Organic, vegan, natural? Your guide to green beauty products

Wouldn’t it be neat to have a guide to green beauty products? In the world of organic and natural skincare, it feels like we are foraging through a jungle of labels and marketing slogans!

Natural cosmetics options are constantly growing, but the multitude of terms and acronyms are quite confusing. Consumers are increasingly asking for clean products and many brands are jumping on the trend with new lines and “green labelling.” 

According to a report from the Soil Association, 2021 saw a 15% jump in certified organic beauty and wellbeing products, totaling £138.23 million in sales. That’s quite an incentive for the biggest players in the cosmetics industry to make their products appear more natural and safer, so as not to lose their market share.

How to shop for natural beauty products?

With this guide to green beauty products, you will gain a better understanding of the different logos on packagings.

A quick way to identify an organic brand is the COSMOS logo, from the Soil Association, which has certified over 46,000 products from 20 countries.

Other logos of interest include vegan, vegetarian, and fair trade, which give you an idea of the ingredients and the brands’ ethos.

There’s no legal definition

One of the reasons shopping for natural beauty products is complicated is that there’s no legal definition of natural, organic, or vegan.

If you are looking for natural brands, it’s important to look at the claims they make about the source of their ingredients and composition. Incredibly, a brand can have just 1% organic ingredients and still claim its products to be “organic.”

The only legal requirement companies have is to list ingredients on the packaging following the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) guidelines. Ingredients have to be indicated in decreasing order. From the highest concentration to the lowest. However, all the ingredients making less than 1% can be indicated in any order.

Figuring out the beauty industry

To help consumers see past the greenwashing there are several apps and product guides. A lot of them focus on the ingredients, like the Think Dirty or Yuka apps, which you can quickly use while shopping to scan barcodes. There’s also a guide on the Soil Association’s website, with all the products they have certified.

Your guide to green beauty products 

Let’s take a closer look at the different terms and logos found on packaging and their meaning.

Natural cosmetics

This is a fun one. The cosmetic industry has used and abused the word “natural.” Legally, a product can be labelled as natural even if it contains just 1% of naturally-sourced, plant-based, or mineral ingredients. That’s why checking the ingredients list is so important.

However, for consumers, the term “natural” means that we expect botanical ingredients to make up the biggest part of a product. Don’t be scared off by the use of scientific or Latin names of natural extracts and check the ingredients to see if they are on the top of the list.

Products that are 100% natural have a shorter shelf life, so expect even high-quality natural brands to include some synthetic preservatives. Nonetheless, synthetic ingredients should be fewer.

  • Certifications: NATRUE, Soil Association (COSMOS Natural), Ecocert

Organic beauty products

Even if there are only a fraction of organic ingredients, a mere 1% is enough for a product to be labelled as organic. 

Again checking the label will give you some valuable information. Some of the brands that take organic seriously will indicate with the ingredients which ones are organic.

Also, look for the Soil Association’s logo. It certifies a product is made from organically-farmed ingredients, not tested on animals, and free from harsh chemicals, nanoparticles, parabens, synthetic dyes, and artificial fragrances.

  • Certifications: NATRUE, Soil Association (COSMOS Organic), Ecocert

Vegan or “cruelty-free” cosmetics

Again, there’s no regulation on what constitutes a vegan product. Look for the Vegan Society or Leaping Bunny logos. It confirms that a product contains no animal by-products and that it hasn’t been tested on animals.

Vegan and natural are two distinct things. A vegan product isn’t necessarily made with a majority of botanical ingredients. It can still contain a large number of synthetic ingredients.

Some animal by-products aren’t self-evident. Glycerin, collagen, gelatine, and retinol are often made of animal origin. Unless made from synthetic sources, the Vegan Society also suggests skipping on ingredients like pearl, silk, snail, milk, cochineal (E120), tallow, and lanolin. However, just like some people are vegetarian or pescatarian, this also depends on your sensibility.

Good to know, although legal the EU has strict rules around animal testing. Yet, China requires animal testing by law. This means that any product from China will have been tested on animals.

  • Certifications: The Vegan Society, Leaping Bunny, The Vegetarian Society

Clean beauty products

When we are talking about “clean” cosmetics, the general understanding is that they are free from some of the ingredients now commonly regarded as harmful or allergenic. That includes sulphates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, pesticides, petroleum derivatives, artificial colouring, and synthetic fragrances.

In the EU, potential allergens that can lead to sensitivity need to be listed on the packaging. These are typically noted in italics at the end of the ingredients list.

There’s no certification for “clean” beauty. Look at the ingredients or use an app like Yuka that will grade the product you are scanning based on its safety level.

Fairtrade cosmetics

This aspect isn’t strictly about the quality of the ingredients, but rather about their origin. When a beauty product is made from natural ingredients, such as argan, coconut, or shea butter, it’s important to know that the workers behind them are treated and paid fairly.

The Fair Trade certification has been around for a while on produce and packaging. In cosmetics, it shows that ingredients are sourced fairly.

  • Certification: Fair Trade

Palm oil-free cosmetics

If you’ve been following Petit Jovial, you already know how important the survival of orangutans is to me. When I created my products, they needed to be as natural as possible and without any palm oil.

There’s always the option to use sustainable palm oil, but there’s a lot of discussion around the concept and the possibility of fraud. For more information on the issue, see my previous article, Orangutans: how palm oil is causing destruction.

  • Certifications: Orangutan Alliance (palm oil-free products), Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) sustainable palm oil sources)

Hope this guide to green beauty products will help you find the best cosmetics for you.

Until next time, Tania xx