Organic, Made with Organics, Natural and Pure, Naturally derived…it’s all so complicated and unclear!
There is so much confusion about the term “organic” that it’s very easy to mislead consumers, especially because many countries have very different standards and organic certification procedures.
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between Organic, Natural, Wild-Harvested, and Conventional ingredients.
refers to an ingredient produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or any other artificial chemicals. Organic is backed up by an official certification from a recognized Organic Certification Body. This follows a complete set of chemical analysis. No GMOs are allowed. Every certified organic ingredient is fully traceable.
refers to an ingredient produced the same way as its organic counterpart, but no official organic certifications are available; being natural is often a claim and not a proven fact, but when chemical analysis are available, the purity and the quality of the ingredient can be easily proven. Being natural rather than organic doesn’t necessarily mean an ingredient is of inferior quality or purity, it simply means that no official organic certification is available.
ingredients are 100% natural ingredients, but in some cases, the supplier can produce evidence that specific ingredients have been picked from the wild with local government approval; often purity and quality chemical analysis are available.
means that the ingredient may contain chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. What is interesting is that some chemical additives used in agriculture are not as toxic as others, but each country follows different rules, and it is impossible to trace what has been used as fertilizers or pesticides.
How 'organic' is organic? What’s the difference between an organic product and one made with organic ingredients?
As a very general rule, most organic certification bodies classify the products into two categories:
Certified Organic (which means it is 90%-95% organic depending on the accreditation company standard) and
Made with Certified Organic Ingredients (which means it contains 70-95% certified organic ingredients excluding salt and water).
In a Made With Natural Ingredients product or in a Natural Product, 50% of the plant-based ingredients must be organic, and 5% of the overall product (including water) must be organic. This product description can be tricky, so reading the full list of ingredients is the only way to understand the content.
Water and salt are excluded from the calculation of organic percentage, so, for instance, a body scrub made with 80% salt and the rest being certified organic ingredients, it can
Look for a legitimate organic certification logo
A company can be a reseller of certified organic ingredients (and/or manufacturer of final products made with certified organic ingredients) but not be a certified organic company itself. In this case, no organic certification logos can legally be used for any products; they can only be defined as Made With Certified Organic Ingredients. In some countries, there are no local certification companies able to conduct checks and issue organic certifications; some international certification bodies like ECOCERT can issue international certifications, but this process is extremely expensive and lengthy.
A company reseller or manufacturer of organic ingredients/products that have passed all the verifications from a designated certified organic body can legally apply a Certified Organic Product logo to each product. This company is usually identifiable with a unique code granted by the certification body like this:
Here are some of the most recognizable certified organic certification organizations (some are private companies, others are nonprofit organizations):
What should you look for on the label
Generally, organic ingredients are marked by a ‘*’ and denoted as ‘Certified Organic Ingredient’.
Not all-natural ingredients are easy to recognize. When listing plants, the manufacturers must list the Latin name as well. However, there are many naturally derived ingredients that are approved by organic certification bodies that have long chemical names impossible to recognize by nonprofessionals.
For instance, Coco-Glucoside is a Coconut-derived surfactant approved by Ecocert; its name doesn’t sound very natural, but its origins are 100% natural. However, some naturally derived ingredients, in some cases heavily processed so not approved in organic skincare formulations, are not approved in natural and organic formulations. In addition, many new-generation functional ingredients (surfactants, emulsifiers, preservatives) are listed with their trade name, making them virtually impossible to identify.
To help us survive the label maze, there are a few useful online databases and apps that are very easy to use.
INCI (check their database here) sets the international standard of all cosmetics, organic or synthetic. EWG Skin Deep gives a lot of information, at times a bit too safe in our opinion. COSMOS Standard Guidelines are very clear (click here). We like the newly released Chemical Maze app as well (click here).
Check the manufacturer’s website
Manufacturers of organic and natural skincare products are usually very proud of each ingredient they source and use. Check their websites and get as much information as possible on the product you are interested in. Be aware that, in some countries, a complete list of all ingredients is not mandatory; therefore, many claims of being organic/natural/pure can hide cheap and synthetic ingredients by not listing them.
Don’t fall for the hype and the glam on the front of your beautiful packaging of organic skincare products with catchy slogans! Read the ingredients list and contact the manufacturer if you have any doubts. After all, it’s your skin and your wallet!