A Guide to Beauty Certifications
Organic, Natural, Vegan & Cruelty-Free Beauty Certifications
We know the beauty industry can be a confusing and overwhelming world full of claims, certificates and awards, but what do these labels actually mean. Is it just green-washing? Many companies are now claiming their products are organic, natural and vegan. But are they?
With no legislation to regulate them, some companies use clever branding and/or words implying they are something they are not, with no negative consequences for not telling the full truth. They are able to cover up what their product actually contains, where their ingredients are from and how they arrived in the bottle in front of you with branding they know will manipulate customers into thinking they are using something natural and good for your skin and the planet.
One of the ways we can have peace of mind in an un-regulated beauty world is to turn to bodies who only award certifications based on products ticking all their strict criteria.
To help you to understand the logos and certifications, we've put together a quick and easy guide so that you can become an informed consumer and can trust that your product arrived with you through sustainable and ethical practices, from beginning to end.
But please note, many small businesses may meet the % criteria of the certificate bodies below but cannot afford or are not yet ready to become certified even if they meet the criteria which is why we encourage all of customers to be informed consumers.
Organic and Natural Certifications
Organic Beauty is a product that has been organically farmed. This means the ingredients have not been genetically modified (GM), used herbicides or synthetic fertilisers or anything else that is not natural.
Did you know: Organic ingredients only relate to farmed ingredients. Ingredients such as water, clay or those that have been foraged cannot be 'certified organic' as they have not been farmed.
Certified Organic Beauty goes a few steps further and regulates more elements of the business and supply chain. These are the most popular bodies, their symbols and what they mean:
Soil Association Organic Standard
When you see this symbol on a product this means that it has not been tested on animals, there are no genetically modified ingredients, they have not used controversial chemicals, parabens, phthalates, synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances or nano particles.
Instead these products will contain higher levels of antioxidants (up to 60%), have used sustainably sourced organic ingredients, have transparent manufacturing processes, biodegradable ingredients, have used minimal packaging with maximum recycled content and have created this product whilst protecting wildlife and biodiversity.
To use Organic in their product name and hold this certificate, the product must contain at least 95% of organically produced ingredients.
To use Made With Organic Ingredients on their product, it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
But what about products with a large percentage or water, clay or salt which cannot be deemed organic?
This is where Soil Association come into play and have partnered with the COSMOS natural certification. COSMOS Natural products do not have to contain any organic ingredients – although many do.
Soil Association & COSMOS Natural
COSMOS Natural is most suitable for products containing a lot of ingredients which cannot be organic, such as water, salt or clay – for example toners, bath salts or face masks.
The Soil Association COSMOS logo guarantees no animal testing, GM ingredients, controversial chemicals, parabens and phthalates, synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances.
The product may contain natural/organic ingredients, but holding this certificate does not allow them to use marketing of organic content.
ECOCERT, established in 2003, was the first organisation to develop a clear product certification that standardises the meaning of "natural" and "organic" beauty.
To be classified as ECOCERT, a product cannot contain GMO's, parabens, phenoxyethanol, nanoparticles, silicon, PEG, synthetic perfumes and dyes, animal-derived ingredients (except for those naturally produced from animals, like milk or honey).
A minimum of 95% of the total ingredients in the formula must come from natural and organic origin. Plus, ECOCERT products' packaging must be biodegradable or recyclable.
There are three different ECOCERT labels. The natural and organic label (Organic Cosmetic) requires that 95% of all plant-based ingredients in the formula and 10% of all ingredients, by weight, come from organic farming. The natural label (Natural Cosmetic) requires 50% and 5%, respectively.
The third (COSMOS) was formed by ECOCERT and four other organic and natural cosmetics companies in Europe (including France, Germany, Italy, and the UK) to standardise beauty certification globally. This label means that a product has been certified by five organisations using the principles in the ECOCERT standard.
Founded in Belgium in 2002, COSMOS is a body that applies standards to cosmetic products branding themselves as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. COSMOS unites five separate entities: Cosmebio, the Soil Association, Ecocert Greenlife, BDIH and ICEA. They have created a unified certification for manufacturers of natural and organic products looking to enter the European Market.
COSMOS Organic: A product can only be labelled as organic if 90% or more of its ingredients are organic. Products not meeting this requirement can use the label ‘made with organic’ ingredients, instead. However, they must also comply with certain requirements too. For ‘made with organic’ cosmetic products, they can range from 20% of all ingredients being organic for cosmetics that are meant to be left on the body for a long period of time, to 10% of ingredients for products that are washed off shortly after applying.
COSMOS Natural: This is most suitable for products containing a lot of ingredients which cannot be organic, such as water, salt or clay – for example toners, bath salts or face masks. ‘Natural’ products are those which may contain some organic ingredients, but not enough for them to be labelled ‘organic’ or ‘made with organic’.
