Is my natural cosmetic product really natural?

In my latest blog post I’ve dived into natural cosmetics – is natural better, safer? If you’ve read the post in question, you already have an idea  that the answer to this question largely depends on which products / brands you choose and not so much on the origin of their ingredients.

Related: Is natural in cosmetics better and safer?

Nevertheless natural magically appeals to us and many people intuitively prefer natural [I’m not totally immune to that either!], and this preference is widely abused by marketing strategies. Fear-mongering, green-washing with misleading information and half-truths are not rare in this industry and that leaves behind a confused or even brainwashed consumer, that can’t really figure out who is trustworthy and which brands are really natural. You’d expect that this is legally regulated, but when we’re getting into natural, it is not the case. There are regulations, but they depend on local legislation, plus there’s the question of (the lack of) control. The word »natural« per se in most countries is poorly regulated. So at the end, if there’s a label on your product that says natural, It doesn’t guarantee much. You have to do your homework if you want to be sure that your pricey natural product is really worth the fuss.

So let’s do our homework, how can we spot quality natural cosmetic products? To start properly, let’s take a look on differences between the common buzzwords »natural«, »organic«, »bio« and »ecological«

So many “natural” products, but are they really natural?

Natural, Organic, Bio,...

The most common misconception about natural is the idea, that when we see a label that says natural, we imagine nice old ladies handpicking flowers and herbs in a pristine non-polluted environment for our absolutely non-toxic cream. This illusion is also fueled by fear-mongering marketing strategies screaming we’re all going to die, because we put toxic synthetic ingredients on our skin and other generalized nonsense. We’ve already been through that in my latest post, but if we concentrate only on natural ingredients – because only natural ingredients are possibly exposed o pollution, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and artificial  fertilizers  (there are no pests in the lab!), we get another perspective to think about. So what is safer then? A synthetic ingredient made in a controlled environment, or a natural ingredient potentially exposed to all of the above and highly processed?

This is an extreme comparison, but you can still get the idea – I just want to burst the bubble about the natural fairy tale and the importance of choosing a quality natural skincare brand.

Now let’s get to the point of this chapter, natural cosmetic buzzwords:

  • Natural means that the ingredients in a product are from natural origin (anything that is a plant, mineral or an animal by-product). The label is subjected to regulations depending on the country of origin, but many agree that the regulations are either too loose, vague or lack control.
  • Organic means that these natural ingredients come from organic farming, where no artificial fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics were used. The label is subjected to regulations depending on the country of origin, with generally much stricter regulations in comparison to »natural«.
  • Bio and Ecological are aliases for organic. Bio comes from French – Biologique and is used in various countries as a label for organic. Ecological or Eco is another alias and refers to ecological production processes. Ecological is officially used in Slovenia for labeling organic products.

While the label natural can be literally found everywhere, organic (and it’s aliases) in cosmetics has stricter requirements and therefore can be used as one of the starting points, when looking for quality natural products. Nevertheless, we shall keep in mind, that if we dig deeper, the organic label is more like an advantage and not actually a necessary requirement. The thing is, there are quality natural products that can’t fulfill the organic label requirements, despite organic ingredients. Some organic ingredients just can’t adhere to the requirements [e.g. water, salt, clay, etc.] because organic is limited to farming /agriculture.

And here we are again in the beginning. Nothing ever simple in skincare, ha?

So let’s move forward to a more reliable indicator for spotting quality natural cosmetics – certificates with additional explanations about the label »organic«..

Natural cosmetic certificates

In an attempt to regulate the fast-growing and chaotic natural cosmetic industry that hasn’t been able to find a solid global regulation consensus, authorized certification bodies with their requirements came as a next best thing. Natural cosmetic certificates are therefore the best and most reliable shortcut a consumer can have in assessing if a product is really natural and the brand trustworthy. With certification, you’ll bump into two additional buzzwords:

  • certified natural
  • certified organic

Which basically means that a product is labeled as natural and/or organic by the strict certificate standards, which go beyond the natural and organic requirements set by the local legislation.

