients tested on animals
  • no parabens or phthalates (toxic chemicals often found in health and beauty products)

In the UK, Soil Association certifies products on behalf of COSMOS, so look out for its label with COSMOS underneath to distinguish from the organisation’s own organic certification.

Soil Association Cosmos Natural logo


COSMOS NATURAL shows that at least 95% of ingredients were naturally sourced rather than synthetic. It does not ensure they were organically grown. 

COSMOS Natural products do not have to contain any organic ingredients – although in practice many do. COSMOS Natural is most suitable for products containing a lot of ingredients that cannot be organic, such as water, salt or clay. For example; toners, bath salts or face masks.

Like COSMOS’ organic label, it shows that there are:

  • no animal testing ingredients,
  • no GM ingredients and
  • no parabens or phthalates (toxic chemicals often found in health and beauty products). 
Natrue logo


NATRUE has two standards for cosmetics, one focused on ‘natural’ ingredients, the other on organic.

For its organic label, at least 95% of the natural or naturally-derived ingredients must have come from certified organic farming.

For its natural label, between 40 and 100% of ingredients must be natural or naturally derived, depending on the type of cosmetic product.

NATRUE also ensures products are free from genetically modified ingredients, microplastics and parabens.

In order for a product to carry the label, at least 75% of the products from that brand or sub-brand must also be NATRUE approved.

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