Beauty jargon busted: what natural and organic really mean

According to the Soil Association Certification’s 2020 Organic Market Report for Beauty & Wellbeing, 79% of people are more likely to buy a beauty product if it is labelled “organic”, while 82% said they would be doing the right thing for the environment. In recent years, the interest in this field has undoubtably grown.

“I think a large portion of that has come from conscious consumerism,” says Georgia Barnes, head of business development at the Soil Association. “This trend around environmental awareness and the Greta Thunberg effect, the Blue Planet effect, whatever you want to call it, has really started to switch people’s mindsets.” Now, consumers are more likely
to question the impact of buying a product on the world around them, as well as on their own health and wellbeing.

While this market is ever-expanding (in fact, it is now in its ninth consecutive year of double-digit growth) there is still a lot of confusion about the terminology used. “I think it’s arguably one of the biggest challenges to the sector that we haven’t got clear definitions of what brands mean when they’re saying organic, natural or clean, and it leads to a huge amount of confusion,” says Barnes.

Currently, a product that calls itself “organic” may in fact only have 1% organic ingredients. Therefore, it’s important to arm yourself with the right knowledge in order to choose organic and natural products for your kit, as well as help clients who are curious about using natural and organic make-up.

What is organic make-up?

The Soil Association defines organic beauty as “the formulation of cosmetic products using organically farmed ingredients.” This means that the ingredients are grown without genetically modified organisms (GMO), herbicides or synthetic fertilisers.

“The Soil Association certifies beauty products to the COSMOS standards, which is a global harmonised standard,” explains Barnes. Additionally, products that hold the Soil Association Organic certification also have:

• No animal testing

• No parabens and phthalates

• No synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances

• No nano particles.

“We make sure that we’re checking things like the packaging, that there’s no animal testing, that the supply chains are completely transparent and that the biodiversity is protected,” says Barnes. “It’s linking up all of the principles of organic under one umbrella, and that’s how we define our organic beauty products.”

However, just because a product does not have a certified logo doesn’t mean that it isn’t organic. Some smaller businesses can’t afford to have the certification on their products, so when in doubt, it’s best to contact the brand directly to ask about the formulations and ingredients used. “If you want to know more about the product, ask them – hold them to account and open up that dialogue,” advises Barnes. “As more brands join this movement, we’re going to see more purpose-driven brands living authentically and putting business practices in that they really mean. Build a relationship with your brand, and the brand will respect and respond to that.”

Surprisingly, some ingredients such as salt, water and clay can’t be grown organically, as they come from a source which cannot be farmed so they cannot be certified organic, says Lisa Franklin, a skincare expert who runs a private clinic in London. “Clay is inorganic because it is formed from a chemical process in rocks, and water is in an inorganic compound,” she adds.

Organic beauty by numbers

- COSMOS standards require a product to have at least 95% organic ingredients to be labelled organic

- 79% of people are more likely to buy a beauty product if it’s labelled organic, according to The Soil Association

What is natural make-up?

Natural means that the ingredients used in the formula are derived from nature. However, just because an ingredient or product is natural, that does not automatically mean it’s organic. For example, an ingredient within the product may be natural but it may have been grown with pesticides.

The Soil Association also has certification for natural products, which covers COSMOS’s standards and requirements to be deemed natural. “It’s still the same principles because organic is ultimately the original state of nature,” says Barnes. “It means no unnecessary chemicals, it just doesn’t have that 95% organic threshold that organic products require. ‘Natural’ helps cover clays and minerals, or things that haven’t been through an organic farming process. If it’s naturally occurring, it’ll sit under the natural certification.”

What about clean make-up?

“In terms of ‘clean’, as a scheme, we don’t touch it,” says Barnes. “We feel it’s a marketing claim. It’s a subjective thing that means different things to so many people. If you’re looking for a product that is clean in your terms, it might be different in someone else’s.” Therefore, it’s best to look for organic and natural as a benchmark when clients are seeking “clean” products.

Make-up Myths

Barnes, and celebrity make-up artist Armand Beasley, talk us through the most common misconceptions of organic and natural make-up.

“Organic and natural make-up is ineffective”

MYTH: “Some people think that if it’s an organic product, it’s not going to be effective – it has poor texture or the pigments aren’t particularly good,” says Beasley. “Many years ago, when I was trying to build up more organic products in my kit, I was struggling to get really good pigments.” However, he says that in recent years this has improved: “I still think that organic make-up has a bit of a way to go to catch up, but the formulations are getting much better.”

“These types of products are expensive”

MYTH: “Sometimes these products are more expensive, but they’re not always,” says Barnes. “As accessibility develops and grows, you’re getting a different price point available to you all of the time. Keep checking accessibility,” she says. “There is the most amount of work to be done in this sector but, therefore, that’s where the innovation is happening. This is the area to watch as a direct result of that.”

“My whole kit needs to be organic or natural”

MYTH: It’s difficult to transition to a completely natural and organic kit, so build it up slowly. “As amake-up artist, what’s lacking in the organic world is eye shadows and colour with really good pigment, because usually they’re very chemical,” says Beasley. “That’s where you have to cut corners and get that balance for yourself.” If you’re making the switch, start with foundation. “The foundation is the most important one for me, because that’s going right next to the skin,” he says. “I think you can cut corners with powders and blushers, but when it comes to anything with a liquid format, that’s where it’s worth taking the time to find a good, organic product to invest in.”

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