Organic and Natural Beauty

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

Unlike organic food, there is no specific legislation that requires a beauty product labelled as ‘organic’ to be certified. This means that anyone can make an organic claim, no matter how the product was made or how much organic material it actually contains. A company can label or name a beauty product ‘organic’ even if it only contains 1% organic ingredients. 

 And the description ‘natural’ has no legal protection at all, apart from trading regulations which mean that any claim must be capable of substantiation and must not be misleading.

Until such time as organic and natural claims around beauty products can be regulated as they should be, your best bet is to look for certification schemes, to make sure you’re not being taken for a ride.

We have given certified organic products an extra Product Sustainability mark on the score table.

They are indicated on the score table by [O] next to the brand name.

Logos: Organic beauty

European organic standards

The five major European organic and natural cosmetics standard-setting organisations (Soil Association (UK), BDIH (Germany), Cosmebio (France), EcoCert (France) and ICEA (Italy)) have natural and organic standards of their own. Between them these standards are used by over 1600 companies manufacturing and selling over 25,000 products in more than 45 countries worldwide – some 85% of the certified cosmetics market. 

The UK has a couple of other certifications including Organic Farmers & Growers and the Organic Food Federation, which are similar to the Soil Association standards. Demeter certifies products that contain ingredients grown according to biodynamic agriculture rules.

According to the Soil Association’s latest report on the state of the UK organic market, the organic health and beauty market was worth £54.2 million in 2015, an increase of 21.6% on the previous year.[1]

Logo: Cosmos certified

In 2011, after eight years of negotiation, the five major European organisations came together to create a new, pan-European standard called COSMOS

The ‘COSMOS Organic’ standard ensures that at least 95% of processed agro-ingredients in a product are organic. At least 20% of the total product must be organic and, like the natural standard, no more than 5% of the product can be synthetic.

The ‘COSMOS Natural’ standard ensures that no more than 5% of the total product is synthetic, with a limited list of permitted synthetics.

COSMOS also means:

  • No genetically modified (GM) or irradiated ingredients, no nanoparticles, parabens, SLS.
  • Products are never tested on animals.
  • Only products of (not parts of) animals (i.e. only honey, beeswax, etc.) are used.
  • Restrictions over the use of petrochemical ingredients.
  • Colours and fragrances come from plants, flowers and mineral origins only.
  • Green chemistry principles are followed, minimising the environmental impact of ingredients and products.
  • The creation of waste during the manufacturing process is also minimised.
  • Manufacturers of COSMOS products are inspected annually.
  • Facilities, packaging and cleaning materials must also meet standards.
  • The entire supply chain needs to be verified.

As a relatively new standard, the logo isn’t widely seen at the moment – many companies still use the logo of the original certifier, EcoCert or the Soil Association, for example – but it’s likely to become more visible in the coming years. 

However, COSMOS does not replace the individual national standards, like that of the Soil Association. Some companies like Essential Care, who make the Odylique brand, prefer to continue with the Soil Association standard because it’s stricter than COSMOS.


The COSMOS standard took so long to get on its feet that some major German and Swiss natural beauty brands got impatient and decided to create another standard, NaTrue. That was launched in 2008 and is backed by, amongst others, Weleda, Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante and Lavera.

According to Essential Care: “In the media it has set itself up as a critic of and rival to Cosmos which isn’t terribly constructive. NaTrue and Cosmos standards are actually pretty similar.”

NaTrue’s standard is split into three levels:

  • NATRUE 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 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 – the percentage increases to 95%.

NATRUE certified means products contain:

  • natural and organic ingredients
  • ingredients grown using sustainable production process
  • environmentally friendly practices
  • no synthetic fragrances or dyes
  • no silicone oils
  • no ingredients from petrochemicals
  • no animal testing
  • no irradiation of end products or herbal ingredients.
USDA logo

US organic standards

In the USA, the best known organic standard is the USDA Organic seal, used by companies like Badger and Avalon Organics.

This seal means that at least 95% of ingredients are organic but only covers food ingredients.

Other, non-food ingredients are covered by the NSF ‘Contains Organic Ingredients’ standard where products must be 70% organic.

Organic certified brands in our beauty guides

Toothpaste  Green People, Logodent, Sante, Urtekram, Lavera
Make Up Odylique, Green People, Neal's Yard, Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante, Lavera
Shampoo Odylique, Green People, Bentley Organics, Neal’s Yard, Logona, Sante, Weleda, Urtekram, Lavera,  Avalon Organics
Soap (liquid hand wash and bars) –  Odylique, Green People, Bentley Organics, Neal’s Yard, Logona, Sante, Weleda, Urtekram, Lavera,  Avalon Organics
Shower Gel Odylique, Green People, Bentley Organics, Sabai Soaps, Neal’s Yard, Urtekram, Lavera,  Avalon Organics
Skincare Avalon Organics, Badger, Bentley Organics, Dr Hauschka, Green People, Lavera, Logona, Neal’s Yard, Odylique, Sante, Urterkam 
Shaving Avalon Organics, Badger, Green People, Lavera, Logona, Sante 
Deodorant Green People, Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante, Urtekram, Lavera 
Sunscreens Odylique, Green People, Neal’s Yard, Badger, Lavera
Subscription Products

Become a subscriber today

Ethics made easy - comprehensive, simple to use, transparent and reliable ethical rankings. A wealth of data at your fingertips.

Only £29.95 for 12 months web access and the print magazine. Cancel via phone or email within 30 days for a full, no-questions-asked refund!

Start your subscription - find out more