NATRUE certification encourages transparency when using the term 'organic' and is now an internationally recognised logo for natural cosmetics. Products holding this label will have gone through a strict criteria to be called a 'natural cosmetic', 'natural cosmetic with organic portion', or an 'organic cosmetic'. To be labelled and Organic Cosmetic, 95% of the natural ingredients must come from a certified organic production.
To be certified by NATRUE the product must meet high standards of sustainability, as well as being cruelty free.
Vegan & Cruelty-Free Certifications
All of the above mentioned certifying bodies regulate to ensure no animal-testing has taken place but, it does not go as far as the following animal welfare certifications.
What's the difference between vegan & cruelty-free?
In short vegan means that the products do not contain animal-derived products or use them in the production process. Cruelty-free products have not been tested on animals or use ingredients that have been.
The Vegan Trademark
The Vegan Trademark confirms that a product uses no animal-derived ingredients (including during manufacturing) and has not involved animal testing (including on the ingredients and the finished product).
To be able to use the Vegan Trademark a product must not contain animal products, have used animal products in the manufacture or processing of the end product, contain GMO's that have involved animal genes or substances that have been derived from animals, have been prepared in the same place as non-vegan products, or have tested either the final product or its ingredients on animals.
In order to be listed by PETA or carry the “Animal Test–Free” logo or the “PETA Approved Global Animal Test Policy” logo, companies and brands must commit never to conduct, commission, pay for, or allow tests on animals at any phase of development, for both ingredients and final products. They’re required to have agreements in place with their suppliers guaranteeing that the suppliers will never, from the moment the agreement is signed, conduct, commission, pay for, or allow tests on animals for the ingredients purchased by the company or brand. Animal derived products could be used in the product however.
To be considered “cruelty-free” under PETA’s Global Beauty Without Bunnies program, a company must not only ban animal tests but also refuse to use any animal-derived ingredients, such as honey, beeswax, or carmine, in its products.
By Cruelty-Free International. This scheme arose in 1996, through eight animal protection groups coming together to create a way to regulate and make people aware of which products truly were cruelty free.
In order for a product to qualify for the Leaping Bunny mark the company producing it must not “conduct, commission, or be a part to animal testing” including for formulations or ingredients of such products.
It must also apply a fixed cut-off date, an immovable date after which neither the brand nor any of its suppliers and manufacturers may conduct, commission or be party to animal tests for raw materials or ingredients anywhere in the world. This applies for their entire supply chain down to ingredient manufacturers.
They must set up a continuous monitoring system to ensure all their suppliers and manufacturers comply with Leaping Bunny criteria and all products, raw materials and ingredients are checked for any new animal testing at least every 12 months.
They also must open up their monitoring system to regular independent audits (outside of Cruelty Free International) to check they continue to comply with their fixed cut-off date for all their products, including any new ones.
The Leaping Bunny scheme focuses on animal testing and not on whether or not the ingredients are derived from animals. So, although a product may hold this certification (and it is the best certificate as it ensures a date is provided from when animal testing has been banned) it does not necessarily mean that the product is vegan.
Other Certificates You May Find On Beauty Products
Gluten only causes a problem if you eat it. It cannot be absorbed through the skin. It is possible to be sensitive to ingredients used in cosmetics, but this has nothing to do with coeliac disease specifically. If you experience skin irritation when using any cosmetics, discontinue use and visit your GP.
But, many people who have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance prefer to avoid gluten anyway to be on the safe side. Many makeup and skin care products contain gluten ingredients (often in the form of hydrolyzed wheat protein, which is processed but not enough to remove all the gluten), however it is much less common in natural and organic skincare brands. If you are looking for ultimate reassurance, look for the following certificate, or reach out to the brand and ask if their products contain gluten or are made in a gluten-free facility.
GFCO is the only gluten-free certification that holds companies and products accountable through audits, random product testing and process surveillance.
GFCO applies strict standards for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. These are that all finished products bearing the GFCO logo must contain 10ppm or less of gluten. They cannot contain barley-based ingredients. Plus, finished products and high-risk raw materials and equipment must undergo ongoing testing. They must have an annual audit and must submit finished products to the GFCO for review on a regular basis.
If you suffer from a nut allergy, although the overall risk from the nut oils used in skincare may be low, you usually want to ensure that different forms of nut are not present in the topical products you apply to your skin.
Cosmetic products sold in the EU must have a complete list of ingredients in a standardised format called INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) and I am sure you will be familiar of which ones you need to avoid, if you have a nut allergy. We haven't yet come across a certificate which provides certification on nut free cosmetics but you can either familiarise yourself with ingredients labelling and their Latin names or you can also reach out to the maker of the product to ask if the product is nut free and made in a nut free environment.
We hope we have provided you with a well rounded insight into cosmetic certifications and don't forget to email us firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.