Natural and organic cosmetics are greatly influencing and changing the cosmetics panorama. The main drivers of this demand are the growing consumer awareness of natural cosmetics and therefore the desire of cosmetics companies to replace synthetic ingredients with natural variants. It’s a thriving sector, one that experts think could change the beauty industry for good. At the same time, consumers crave a deeper understanding of natural and organic products and how they work.
There has never been a better time for the organic beauty business, which emerged rapidly in the past years. The global market for natural and organic cosmetics estimated at 18.5 billion US dollars in the year 2020, is projected to reach 32.3 billion US dollars by 2027 according to a recently published comprehensive study on the future of the industry.
As green beauty grows it’s worth clarifying what we mean by natural and organic cosmetics and how it can support the transition towards a more sustainable industry.
Natural ingredients for cosmetics are defined as any raw materials derived from plants or animals that are used in the production of cosmetics and personal care products. Beauty companies tend to replace synthetic chemicals more and more with natural ingredients in conventional cosmetics and personal care products, partly because of consumer demand and partly because of a move towards sustainable raw materials. In general, natural cosmetics are defined as products made from natural ingredients, containing minimal levels of synthetic substances, such as petrochemicals and parabens.
In the case of organic skin care products, the term organic refers to how an ingredient is farmed. It must be prepared and grown without pesticides, chemical fertilisers, the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), sulphates and parabens or antibiotics. Organic skin care products have generally stricter standards.
While many cosmetics claim to be natural or organic, not all of them provide verifiable guarantees of these qualities. Checking the ingredients list on the package may help consumers assess the degree of accuracy of such claims, but not for every ingredient since declaring the ingredient origin (natural, petrochemical, etc.) is not a requirement by law. How can then a consumer be sure that a natural or organic cosmetic fully meets their expectations?
Certification is the easiest way to reassure consumers that the products they purchase as organic or natural have been audited by an independent certification body throughout the entire supply chain according to commonly accepted industry standards and specified criteria. The most popular standards in Europe are COSMOS and NATURE.
The COSMOS standard (short for COSMetic Organic and natural Standard) is managed by a not-for-profit, international and independent association – the Brussels based COSMOS-standard AISBL. COSMOS specifies raw materials selection as well as formulation requirements for natural and organic cosmetics and distinguishes two categories: COSMOS NATURAL or ORGANIC, depending on the content of organic ingredients in the product’s formulation.
For a product to qualify COSMOS ORGANIC minimum of 20 per cent of the used ingredients and 95 per cent of the physically processed agricultural ingredients must be organic. For COSMOS NATURAL products there is no minimum required content of organic ingredients, but raw materials should meet the criteria for each category of ingredients approved for use by COSMOS. In both cases, petrochemical solvents may only be used if there are no effective natural alternatives and they must be recycled and eliminated at the end of the process.
When it comes to cosmetics, sustainability does not only refer to the way ingredients are sourced or how the product is produced, but also to the materials used during its production and post-production. According to NATRUE – the International Natural and Organic Cosmetics Association producers of natural cosmetics should follow a sustainable inside and out holistic approach.
The NATRUE Label also sets rigorous criteria that guarantee a sustainable approach both at the formulation and production level. Biodegradability for instance is a key factor that pushes the industry to find alternatives to the use of certain substances traditionally used in the formulation of cosmetics.
This is the case of microplastics (usually synthetic plastic polymers manufactured from mineral oils) that are used for exfoliation in face creams or tooth polishing in toothpaste. Due to their small size, microplastics can easily pass through the filters of water treatment plants and end up in the sea. Luckily, nowadays many cosmetic producers are turning towards natural alternatives for microplastics. Accordingly, the NATRUE Label criteria only permit ingredients classified as natural, derived natural or nature-identical, which means that microplastics are already prohibited by definition in the NATRUE standard.
It’s also important to look at the whole value chain. Strict requirements for packaging, promoting recyclable and renewable materials, using processing and manufacturing that are clean and respectful of human health and the environment are all essential criteria that must be respected to truly qualify as sustainable.
The growth of the global natural and organic cosmetics market seems to be unstoppable. The expansion of distribution channels, increasing online customer reach, new ways of product development and advertisements all fuel the booming green cosmetics industry. In this context, both manufacturers and customers bear huge responsibility in producing and choosing products that comply with our overall climate and sustainability goals.