The base requirements of certification basically depend on required concentration percentages of natural and organic ingredients in a cosmetic product. The concentration requirements among the five European leading certification bodies under the Cosmos standard (a standard that tries to unify the labeling of natural and organic cosmetics in Europe): BDIH (Ger), Cosmebio (Fra), Ecocert (Fra), Soil Association (UK), ICEA (Ita) are due to Cosmos very similar, and can be summed up to:

»Certified natural« label:

  • Approximately 95% to 100% of the ingredients of the total product must be of natural origin (with water and mineral or mineral-based ingredients considered as natural).

»Certified organic« label:

  • Approximately 95% to 100% of the ingredients of the total product must be of natural origin (with water and mineral or mineral-based ingredients considered as natural).
  • 95% to 100% of ingredients which can be organic must be organic (such as plant material, beeswax, milk, etc.).
  • 20% minimum of the ingredients of the total product must be organic (10% for rinse-off products and minerals considered as non-organic because they are not derived from a life form).

Source: Cosmebio Cosmos standard requirements

As mentioned before »organic« is limited to life forms and can’t be applied to water or mineral-based ingredients. So the percentage of organic ingredients on the label can be perceived as low – especially on water-based products. For example an oil that doesn’t contain water can be 100% organic, but a toner with a high concentration of water might officially contain only 10% of organic ingredients, because water isn’t a life form and can’t be labeled as organic. If we count water as organic (which it is), the product is actually mainly organic.

Along with the concentration requirements, there are some general requirements that the leading certification bodies have more or less in common. This requirements determine that the products should be:

  • free of synthetic colors and fragrances
  • free of certain types of preservatives – e.g. parabens
  • free of genetically modified ingredients
  • free of petrochemicals and silicons
  • not tested on animals
  • not processed with ionized radiation
  • the production and packaging must be environment-friendly

This is a very simplified recap to get an idea about how certificates work. I’ve mentioned just a few leading certificating bodies – if you favorite natural or organic product has another certificate, just  Google it and check the requirements!

Check if your natural products have certificates

No certificate?

 What if your favourite product has no certificate?

That doesn’t mean your product isn’t any good or it isn’t natural or organic. Certification is really expensive and there are many lovely and honest niche brands out there that just can’t afford it. In this cases check if the brand is transparent, check the ingredients, check their page, talk to them! If they’re the real deal they’ll be more than happy to tell you everything about their products and processes.

Also, there are some quality brands that don’t apply for certificates because they feel their products exceed certificate standards and don’t want us to perceive  that this is their minimum. Because their minimum is higher.

Niche natural products can’t afford expensive certificates, but that doesn’t mean they are not awesome!

Is it really natural and good?

If it has a certificate it should be, If it has ingredients from organic farming it is a nice bonus, but that isn’t the whole story. If you want to be really sure, you shall check all this boxes:

  • Ingredients: check the INCI list! It provides unbiased information about the product’s ingredients and can reveal quite a lot. If you’re not really into chemistry, you can help yourself with an online ingredient analyzer tool like Carisma.
  • Certificates: if the product has any certificates, check their requirements.
  • Brand transparency: is the brand transparent about their processes, concentrations, are they willing to provide information about their natural products?
  • People you trust: that is maybe the best source of information whether a product is natural and any good. Find bloggers or friends that are dedicated to natural cosmetics and know things. I’m no expert in natural, I’ve started to explore this field just recently and I’m realizing that I just brushed the tip of an Iceberg, that’s why I’m more or less relying on advice of the natural gurus. I seek advice from Diana that owns the OrCa Cruelty Free Shop that has a beautiful selection of quality natural cosmetics and I check Sugarlove Blog for reviews and quality natural brands.
  • Price: quality natural isn’t cheap. Development, quality ingredients, organic farming, certification etc. don’t come cheap. Sasha Foodiva put it really well: »Instead of asking why are our cosmetic products more expensive, we shall ask why are commercial products so cheap«.

That’s it! If you’re a natural cosmetics enthusiast I hope this article eases your hunt for quality natural products!

Fresh Therapies nail products for polish removal. Beautiful and effective natural products!

As always, if you have any questions – shoot!


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