Many natural & organic cosmetics fall short of marketing claims

Published: 2-Aug-2011

But new brands from large multinationals are doing well

New research finds few natural & organic cosmetic brands are living up to their marketing claims.

In what it says is the first study of its kind, Organic Monitor assessed over 50 international brands of natural cosmetic products and ranked them in terms of their naturalness.

The brand assessment study involved a chartered chemist examining the ingredient composition of cosmetic products and classifying formulations according to their ‘level of naturalness’. Certified organic cosmetics received the highest rating (9-10), pure natural cosmetics were rated 5-7, naturally inspired cosmetics 2 and conventional cosmetics 1.

A major finding is that the formulations of most natural brands are not meeting their marketing claims, says Organic Monitor. Many companies claiming to have ‘chemically-clean’ cosmetics actually contain ‘contentious’ synthetic ingredients. Many such brands are classified as semi-natural or naturally inspired, even though they claim to be ‘100% natural’.

Some organic cosmetic brands received surprisingly low naturalness ratings as while the products do contain certified organic ingredients, the formulations still have synthetic ingredients not common to natural and organic products.

Organic Monitor says the research highlights the importance of certification in creating a level playing field for formulators. Natural and organic standards have tight guidelines on permitted and prohibited ingredients and encourage green formulations, so brands with high levels of certified products received high naturalness scores.

Brands that received high naturalness scores include Intelligent Nutrients (9), Green People (8) and Living Nature (7). Intelligent Nutrients products got high naturalness ratings as they contain high levels of organic (food) ingredients, with almost all products certified organic.

New brands launched by large multinationals also scored high in terms of their natural and organic formulations, including Garnier Bio Active (L’Oréal), Diadermine Bio Expertise (Henkel) and Johnson’s Natural (Johnson & Johnson). So the natural and organic arena has clearly evolved from purely small niche brands.

“With so many brands marketing their cosmetic products on natural and organic claims, the study encourages companies to take the certification route,” says Organic Monitor. “Standards provide a clear list of approved ingredients and processes to formulators. Furthermore, certified products build consumer trust since symbols and logos – such as Ecocert, Soil Association, BDIH, NPA and NaTrue – clearly distinguish legitimate natural/organic products from falsely labelled ones.”

But while certification is encouraged, there is also some criticism of fair trade and new eco-labelling schemes for cosmetics.

“A growing number of fair trade organisations are allowing cosmetic products to be certified fair trade if they contain a minimum level of fair trade ingredients. Many consumers perceive these products as ‘pure natural’ since they are certified and often marketed on their fair trade (natural) ingredients,” continues Organic Monitor. “However, this Brand Assessment study found many certified fair trade cosmetics received low naturalness ratings because of high levels of synthetic substances.

Organic Monitor calls for tighter standards to avoid fair trade seals adding to existing consumer confusion about natural products.

The level of naturalness of brands also varies considerably between geographic regions. European brands, partly because of the high adoption rates of natural and organic standards, score highest. North American brands are the second most natural, whilst brands in other regions generally receive lower ratings. While a growing number of Asian and Latin American brands are emphasising their natural – and in many cases, indigenous – ingredients, the formulations are usually high in synthetic preservatives, emulsifiers and other ingredients.

Judi Beerling, head of technical research at Organic Monitor says: “Many Asian companies are not accustomed to using the new palette of green ingredients, preferring to use familiar synthetics in their formulations.”

Organic Monitor is dedicating a workshop and seminar programme to formulation issues associated with natural and organic cosmetics at its Sustainable Cosmetics Summit ( in Hong Kong, 7-8 November.

Key findings of this Brand Assessment study will also be presented at the summit. Asia Pacific brands participating will include Himalaya Herbals and Comvita.

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