With the help of a chartered chemist, Organic Monitor assessed the composition of over 50 international brands of natural cosmetic products. The market research firm then ranked the brands in terms of their “naturalness”.
The study found that, apart from certified products, the formulations of most brands are not meeting marketing claims. Organic Monitor says that many companies claiming to have ‘chemically-clean’ cosmetics actually are falling foul of having contentious synthetic ingredients, even when they contain some certified organic substances.
Importance of certification
For consumers, certification is the most reliable means to estimate the credibility of natural and organic claims made by cosmetic brands the research highlights. Brands with high levels of certified products received the highest naturalness scores. Indeed, standards - such as Ecocert, Cosmébio, Soil Association, BDIH, NPA and NaTrue - provide clear definitions of what they consider as natural or organic cosmetics, as well as lists of ingredients and processes they approve.
The research also points out that naturalness and certification are no longer a specificity of small niche brands. Epitomising the evolution of the market, certified mass products launched by large multinationals also scored high in terms of their natural and organic formulations: Garnier Bio Active (L’Oréal), Diadermine Bio Expertise (Henkel) and Johnson’s Natural (Johnson & Johnson).
Fair Trade schemes questioned
In contrast, the research questions fair trade certification as possibly confusing. Actually, most fair trade cosmetics assessed by Organic Monitor received low naturalness ratings because of high level of synthetic substances. Indeed, most fair trade standards only focus on fair trade ingredients and do not address formulation issues, with no list of approved or prohibited synthetic ingredients. According to Organic Monitor fair trade seals can be deceptive when brands focus their claims on their fair trade natural ingredients.
Asian and Latin American brands lag behind
Organic Monitor also found important variations between geographic regions, partly correlated with the adoption rates of natural and organic standards. European brands achieved the highest scores, North American brands ranked second while brands in other regions generally receive lower ratings. “Although 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,” said the firm in a release.
According to Organic Monitor, Latin American and Asian brands are lacking of experience with green ingredients. “Many Asian companies are not accustomed to using the new palette of green ingredients, preferring to use familiar synthetics in their formulations,” commented Judi Beerling, head of Technical Research.
To address the formulation issues associated with natural and organic cosmetics, Organic Monitor is dedicating a workshop and seminar programme to this subject at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, taking place in Hong Kong on 7-8th November, 2011.