Just because a product is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it is better or safer. Notably, organic doesn’t automatically mean sustainable.
The beauty industry is vast and ever evolving with new trends constantly coming and going. When it comes to skincare, over the past 10 years there has been an increase in ‘green cosmetics’. This term refers to products that are either ‘clean’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘free-from’, or ‘vegan’, and generally seems to be understood as ‘without the nasties’.
According to Statistica, in 2018, the sale of ethical cosmetics in the UK amounted to £832 million, with organic health and beauty products accounting for £86.5 million.
This trend in beauty echoes the changes in diet and lifestyle we’ve seen over the past few years, in the shift towards plant-based, organic, raw, vegan diets and clean eating. If we go by the thinking that organic produce is better for our diets, then organic skincare will be just as good for our skin.
What makes a product ‘organic’?
According to the Soil Association, a product can be defined as organic if it is comprised of ingredients that have been organically farmed and grown without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GM), herbicides, synthetic fertilisers, and pesticides. In skincare, it is impossible to make a formula that is 100% organic as not all ingredients can be farmed and therefore cannot be called organic. To be certified under the Soil Association COSMOS certification, a product must have at least 95% organic ingredients, ensure protection for vulnerable plants, and be cruelty and GM free.
Organic skincare is less likely to cause irritation, reducing redness and blemishes as it doesn’t contain the triggers found in conventional skincare – including synthetic dyes, parabens, artificial fragrances, and synthetic preservatives.
Certified organic skincare includes higher levels of antioxidants as May Lindstrom, a natural beauty expert explains “[j]ust like with food, organically grown ingredients often have higher nutrient levels and are missing chemical residues that can irritate or potentially cause long term harm in the body.”
As well as being better for our skin health, organic is also better for environmental health. To be certified under COSMOS guidelines, brands need to meet rigorous standards including transparent manufacturing processes and sustainable sourcing of their ingredients. Organic ingredients are also biodegradable and won’t pollute waterways unlike synthetic ingredients which don’t always decompose.
When brands are paying that much attention to what is in their product, then there is just as much care for what it is packaged in. The packaging will be minimal and recyclable where possible, which is needed more than ever as the global cosmetics industry currently produces 120 billion units of packaging ever year.
What are the problems?
There is still a lot of confusion and uncertainty around organic skincare. Unlike organic produce, there is very little regulation around organic skincare, particularly when it comes to labelling, which means a product can be marketed as ‘organic’ even if only 1% of the ingredients are organic. By claiming to be organic, brands are ‘greenwashing’ by falsely promising environmentally friendly formulas.
Just because a product is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it is better or safer. Notably, organic doesn’t automatically mean sustainable. The demand for certain ingredients and for farms to go organic faster has a detrimental impact on the area and the lives of those working to grow them. When a trend appears, brands are quick to join in, without full consideration for the long-term impact.
The trend for organic beauty stems from this fear that our regular beauty products are dangerous. There is a growing chemophobia as we have become wary of the long chemical names on our skincare bottles. Sure enough, there are ingredients we should be wary of, such as parabens and sulphates, but it is worth remembering that anything in excess is dangerous.
There is no need to throw away all your skincare and start again. Instead, the best approach is to just pay attention to the ingredients, check out Soil Association for brands that are certified, and use what works for you. Like our diets, different things work for different people and this is the best approach to skincare. There is nothing to be lost in trying organic but don’t lose sleep over whether your beauty cabinet is green enough.
Give organic a go
On the Soil Association website, you can find all skincare brands that have been certified. Some of my loved and trusted include: