Those responsible for public health alert us that we live in daily contact with a cocktail of chemical substances that harm our health. This has increased consumer interest in organic cosmetics, the consumption of whose has been driven by large companies that have joined the bandwagon and made it fashionable.
But what on the one hand is good for the sector, on the other it is generating great confusion due to the use of commercial claims such as “parabens free”, “sulfate free” or “fragrance free” in products that have little to do with organic cosmetics.
What are organic cosmetics?
Nowadays it’s typical to found cosmetics that are advertised as natural, ecological, organic, vegan, “clean” or even “foodie”. This terms are used to imply that one is dealing with a product that is natural and the regulations on the labeling of cosmetics are not effective in avoiding blatant cases of misleading advertising. And it is in this confusion where the certification of organic and natural cosmetics makes the most sense. The consumer needs a certification that helps us to quickly and easily identify that what we are buying is really an organic product without having to be a cosmetic expert.
A single public certification?
At the beginning of this century, various certification bodies that worked in the organic food sector proposed private standards to also certify organic cosmetics. If we compare what happened in the food sector we see that the unification of the rules, a European regulation of mandatory compliance and the official protection of the term “organic” have been an example of success, with millions of European consumers identifying a single logo for organic food, the Euro Leaf.
Introducing cosmetics within the European regulation that regulates the production of organic food has been an aspiration of the sector that has not been achieved in any of the successive reviews (the last one in 2018). Aware of the difficulties to achieve this, the main European cosmetic certification bodies joined forces to create a single standard: Cosmos. Even so, there is no unique identifying seal, if not a different one for each of the certifiers.
At the same time, new standards were developed, always private. The result is a market flooded with different logos & seals that identify organic cosmetics. To this are added endorsements granted by non-accredited entities and companies that simply invent a stamp to sell more.
The main European cosmetic certification bodies joined forces to create a single standard: Cosmos
The European Commission wanted to put a little order but instead of relying on the organic cosmetics sector, asked Cosmetics Europe for help, the European association of conventional industry, who suggested that it is best to do it through a working group ISO to give it a more international projection. The result has been to add even more confusion with a rule that only aims to define what a natural cosmetic is and does so in a lax way and against the criteria of the sector’s entities.
What future awaits certification?
It is clear that a public certification for the whole EU is going to be very difficult. Logic tells us that an initiative of this style should be led by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, but in its 2016-2020 strategic plan, the cosmetics industry is not even mentioned. The recent European Green Deal includes a “Strategy in the field of chemicals with a view to sustainability”. Cosmetics are only mentioned in connection with animal testing, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogenic or mutagenic substances. No reference to organic cosmetics and how to promote it to avoid consumer contact with these substances.
On the other hand, a public and common regulation for the entire EU could be detrimental to the quality of the standard if a consensus is to be reached that includes the powerful conventional cosmetics industry, as has happened with the ISO. In addition, the cosmetic sector evolves very quickly and mechanisms are needed that allow the regulations to be adapted to reality with relative efficiency. The European legislative framework does not seem the most appropriate for a rule that has to constantly evolve.
Currently we have a dominant standard, Cosmos, and others more or less known at the national level such as BioVidaSana in Spain, CCPB and others in Italy, Nature & Progres in France, NCS in Germany or Ecogarantie in Belgium. Natrue is a standard born in Germany but quite widespread since it certifies some of the main brands in the market including those of some large supermarket chains. Each of them responds to the needs of certified companies. Cosmos is a good option for a company that wants an international projection, but if the national market is interested, there may be other options more recognized by the consumer and at a more affordable certification price. The coexistence between the two types of certifications should not be a problem.
The cosmetic sector evolves very fast and mechanisms are needed to allow the regulations to be adapted to reality with relative efficiency
Challenges for the future
The future offers two important challenges: the first, how to get the correct information to the consumer about what an organic cosmetic is and how to identify it based on a necessary certification. The second, how to prevent companies or entities from taking advantage of the lack of regulation by offering pseudo-certifications and thus increasing confusion. We cannot ask the consumer to distinguish between a sea of different logos, but reducing it to just one does not seem to be possible. Perhaps the solution is to accept the coexistence of several and direct the efforts of the actors in the sector to promote those of proven quality, granted by accredited certifiers while those who have only come to fish in troubled waters are publicly denounced.
Author: Montse Escutia, Co-Founder of the “Red Ecoestética“, Asociación Vida Sana
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