Organic and Natural Beauty

Organic beauty products are often misleading. We analyse which products are really made from natural and organic ingredients.

Greenwashing tactics are widely used within the beauty sector; tricking customers into believing those lengthy ingredients lists are full of ‘natural,’ ‘sustainably sourced’ and organic ingredients.

For example, the term ‘natural’ is widely used in beauty marketing despite it currently having no legal protection apart from trading regulations stipulating that any claim must be capable of substantiation and must not be misleading. And, unlike organic food, there is no specific legislation that requires a beauty product described or labelled as ‘organic’ to be certified.

Given this context, certification schemes offer the best option for making sure you’re not being taken for a green beauty ride. We have therefore given certified organic products an extra Product Sustainability mark on the score tables. (Look for the [O] next to the brand names).

The following standards guarantee that products bought actually use a certain percentage of organic and/or natural ingredients:

European organic standards

There are five major European organic and natural cosmetic standard-setting organisations:

  1. Soil Association (UK)
  2. BDIH (Germany)
  3. Cosmebio (France)
  4. Ecocert (France)
  5. ICEA (Italy).

In 2011, these five European organisations came together to create a new harmonised, pan-European standard called COSMOS and, as of January 2017, they only certify new cosmetic products with the COSMOS standards.

soil association organic cosmos certified

COSMOS

The ‘COSMOS ORGANIC’ standard ensures that at least 95% of processed agricultural ingredients in a cosmetics product are organic. At least 20% of the leave-on products must be organic and, for rinse-off products at least 10% of the total ingredients must be organic.

The ‘COSMOS NATURAL’ standard ensures a product is made of naturally sourced ingredients and may or may not contain organic ingredients. No more than 5% of the total product should be synthetic, with there being a limited list of permitted synthetics.

The COSMOS standard1 also guarantees a number of other things including:

  • No genetically modified (GM) ingredients
  • No nanoparticles
  • No ingredients that are tested on animals.  
logo: natrue cosmetics label

NATRUE

NATRUE was launched in 2008 with aims similar to that of COSMOS: promoting and protecting products that use natural and organic ingredients. It is backed by, amongst others, Weleda, Laverana and LOGOCOS.

NATRUE’s standard is split into three levels:

  • NATRUE Natural Cosmetics – a product must contain a minimum level of natural substances and there is a maximum level of derived (processed) natural substances. These vary from product to product.
  • NATRUE Natural Cosmetics with organic proportion – the product must contain at least 70% certified organic natural substances of plant and animal origin and of derived natural substances.
  • NATRUE Organic Cosmetics – the percentage of organic ingredients increases to 95%.

NATRUE also ensures products are free from genetically modified ingredients, microbeads and are not tested on animals.

logo: organic soil association

Soil Association

The Soil Association organic standard can still be found on cosmetic products in ‘transition’ and on ‘wellbeing products’ – household cleaning products, intimate health products or products intended for medical use.

For products to be certified organic by the Soil Association, 95% of all ingredients by weight must be organic.

The standard also ensures no: GMOs, animal testing, nanoparticles, parabens, or phthalates.

logo: BDIH certified natural cosmetics

BDIH

BDIH is a German non-profit organisation that certifies natural cosmetics. Its label ensures products contain “raw materials of plant origin originating from certified organic raw material”.

BDIH prohibits animal testing, irradiated ingredients, organic-synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, paraffin, and other petroleum-derived products.

logo: cosmetique bio label

Cosmetique Bio

The Cosmebio label is found on products where 95%+ of plant-based ingredients are organic with at least 10% of all a product’s total ingredients being organic.

USDA logo

US organic standards

In the USA, the best known organic standard is the USDA Organic seal.

Under this seal ‘organic’ means at least 95% of a product’s agricultural ingredients are organically grown, and the remaining 5 percent are on an approved substance list.

Concealing GMOS

Ethical Consumer considers Genetically modified (GM) organisms to be a ‘controversial technology’, due to the various debates that surround their relationship to herbicide and pesticide use, and the social and economic impacts of seeds being patented by corporations.

In the three biggest soya producing countries, almost all the soya grown is GM and crops such as canola, sugar beet, and corn may also be GM. Although cosmetics may contain ingredients processed from derivatives of these GM varieties, the cosmetic product itself probably won’t be labelled as GM due to it not being a main ingredient. The best way to avoid GM ingredients is to opt for products that are certified organic.

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So which cosmetics brands are really organic?

To find out which companies score well and which score badly, take a look at our ethical shopping guides.

We have guides for soap, shampoo, shower gel, and sunscreen that are all available on this website.