The European Cosmetics Standards Working Group - a gathering of European certifiers of natural and organic cosmetics [1], which accounts for more than 1,000 certified companies, more than 11,000 certified products - recently launched an open public consultation on a would-be harmonised European standard.

The publication of this draft is the outcome of six years of discussions to achieve a set of rules covering all aspects of cosmetic production under either organic or natural certification in Europe. The consultation is open for two months. “With such an important development, we felt it was vital to open the standard up for wide public consultation. We will welcome responses from cosmetics manufacturers, certifiers, associations and consumers,” commented Francis Blake of the Soil Association.

Information can be found on The working group asks for comments to be sent to until 4th January 2009.

Details on how this new standard will supersede or cohabitate with national standards have not been disclosed entirely, but it seems that certifiers will still be able to develop their own standards provided that they comply with the principles of the harmonised text. The new standard might therefore be of little help to alleviate the barriers to trade created by organic or natural labels differing from one to another country.

In the meantime, a plethora of alternative natural and organic cosmetic standards have emerged in Europe and North America. With the support of leading international brands such as Weleda, Dr. Hauschka, or Logona, the NaTrue initiative is gaining ground in Europe and is actively lobbying the European institutions. Across the Atlantic, private initiatives like NSF, OASIS (Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards) are also interesting manufacturers that are looking for an alternative to the stringent USDA-NOP seal, which is much more adapted to food than to cosmetic products.

In order to help cosmetic manufacturers, formulators and ingredient companies to understand the differences between these standards and their practical implications, Organic Monitor has designed a so-called “Natural Cosmetics Masterclass”. The programme has been drafted to guide companies through the maze of natural & organic cosmetic standards, looking specifically at the technical, formulation and ingredient issues involved. The first session will be held in London, on December 4th, 2008.

But who will make the job to guide consumers?

So far, only David Bronner, a manufacturer of personal care products who pioneered the natural soap segment in the US, volunteered for the job. Backed by the US Organic Consumers Association, David Bronner recently proposed a five-star comparison and ranking of US and European natural and organic personal care standards. Considering that organic claims for cosmetics should be similar to those applicable to foodstuff, David Bronner logically concluded that the USDA seal was offering the strongest guarantees to consumers. David Bronner, is the founder of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and he has been involved in the Coming Clean Campaign, with the Organic Consumers Association, which includes both supporting public education and lawsuits against brands and certifying companies that — they allege — use misleading claims on their labels.

Unfortunately, while David Bronner’s stringent views may help clarifying the definition of organic cosmetics, they are rather detrimental to consumers’ choice as most of the “natural” or “organic” products currently available on the market cannot comply with these restrictive principles. Hopefully, being organic is not the only way to be green, as recently demonstrated by Kiehl’s Aloe Vera 100% Biodegradable Liquid Body Cleanser.