In recent years, consumers have become increasingly interested in purchasing sustainably sourced, ethically produced beauty and personal care products. For many, this shift in buying behaviour involves choosing products with organically farmed or natural ingredients in lieu of synthetic alternatives.
Other consumers look specifically for products that are free of specific chemicals they deem harmful, whether to the body, to the environment or both.
Consumers generally look to product labels for confirmation that the items they’re interested in buying are indeed organic or natural. Certification organizations help provide this information by auditing products according to specific predetermined criteria and conventional industry standards.
These audits take the whole supply chain into consideration, examining how a company sources its raw materials, whether it works with a reputable ingredient manufacturer and other partners, how it distributes finished products, and more.
Beauty enthusiasts may already have a passing familiarity with the terms Ecocert and COSMOS, which are likely to crop up frequently during discussions of organic and natural beauty and skincare. Many, however, might only be aware that they have something to do with product certification but not know the specifics.
This feature aims to help readers understand Ecocert and COSMOS in more detail and illustrates their applications in the beauty and personal care industries.
Challenges Surrounding Organic Packaging Claims
At present, the global cosmetics industry is largely self-regulated. The certifying bodies who define and implement standards for organic and natural products in different countries are charitable or privately owned organizations. In the USA specifically, the FDA acknowledges that it does not regulate the use of the term “organic” in cosmetics, which means that manufacturers are not penalized for falsely marketing products as such.
Given the rising demand for more eco-conscious beauty, it’s no surprise that many companies have been accused of “greenwashing”—that is, making false, misleading, or unsubstantiated statements about the sustainability of their products, services, and general business operations. To combat this, consumers around the world have begun calling persistently for increased transparency from beauty and personal care brands, along with standardized product certification.
That’s where Ecocert and COSMOS come in.
What Is Ecocert Greenlife?
While many organizations have proposed standards for organic products over the years, adoption of these has mostly occurred on a country-to-country basis. In Europe, one of the leading organizations in this field is known as Ecocert Greenlife. Established in France in 1991, Ecocert certifies and controls eco-friendly products across a wide variety of sectors, including cosmetics, perfumes, textiles, detergents, and food.
Ecocert introduced quality control services for organic and natural beauty products in 2002. In the years that followed, it worked with numerous other European organizations to develop an internationally recognized, globally applicable standard for these products in response to mounting demand from consumers.
Major organizations that collaborated with Ecocert on this initiative include Soil Association (UK), ICEA (Italy), BDIH (Germany), and COSMEBIO (France). This collective aimed to accomplish three major objectives, namely:
- Define common minimum requirements for beauty and personal care products to be classified as organic or natural
- Create a standardized set of rules for certification
- Build overseeing institutions for the beauty and personal care sectors
What Is COSMOS?
The global standard developed by Ecocert and its collaborators is now known as COSMOS, which is short for “cosmetic organic and natural standard.” In particular, COSMOS identifies the specific requirements for ingredient sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, and storage that companies must comply with in order to obtain certification for their products.
COSMOS-compliant products are typically labeled with one of two seals—either COSMOS Natural or COSMOS Organic—along with a seal from the certifying organization. Ecocert is one of 12 international organizations authorized to issue COSMOS certification.
Differentiating COSMOS Natural and COSMOS Organic
Whether a COSMOS-compliant product is labeled as Natural or Organic ultimately depends on the overall amount of organic ingredients it contains. An organic ingredient is defined as one that has been cultivated and harvested without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Products certified as COSMOS Organic must comply with the following criteria:
- At least 20 percent of ingredients in the product must be organic. Exceptions to this rule include rinse-off products, 80 percent mineral products, and non-emulsified, water-based products, which require at least 10 percent of organic ingredients.
- At least 95 percent of the physically processed agricultural ingredients in the product must be organic.
- The product label should list the percentage content of all ingredients derived from natural sources. This is not required for products labeled 100 percent natural or 100 percent organic.
On the other hand, products can be labeled COSMOS Natural if they comply with the following criteria:
- There is no minimum required percentage of organic ingredients for COSMOS Natural products.
- Raw materials should comply with COSMOS standards in all other respects.
- Product labels must list the percentage content of all ingredients derived from natural sources. This is not required if the product is completely composed of naturally derived ingredients.
Ultimately, COSMOS was conceived by Ecocert and its partners to both promote sustainable development and address consumers’ desire for more transparency from cosmetics brands. Widespread use of the COSMOS standard can pave the way for more beauty and personal care companies to embrace eco-friendly and ethical business practices.