What to Look for in an Organic Skincare Product

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Don’t be Fooled by ‘Green Wash’ Products

When it comes to skincare, it can be quite confusing as to how to determine whether a product is truly organic or not. To identify an organic product, it is recommended to look for critically acclaimed organic certification logos and to check the ingredients list.

Look for Certification

Due to limiting skincare regulations, companies are not expected to be organically certified, and so are able to “green-wash” products, meaning that companies can market and label their skincare products as organic despite containing minimum organic content of as little as 1%, and can also contain synthetic and chemical ingredients (Arnett, 2015ab; Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 2011; Coleman; 2014; Cornford, 2013; Food and Drug Administration [FDA], 2014; Janssen and Hamm, 2014; Melchett, 2013; Neal’s Yard Remedies, 2014; O’Reilly, 2015; Professional Beauty, 2013; Revitalize, 2014; Richmond, 2013; Soil Association [SA], 2013; Sahota, 2014; Stacey, 2014; Vine, 2014).

As obtaining organic certification is costly, some companies generate their own privately certified organic skincare label/logo (Agriculture. The Organic Products Regulations 2009; Blackman and Naranjo, 2012; Dabbert, Lipper and Zorn, 2014; Veldstra, Alexander and Marshall, 2014). However, not all skincare companies “green-wash” their products, as some are true to their claim of the organic content used which is displayed on their product label.

For a product to display a true accredited organic certification logo, it must be acclaimed by a registered organic certification body such as the BioGro (New Zealand); USDA Organic (USA) or the Soil Association (UK) (Barnes; 2013; Dowling, 2013b; Hunwick, 2013; Sahota, 2014; Wuttke, 2013). By identifying such logos on skincare ensures that the product contains a high standard of organic content, and has passed strict regulations (Dabbert, Lipper and Zorn, 2014; Melchett, 2013; Summer Spy, 2013). However, each accredited organic certification body has varying regulations as to classifying a product as organic. For example:

BioGro – the product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients (BioGro, 2011)

USDA Organic – the product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients (without water and salt) and can display the term ‘organic’ within the product name along with the USDA logo eg ‘Organic body lotion’ (Making Cosmetics, 2015; USDA Organic Skincare, no date). While products containing at least 70% organic ingredients cannot display the USDA logo, but can use the term ‘organic’ for correlating ingredients such as ‘body lotion made with organic lavender and rosemary’ (Making Cosmetics, 2015; USDA Organic Skincare, no date).

Soil Association – the product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and if it contains over 95% of organic ingredients, the SA will permit ‘the term ‘organic’ in the product name’ (such as ‘Organic Lavender and Rose Lip Balm’ (O’Reilly, 2015; Professional Beauty, 2013; SA, 2013; 2015; Soil Association Certification, 2013).

Therefore, when purchasing organic skincare, it is recommended to not only look for certification logos as this can be confusing – but to also consult ingredients lists to be sure of the organic content.

Understand the ingredients

Skincare labels list ingredient contents by weights greater than 1% in descending order, and not by concentration, meaning that predominant ingredients that make up the majority of the product are listed first (Chevillotte et al., 2014; FDA, 1938; Great Britain. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [GBDBIS], 2010; Steinemann et al., 2011). Ingredients that are less than 1% in concentration are considered as traces, and so are listed last in any order (FDA, 1938; GBDBIS, 2010).

In some cases, if an ingredient has derived from an organic component, it is not necessarily indicated or marked on the product as being organic, instead it is referred to as a natural constituent (Dumper, 2014; Heathcote, 2014). To identify an organic natural constituent, there should be a reference to ‘the origin of the raw material (e.g. part of the plant)’ that it has derived from, or the name can be depicted in italics, to ensure a point of safety and to inform that this ingredient has derived from an organic compound (Dumper (2014); Heathcote (2014) and European Commission (2006, p.12).

Find out for yourself

To check the ingredients of skincare, there is a useful online website and downloadable App from the Environmental Working Group [EWG] called Skin Deep. This allows you to search EWG’s database of just under 70,000 products, and gives a safety assessment of products and their ingredients. Follow this link here to Skin Deep: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/


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