Natural beauty?

Botanical, natural and organic can all be rather loose terms on a bottle of face cream or a tube of lippy.

Botanical, natural and organic can all be rather loose terms on a bottle of face cream or a tube of lippy

When it comes to the beauty aisle and what’s promised on the labels, you can’t trust everything you read. Leaving aside the fantastical claims about how the product will transform our skin, it also pays to be a bit sceptical about what they say is in the stuff – especially regarding the contents being organic or natural.

Neither word is regulated in New Zealand cosmetics, meaning manufacturers can slap the label on makeup and skincare regardless of the actual amount of natural or organic ingredients. Even the most eco-savvy among us are likely to find some products on our bathroom shelf claiming to be one or the other – but failing to meet basic standards on closer scrutiny.

“The consumer is extremely confused,” says Miranda Bond, founder of Inika cosmetics. “You have so many brands claiming they have natural or organic ingredients, and regulation and legislation are very, very slow to catch up with companies who are making false claims.”

It’s exactly this sort of dilemma that makes independent organic and natural certification schemes so darn handy. Not that creating a truly organic skincare product is an easy thing to do. Michael Smith, organics technical manager at AsureQuality, calls organic cosmetics “almost an oxymoron”. The industry definition of organic only allows for agricultural ingredients, and cosmetics generally require several components, such as emulsifiers, preservatives and colours, that can’t be grown agriculturally.

“Organics makes a lot of sense in food, but it’s a bit of a misnomer when it comes to skincare and beauty products,” says Living Nature’s executive director John O’Toole. “Ingredients with lots of different sources, like clays and minerals, are used in cosmetics, and organics just can’t encompass that.”

It’s complexity such as this that leads many brands to opt for a ‘natural’ certification, rather than an ‘organic’ one. That said, while ‘certified organic’ is strictly defined, to the point of excluding ingredients that would otherwise be considered safe, natural and ethical, ‘certified natural’ can be defined ever more broadly.

Major certifications to look out for:


AsureQuality is New Zealand’s government-owned body for organic certification, though it’s designed to deal with food rather than the peculiarities of skincare. It has three levels of certification:

Non-organic ingredients must meet quality criteria, including prohibitions on GMOs, parabens, phenoxyethanol and petrochemicals. AsureQuality also demands that a brand’s entire supply chain is audited annually, and it must treat its employees fairly. Read more here.

Australian Certified Organic

ACO is a non-profit whose organic certifier credentials are backed by the Aussie government’s Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). It is similar to AsureQuality but with slightly different certification levels. The 95 percent and 70-95 percent certifications are the same as AsureQuality, while the third level allows mineral-based products that don’t meet the organic percentage standard but otherwise meet non-toxic criteria. These earn a ‘BFA Registered Approved Product’ label. Read more here.


A branch of the German Association of Industries and Trading Firms, BDIH’s guidelines prohibit animal products, animal testing, synthetic fragrances, silicones, petroleum products and genetic engineering. It allows the use of minerals, nature-identical preservatives such as salicylic acid, and encourages social and environmental responsibility. Read more here.

Organic Food Chain

Another Australian certifier, OFC awards labels at the same three levels as AsureQuality. It requires certified products “be primarily composed of certified organic raw materials; be minimally processed to preserve the natural properties and not include harm to animals”. Read more here.


European non-profit Natrue certifies products based on three kinds of ingredients: natural, derived natural and certified organic. Only ‘nature-identical’ preservatives are allowed. ‘Derived natural’ ingredients are those extracted from natural substances using safe practices, while minerals cannot be counted as organic, but can be counted as natural. Natrue has three levels of certification:

Read more here.

  • 100 percent organic – every single ingredient must be organic
  • Certified organic – 95 percent of ingredients are organic, and there is no organic alternative available for the remaining five percent of ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients – 70-95 percent of ingredients are organic and it’s clear what proportion is not.
    • Natural cosmetics – the amount of natural versus natural-derived ingredients allowed varies by the type of product
    • Natural with organic portion – 70 percent must be certified organic to US Department of Agriculture or European Union standards
    • Organic cosmetics – 95 percent of ingredients must be certified organic
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