I think most would agree that there is a general trend towards leading a healthier and more environmentally conscious lifestyle. To me, this involves buying products that are organic + natural, whether it be food, clothing or personal care products.
The personal care industry has benefited from this trend, seeing a 24% increase in demand for organic and natural beauty products in 2017. This growth is happening however without regulations to define when a product can be labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘natural’. As a result, it can be difficult to understand how much of a product’s ingredients are organic or natural.
You may ask, “if something is marketed as organic and/or natural, can we assume that it is organic or natural?” Unfortunately no. To get a better idea, let’s look at an example.
Company A, for instance, makes an ‘organic’ shampoo. Because it is advertised as organic, one may assume all or the majority of ingredients are organic. It’s not that simple! Company A’s organic shampoo may include 100% organic ingredients (yay!), or only 1% organic ingredients (BOO!) The same rings true for the application of the term ‘natural’. Confusing, right?!
In an effort to create an industry standard to set clearer and more transparent guidelines regarding the application of the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, the COSMOS (COSMetic Organic Standard) was created. In 2017 the UK adopted this standard. The COSMOS standard requires products meet five broad requirements, including containing natural ingredients or of natural origin that are acquired in a hygienic and sustainable way. It also allows for a limited list of preservatives and other ingredients (see box below, What the COSMOS-standard covers, for greater detail).
Under COSMOS there are two certifications: 1) COSMOS Organic; and 2) COSMOS Natural. Both need to meet the 5 broad requirements. They also need to each fulfill specific benchmarks. In order to attain COSMOS Certified Organic 95% of the ingredients must be organic. To attain COSMOS “made with organic”, a minimum 20% of ingredients for leave-on products (e.g.: lip balm) and 10% of rinse-off ingredients (e.g.: shampoo). Then there is natural certification. To attain COSMOS Natural, most of the ingredients must come from a natural origin.
A standard certification process to ensure consistent application is a positive step. It creates parameters, clarity, and safeguards around what can be considered ‘organic’ or ‘natural’.
On the downside, certification is expensive, too expensive for indie brands like ON! Juniper. For this reason and this reason alone, I haven’t applied for COSMOS certification.
Bottom line, in seeing COSMOS certification on a personal care product you can be confident it is a meeting an internationally recognised standard.
It is important to keep in mind however, that there are a lot of brands that can’t afford certification, yet go above and beyond COSMOS requirements. ON! Juniper lip balms, for example, are made with 100% organic certified ingredients, rather than the COSMOS requirement of 95% or 20%! Don’t dismiss a brand because it isn’t COSMOS certified, but also equip yourself with the knowledge to decode an ingredient label because greenwashing can and does happen.
So, here’s a quick method to decode an ingredient label: 1) identify which ingredient(s) are listed as organic and/or natural; and 2) identify where do they fall within the ingredients list. The latter point is important as ingredients must be listed in their order of concentration. Then you need to do the math. If a product of 10 ingredients, for example, lists only the last two ingredients as organic, you can assume that the organic content is quite low.
Without industry requirements surrounding the application of the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ in personal care products, understanding the organic and natural levels can be unclear. I hope this article helps to shed some light and provides you with a useful tool to better estimate organic and/or natural content.
If you have questions about a particular product’s ingredient base, do contact me. I’d be happy to decode it for you. I don’t need to know the product brand, just the ingredient list and any messaging advertising it’s organic and natural attributes.
Tess is the owner and founder of ON! Juniper, a fun and innovative lifestyle brand for kids offering lip balms and bath bombs made with organic + natural ingredients.