There is currently no European Union (EU) legislation relating to the certification of organic ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products, as existing EU standards only relate to products that are from an organic production system and intended for human consumption.
But products are being developed and launched. Jenny Catlin from market analysts Mintel said that last year alone, according to their new products database, 257 cosmetics and skincare products were launched worldwide containing organic ingredients.
Out of a total of 6,200 new cosmetics and skincare products, this represented just over 4 per cent. At least some of these products are likely to have been certified by the internationally recognised national certification bodies, such as France's Ecocert and the UK's Soil Association.
These organisations have devised standards of their own, in line with those that legally apply for food products for which they offer formal, nationally authorised and internationally recognised certification.
The UK's Soil Association
In the absence of any European legislation, on 1 May 2002, the Soil Association launched its own, voluntary, standards, to satisfy the growing interest from companies in organic beauty products.
The standards were developed over three years by representatives from health and beauty companies, consumer organisations, herbalists, farmers, growers, and the Soil Association. The organisation said the standards will continue to evolve as increased research and expertise in the field becomes available.
The Soil Association believed that its symbol, already recognised as authoritative where food products were concerned, would assure consumers that products had been independently audited for organic authenticity.
The requirements were, and are, that products should be minimally processed and GM ingredients are not permitted. Ingredients and processes that are toxic or have detrimental effects on the environment - such as being non-biodegradable - are to be avoided.
The Soil Association's senior certification officer Maarten van Perlo told CosmeticsDesign.com that while there was clearly growing consumer demand, "the biggest hurdle for retailers in meeting consumer demand is the lack of organic products. This, in turn, is hampered by limited supplies of organic raw materials and ingredients."
"If organic products were available as raw materials and ingredients, it would make a big difference," von Perlo said. "For example, glyceryl esters of fatty acids, such as glyceryl mono stearate are widely used in the industry, but they aren't produced organically, or if they are, the manufacturers don't supply them in appropriate quantities."
"Or sometimes it is possible to source an organic raw material, but it is then made into an ingredient product by petrochemical or synthetic processes," he added.
Progress is being made, however. Since May 2002, around 50 manufacturers have received Soil Association certification. In terms of products, this means that there are now several hundred products on the market (including essential oils and other ingredients) that are certified by the Soil Association as organic.
And this is set to grow because, as von Perlo pointed out: "Clearly there is a lot of concern about chemicals in beauty products, but the interest, the push, is coming from the public, from the consumers."
So although so far the list of products is quite limited, there are more in the pipeline. "We are expecting a 10-20 per cent increase this year," said von Perlo.
As to how and when those manufacturers would achieve certification, he said that the certification process "takes three months on average, but it depends on the information provided."
Applicants for certification purchase an application pack at a cost of UK£30 (€45). They submit their application together with product specifications and supporting material. They are then sent an invoice for the certification fee.
The overall fee varies and is dependent upon the total business turnover. For example, a company with a turnover of less than half a million pounds (sterling), would pay UK£440 (€670).
A company with a turnover more than that amount but less than UK£2 million (€3 m) would pay UK£650 (€990), with fees increasing on a sliding scale and including one inspection visit per year.
The process of certification does not involve chemical or material tests on products or ingredients, unless there are concerns. It is usually more akin to an audit trail. After the certification is received, an inspection date is arranged. The inspector(s) carry out an inspection and prepare a report, after which a compliance form is sent out.
Von Perlo explained: "The inspectors check and verify all paperwork, including delivery notes and invoices, which have to state that the supplies or products referred to are 'organic'. They have to have trace-ability to the source, and if the inspectors cannot verify it, they won't allow it."
In addition, any ingredients or products relating to the organic certification process have to be stored separately, to avoid inadvertent contamination.
As the Soil Association said: "Our aim is to ensure that through annual inspection and certification to these standards the organic purity and quality of your products is independently verified and certified. This is from the preparation and harvesting of the raw materials right throughout the environmentally responsible manufacturing chain."
Products containing at least 95 per cent organic ingredients can be labelled organic; products with no less than 70 per cent organic ingredients may be labelled "made with xx per cent organic ingredients".
A number of ingredients and processes are prohibited under the standards such as:
· Hydrogenated fat - this process of hardening fat is not allowed under organic food standards and is unnecessary in organic beauty products. Alternatives such as palm oil, which are naturally solid, are permitted.
· Ingredients of petro-chemical origin.
· The surfactants sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate - due to consumer concerns over their safety and the possibility of the manufacturing process producing toxins.
Any animal products used must be from animals that have been bred under organic standards. Testing of ingredients and products on animals is prohibited, unless required by law.
An article containing an interview with French organic certification organisation Ecocert's Valérie Lemaire is to follow soon in CosmeticsDesign.com.