Symbol savvy: organic certification explained

We all love a little natural pampering and keeping our skin in tiptop condition. But, did you know that any beauty product that says it is natural or organic doesn’t have to be? Within the UK, there is currently no existing government legislation or definition that states what natural and organic beauty is. So: time for a New Year and a New You. If you want to be your own organic beauty this year, then why not become symbol savvy so you can make an informed choice? Jen Marsden writes.

Photo credit: Sydigill

We are what we put on our skin and without certification, beauty brands can dupe us into thinking that products that have potentially harmful chemicals within them are in fact natural, animal and eco friendly.

The cosmetics industry has been known to be naughty telling us an ingredient is safe, only to remove it later when it realises that it has adverse health effects. That happened with certain phthalates - a group of chemicals used as solvents or fixatives in our nail polish and perfumes - recently. And, as our products eventually wash back into the land, organic and natural certification of beauty products not only protects us, but also the environment.

Ingredient lists on beauty products are confusing and tricky to comprehend with their Latin lingo: "parfum" could be a cocktail of over 100 chemicals. Existing bona-fide standards that certify our products do the hard work for us and act as a guarantee. Standards check that the product ingredients are what the brand says it is through regular audits and inspections, ensuring transparency from the raw materials that have been farmed and processed right through to the finished product.

Certain considered permitted synthetic (manmade) ingredients are accepted in certification, to ensure that products are safe for use, but that is as long as they biodegrade quickly. However, petrochemical ingredients that make up the most of mainstream beauty products are never usually accepted in organic and natural certification as these are not environmentally considerate or beneficial to our skin. The more stringent standards support localisation too, ensuring fair practice within communities and preservation of local skill and expertise.

Look out for these logos below to ensure you buy a truly organic or natural beauty product. And beware of copycat logos!

Soil Association is one of the most stringent organic standards within the whole world. UK based, it focuses on the management of the soil that grows many of the ingredients within its certified beauty products, ensuring natural quality, best practice, and protection of the environment and wildlife. Brands which certify to this standard and are available at include Bentley Organics, Natracare, Balm Balm and Neal's Yard Remedies. See all Soil Association certified products.


Biodynamic / Demeter is an organic standard association based on biodynamic agriculture systems founded by Rudolph Steiner. It focuses on natural rather than synthetic fertilisers, and crops are produced holistically with the help of traditional knowledge, time and astrological consideration. Weleda is one example brand that is certified by the Demeter symbol. See them all.


Ecocert is an increasingly popular organic agriculture certifying organisation throughout 80 countries. France-based, it manages the auditing and regulation of ingredients to its standards. Evolve Beauty, Melvita and Green People are examples of Ecocert accredited brands.


USDA Organic is an American based and one of few actual government standards from the United States Department of Agriculture. It covers organic certification within cosmetics ingredients. Yes to Carrots is certified to USDA Organic standard. See the others.


ACO stands for the Australian Certified Organic and is recognised by the Bud logo and accredits organic operations, appearing on around 70% of all certified organic products in Australia, including exported products.


BDIH is a label from Germany from the Association of German Industries and Trading Firms who guarantee natural cosmetics standards. See all BDIH compliant products.


Cosmebio is a French based not-for-profit association that represents natural and organic skin care manufacturers.


While animal testing and cruelty has been banned in the UK and Europe since 1998, there are still an estimated 180 million animals that are used in experiments every year around the world. The following symbols protect the rights of animals and ensure that no animal derivatives are used within beauty products, whether they are organic, natural or not. Some brands may use both an animal and organic/natural standard as extra guarantee.

The BUAV is a UK based pro-animal rights organisation and the bunny logo is an international independent symbol for cruelty free products. Avalon Organics, Burt’s Bees and Jason Natural Cosmetics are example brands that wear the bunny logo. See them all.


The Vegan Society is a UK based membership organisation that allows brands that have vegan products and are cruelty free to carry its logo. Incognito is one brand example that is registered by the Vegan Society. See the others.


The Vegetarian Society is another UK based membership organisation that allows vegetarian approved products to carry its logo, including on beauty products. The male grooming brand Bulldog is Vegetarian Society approved.