When it comes to unveiling marketing tactics and deciphering truths in the alarmingly unregulated beauty industry, I often find myself asking none other than, world-renowned Cosmetic Chemist and Founder of Biologi, Ross MacDougald. ‘Natural,’ ‘organic,’ ‘naturally derived,’ ‘green,’ ‘dermatologist-approved’ – these are, more often than not, marketing terms to create hype in the world of ‘green beauty’ and chances are, used only for deceptive perception and not so much in their practices.
Today, we investigate the true nature of what it means to be ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ and how you as a consumer can identify whether a brand is speaking real talk about their ethos and products; or greenwashing at face value to leverage trends and deliver dishonest messaging for a quick buck.
What is the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ in skincare brands?
The definition of natural is “existing in nature only and not made or caused by humankind” while the definition of organic is “derived from living matter and produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides or other artificial chemicals. A world where ‘organic’ and’ natural’ claims have become the industry’s gold standard, brands are constantly trying to find ways to align their products to these standards (sometimes regardless of the truth behind these claims). An example of this is using the term ‘natural’ which typically refers to products using ingredients that are derived from plants, minerals or animal by-products. The unfortunate truth is, the term ‘natural’ is used fairly loosely and is largely unregulated in the skincare industry.
Brands often strategically choose words to use on labelling based purely on marketability, rather than the facts. As ‘natural’ is a term many people look for on their skincare labels, using the term is beneficial from a sales point of view. However having natural ingredients in a product doesn’t mean the product is all-natural (as brands don’t have to state how much of the product is natural, rather that there are some natural ingredients). Another example of this is the term ‘naturally derived’, which in essence refers to ingredients that are derived from nature. Still, the process means that it is then delivered in an unnatural form.
So what that means is it sounds natural, and most people would assume that it is, but it essentially implies that components once came from nature, but they have been altered in some way, usually delivering a synthetically laden form of the original ingredient. As an example, there is no natural source of emulsifiers, preservatives or synthetic vitamins. When you see a product that has ingredients described as ‘naturally derived’, think about the fact that it will contain synthetics which your skin and body will not like.
The term ‘organic’, on the other hand, typically refers to how an ingredient is farmed. For example, to make the ‘organic’ claim, it would need to be prepared and grown without pesticides, without chemicals and fertilisers. Again, there are little to no regulations overseeing the labelling of products as ‘organic’ and brands are constantly tapping into this with confusing or misleading claims.
The important thing to note is that a brand does not need to use 100% organic ingredients to have organic status, and the water content is not taken into account when these calculations are done. For example, a certified organic product may contain 80% water and 20% of other ingredients in which 15% is organic certified. The brand can claim organic status even though only 15% of the total amount of the product is certified. Using the word “organic” does not mean the product is organic or uses organic materials. Consumers need to look for certified organic and the organic certifier logo on the product.
What does it mean to be certified organic?
This is a little different to simply ‘organic’ because brands need to have their products certified to the local standard and will need to have met rigorous certification checks. The reason why many brands may not have yet received certification is because the process can be expensive and take a long time, with most of them requiring the brand to be around for 12 months before even applying.
Many brands claim their products are organic; however, to ensure this is absolutely true, the Certified Organic logo is a guarantee. In saying that though, there are many brands that do have products that are organic but haven’t been able to pay or go through the testing to receive the certification.
The same goes for the Vegan Certified logo – it’s a reliable stamp of approval that ensures the product you’re purchasing meets the high standards for vegans. But again, getting officially certified isn’t necessarily an easy process, brands must first apply, have their products reviewed, meet all the requirements and pay an annual license fee. It’s likely there are brands out there without official accreditation that are still vegan and may make those claims, however, if you’re unsure, contact the brand directly to ask about the ingredients and suppliers they use.
Which organizations would you deem trustworthy?
Most of the certifying and regulatory bodies are trustworthy, such as the TGA, Australian Certified Organic, COSMOS, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Consumer Affairs, EPA, and Medsafe. Then when it comes to brands themselves, trust those that are being transparent. I always advise you to do your own research into brands and the ingredients they use, and if you can’t find the information readily available, ask the brand directly. If they have nothing to hide, they will be open and honest with you.
How can a consumer recognise if a brand is greenwashed?
Unfortunately, the industry is rife with Greenwashing, where brands use marketing tactics to make unsubstantiated and misleading claims. These subtle (and not so subtle) marketing tactics have been around for years and are usually what determines the success of the product. However, consumers need to be savvy and read between the lines, delving a little deeper to ensure they understand what they are truly buying.
Brands are strategically choosing words on labelling based purely on marketability, and because the governing of this practice can be tricky, some brands are getting away with it. Terms like ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘naturally derived’, ‘green’ and ‘dermatologist-approved’ are all some claims that are seemingly everywhere on skincare labels but sit in a grey area of confusion and unsubstantiated claims. Consumers should always read the ingredient list on the packaging and make sure they understand what each ingredient is. Consumers are lucky because most will have Google at their fingertips so can do their own research on ingredients, or better yet, ask the brand directly.
Consumers should also try to be mindful of why they are buying a product because it can be very easy to get caught up in the ‘cool factor’. If you’re making your purchase because it is considered a ‘cult product’ or because a celebrity endorses it, then it doesn’t always mean it’s going to be right for your skin.
Beware of brands that distract you with fancy phrases like ‘dermatologically tested’ or ‘free from’ which can make you focus on what the product doesn’t contain, rather than what it does.
What are the organic ingredients that we need to avoid?
The important thing to know is that just because a product might be labelled as natural or organic, doesn’t mean that it is good for you! A good way to remember this is that Arsenic is a naturally occurring element; however, it can also kill you! Also, remember that many natural and organic ingredients used in skin care products can cause skin sensitivities that build up over time. A great example of this is essential oils. From the 300 or so essential oils currently on the market, over 95% of them contain one or more sensitisers. Over time and prolonged exposure to these compounds and oils you will become sensitised which may take the form of skin reddening, itchiness, pigmentation through to eczema, psoriasis and other major skin problems.
Organic skin-loving oils of avocado, rosehip and grapeseed are housed in Endota Organics Deep Hydrating Face Moisturiser, $69.99. Super clean and hydrating, it provides a dewy and luminous appearance by feeding the skin with vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids. Inflamed, sensitised and lipid-dry skin is nourished to heal the skin’s first barrier of defence.
Safe & Sound
Transparent, traceable, affordable and highly effective is the essence of Organic Riot. Our homegrown kiwi seed and avocado oils are blended with Chilean cold-pressed raspberry seed oil, licorice root and moringa extracts from the Himalaya foothills in Dazzle Anti-pigmentation Serum, $34.99. Rich in antioxidants, its highly potent ingredients prevent pigmentation and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. By processing organic and food-safe certified ingredients with clean extraction methods using water and steam, all of Organic Riot’s ingredients remain bio-active and traceable.
For those with acne-prone skin, Biologi Bd Face Luminosity Serum, $111, strengthens skin cells while stimulating enzyme exfoliation and providing antioxidant protection to reduce skin blemishes. Consisting of 100% active phytonutrients from Davidson plum, it channels the power of four phytonutrients. Gallic acid is a phenolic acid with astringent properties and reduces DNA damage while inhibiting melanogenesis and calming redness; tartaric acid is a natural fruit acid that modulates skin barrier function and clears blocked pores; anthocyanin is a flavonoid with antioxidant properties and promotes new cell growth; and last but not least, quercetin is also a flavonoid that reduces redness and acne.