Yes, organic skincare certification for personal care items can be confusing. The process is similar to that of the organic food industry, but there's a big difference - organic skincare isn't government regulated nor is there global harmonization. But knowledge is power people! An understanding of the different types certifications and rules makes your choice as a consumer easier.
How does certification work?
Each certifying body creates a set of guidelines that a product and manufacturer must meet in order to be certified natural and/or organic.
These rules will define requirements such as:
The minimum percentage of organic content required within a product
The percentage of synthetic ingredients acceptable under certification
Ingredients that are excluded from use in products
The manufacturing processes which can be used in the creation of ingredients and the end product
Whether water can or can't be included in the calculation for the organic percentage of the product
Part of the requirements also include the regular auditing by a third-party organic certifier of both the manufacturers ingredients and processes to ensure it's compliant with all the rules of the certification standard.
There are a few general guidelines which apply to most certifications such as:
No animal testing
No ingredients derived from an animal unless produced without harm to the animal eg honey and beeswax
Avoidance of GM ingredients
Consideration for how the ingredients are grown and harvested
Environmentally friendly packaging requirements
Today there are a number of international organizations with organic skincare certification standards. Below, we've compiled summaries of the six most commonly seen on the shelves.
The Soil Association is a standard for 'organic' and 'made with organic' ingredients. Limited amounts of synthetic preservatives and ingredients are allowed, for example benzyl alcohol, dehydroacetic acid and phenoxyethanol. Excludes water in calculation of organic content.
Organic - must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.
Made with Organic Ingredients - must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
COSMOS is the first European Harmonized Standard for organic beauty created by the first five EU organic beauty certifiers - BDIH, Soil Association, CosmeBio, EcoCert and ICEA. COSMOS is a cosmetic standard for organic and natural ingredients. Limited synthetics are allowed in the "Organic" and "Natural" standard for some product types. Excludes minerals in calculation of organic content. Logo is as as the five certifiers with the addition of the COSMOS stamp.
COSMOS Organic - must contain at least 95 percent physically processed agro-ingredients must be organically produced, while a minimum of 20 percent of total ingredients by weight must be organic with exception for wash off products which is 10%.
COSMOS Natural - may contain natural/ organic ingredients, but does not allow active marketing of organic content.
*Nature identical substances may only be used when natural substances cannot be recovered from nature using reasonable technical effort. Nature identical ingredients are 100 percent identical in composition to their counterparts in nature, but have been created in the laboratory to ensure stability, safety, and sustainability.
BDIH requires 100 percent natural origin/nature identical* to gain the "natural" standard. No organic content is required for certification but BDIH requires manufacturers to use organic content wherever possible. Nature Identical preservatives such as benzyl alcohol and salicylic acid can be used along with natural preservatives.
EcoCert requires a minimum of 95 percent natural origin as a baseline entry. Water can be included in its calculation of organic content. Up to 5% of synthetic preservatives are allowed eg. Dehydroacetic acid and Sodium hydroxide.
Natural standard - A minimum of 50% of all plant-based ingredients in the formula and a minimum of 5% of all ingredients by weight must come from organic farming.
Natural / Organic standard A minimum of 95% of all plant-based ingredients in the formula and a minimum of 10% of all ingredients by weight must come from organic farming.
USDA NOP is a food standard with three certification variations. Limited amounts of synthetics are allowed in 'organic' and 'made with organic'. Excludes water and salt in calculation of organic content.
100% Organic - must contain only organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt).
Organic - must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Limited amounts of synthetics are allowed.
Made with Organic Ingredients must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, but cannot display the USDA seal on packaging.
NATRUE is a cosmetic standard that requires 100 percent certified pure natural and derived natural (natural origin) plus some limited nature-identical* as a baseline for entry. Excludes water and salt in calculation of natural and organic content. 3 star system
Organic Cosmetics (3 stars) - guarantees at least 95 percent of the natural ingredients stem from controlled organic production.
Natural with organic portion (2 stars) - guarantees at least 70 percent of the natural ingredients stem from organic production.
Natural Cosmetics (1 star) - requires 100 percent certified pure natural and derived natural (natural origin) plus some limited nature-identical*
In order to be called Organic, a cosmetic product has to contain a minimum of organic ingredients and the raw materials need to be at 95% organic: in the production it is not possible to use derivatives from petroleum: paraffin, formaldehyde and colourants of synthetic origin. Organic Cosmetics do not contain GMO's or synthetic perfumes.
In order to be called natural, a cosmetic product a minimum of the raw materials need to be 90% natural. In the production it is not possible to use derivatives from petroleum; paraffin, formaldehyde and colourants of synthetic origin.
Certified Natural products contain higher levels of materials that, while still natural, cannot be certified organic because they occur in non-agricultural environments. For example bamboo silica comes from bamboo grown in the wild. While there was no use of fertilizer, pesticides, etc, it grows in a non-supervised area. Such ingredients are identified as “wild crafted” or “natural”.