As the word has spread about toxins used in the manufacture of cosmetics and skin care in the past decade, we all have become more conscious about the products we buy. Buzzwords like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ started penetrating our worlds and dominating the beauty industry. You can read them on labels all around. Unfortunately, misuse of those terms is as common as their use. Regulation remains poor. What’s the message ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ officially convey – in terms of origin and purity? The first thing you need to know is they are definitely not interchangeable.
What’s the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘organic’?
Let’s start with the term ‘natural’. A nice-sounding purely marketing word meaning almost nothing. It proves to be completely unregulated. That is why we hear it so often in advertising. They just can’t go wrong using it as it has no official definition. A product may show off ‘natural’ on its label if it contains ingredients that come from nature rather than created synthetically. The product may contain a low concentration of natural ingredients or up to 30% synthetic components and still be advertised as ‘natural’.
The term organic enjoys far more attention by the official regulatory institutions. The main difference it bears with ‘natural’ is in terms of origin and purity of production, handling, processing. Generally, organic cosmetics is considered clean and respectful of human health and the environment. Though, there is a difference between ‘organic’ and ‘certified organic’ cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product.
What is ‘certified organic’ cosmetic, body care or personal care product?
‘Certified organic’ indicates that a product has been produced through approved methods. It must comply with very strict requirements for cleanliness, with no pesticides, petroleum fertilizers or sewage sludge fertilizers, or GMOs. ‘Organic’ doesn’t mean the product doesn’t contain any synthetic or even harmful ingredients. Unfortunately, to call a brand ‘certified organic’ doesn’t mean that, either. There are many certification programs, new ones popping out every day. Some of them are more rigorous and strict in their procedures and we advise you stick to them when choosing your organic beauty products.
Best organic certifications
In the United States, USDA regulates the term ‘organic’ through the National Organic Program (NOP) regulation. The NOP certification requires that all links in the chain be certified by an accredited agent – from the operations which produce the organic ingredients, through the handlers of these ingredients, to the manufacturer of the final cosmetic or skin care product. USDA defines 4 organic labeling categories based on their organic content:
- 100 % Organic: Products must contain only organically produced ingredients. May use the USDA seal on the package.
- Organic: Products must contain a minimum of 95% organically produced ingredients. The remaining 5% cannot be synthetic preservatives, petrochemicals or any other substances prohibited in the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal.
- Made with Organic Ingredients: Products must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients. These products can’t use the USDA seal anywhere on the package.
- Products with less than 70% organically produced ingredients cannot use the term ‘organic’.
The ACO label ensures compliance to some of the highest organic standards in the world. ACO has three certification standards:
- Certified Organic (contains at least 95% organic ingredients)
- Made with Organic Ingredients (contains at least 70% organic ingredients)
- Natural Certified (must pass standard requirements set by ACO) for less than 70% certified organic ingredients. The product can only list ingredients as ‘organic’.
NASAA provides two levels of certification:
- Certified Organic (contains at least 95% organic ingredients excluding water)
- Approved Cosmetics (contains at least 70% organic ingredients excluding water)
Most certification bodies and associations calculate the organic percentage excluding water and salt. COSMOS and Eco-Cert hold a different approach. To achieve their highest certification levels – COSMOS Organic and Eco-Cert Natural / Organic standard – products must contain at least 95 percent physically processed organically produced agro-ingredients, and a minimum of 20, respectively 10% percent of total ingredients by weight must be organic.
In conclusion, all we need to say is – be careful. Even though a product claims to be organic or natural or just because you find it on the shelves of a healthy store does not mean that it is actually toxin-free. Always check the labels or choose verified organic certified brands sealed with a logo. The only guarantee you can have!