The organic beauty industry is booming; with sales up 20 per cent year on year in the UK to a whopping £44.6 million, the organic health and beauty market is now estimated to be worth £1.6 billion - and yet, despite its ever growing prominence, it is not strictly regulated. Organic beauty, unlike food, has no legal standard to prevent brands from misleading customers with claims of organic ingredients or formulas; labels cannot always be trusted, and words such as 'organic' and 'natural' are used with abandon when in fact the product could be anything but.
This week is Organic Beauty Week, run by organic certification board the Soil Association, designed to highlight the many trustworthy brands on their books and help beauty lovers to discover something new. This year, though, the natural trailblazers are asking the beauty industry to clean up its act with their Campaign for Clarity. As one of the most highly regarded certifiers of organic beauty, the Soil Association and its partners are calling all brands to essentially go hard or go home; stand up and get certified by a respected body (with clear labelling to match) or ditch the sales tactics and take the misleading information away.
As someone who has to scrutinise the labels of every beauty product thanks to my sensitive skin , I'm wholeheartedly behind the scheme. Labelling in the skincare industry is a minefield, full stop, be it organic or otherwise; but at least in the non-organic sector it's regulated, to a degree (see my previous column regarding meaningless skincare terms here ). Brands cannot expect customers to diligently read complicated and confusing ingredients lists in order to know what they're buying; just as the food industry has to be honest about its sources, so too should organic beauty.
Standards need to be stricter, so that buying 'organic' skincare means exactly that, with minimal work for the consumer.
Standards need to be stricter, so that buying 'organic' skincare means exactly that, with minimal work for the consumer. It’s come at a good time, too; the organic beauty sector has never been more exciting, as brands continue to innovate so that beyond being environmentally sound they’re also creating results-driven skincare that competes with the bigger brands on the high street. With more consumers flocking to try natural products that promise to deliver the same results as their standard skincare, there's even more need for the claims to be as clear as possible.
Most confusing, however, are the stamps and badges which adorn the many so-called natural and organic beauty brands that aren't necessarily up to scratch. That's not to say they don't use organic ingredients, or that they’re not great products; but if half of the formula was synthetic, wouldn't you want to know? There are now over 30 symbols and labels that represent natural and organic cosmetic standards; however, the standards within each certification body vary wildly, meaning what might count as organic for some is a no-no for others. So while credit is due for looking to attain a stamp of organic approval at all, many brands are pulling the wool over their customers' eyes by certifying their products with private standards who don't necessarily have strict enough policies. And customers are checking, too; consumer research published by Organic Monitor revealed that 43 per cent of UK consumers look for the symbols and logos on their beauty products, an increase of 10 per cent since 2007. We're getting wiser - and the industry needs to keep up.
To combat this, five of the leading certifiers in Europe (Soil Association, Ecocert, Cosmebio, BDiH and ICEA, who together verify over 80% of the total market) have created a new standard: COSMOS. This new, unified standard brings together all of the regulations to create one super-powered stamp of organic approval that will be recognised worldwide.
"COSMOS comes into force fully in January 2017, but until then each partner’s private standard is still available,” Soil Association’s Trade Relations Manager Emma Reinhold tells me. "After January 2017, all new products or any newly formulated products that are currently certified by these five will have to use the COSMOS standard. The standard is the ‘law’ if you like, and each of the certifiers are the ‘enforcers’."
Best of all, it’s going global. “When you see COSMOS, you know it’s a universal standard, so whether you buy in the UK or Australia, the formulations must follow the same rules and requirements,” Emma explains.
Encouragingly, those organic brands we know, love or maybe haven't even discovered yet, are well and truly behind the Campaign for Clarity; organic sensitive skin care brand Pai have pledged their support , alongside organic giants Neal's Yard Remedies and even smaller brands such as vegan brand zk'in, Therapi and Skin and Tonic to name but a few. It's not just the consumers who are frustrated by the blurred lines.
Clarity is what the industry has been crying out for; organic brands can showcase their integrity with pride, while shoppers can know exactly what they’re buying. What a wonderful thought...
Get involved this Organic Beauty Week and join the campaign - head to the Soil Association website to find out more and share the love for their #Campaign4Clarity. Find out more about the new universal COSMOS standard here.
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