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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Organic skin care - what you need to know

Walking into the skin care aisle at a department store or cosmetics shop can be a mind-boggling experience. Everywhere you look, you see products alleging to be a magic cure for skin problems or the next wonder elixir. Claims range from "all natural" to "green" to "clean" to "organic" etc. Who knew buying a face cream could be so overwhelming?

Because our skin is exposed to different creams, lotions and potions on a daily basis - it is important that those products do not contain potentially dangerous substances. With a myriad of ingredients listed on labels (many of which most of us can't even pronounce) it is hard to tell what exactly we are looking at.

All the ingredients used in cosmetic products meet certain regulatory requirements. However, the use of many substances is allowed within certain limits, due to their toxicity at higher concentrations. Synthetic compounds such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben are toxic chemicals known to cause allergic reactions, acne, blemishes, rashes, and other skin-related problems. Added "fragrance" or "perfume" could be a mix of any number of more than 3,000 ingredients, with health effects ranging from endocrine disruption to allergic reactions.

Another important aspect to be considered is the possibility of long-term effects. Some substances may induce several acute adverse side-effects, i.e. contact dermatitis and allergic reactions. The everyday use of a wide range of personal care products and with it different kinds of chemicals may cause the so-called “cocktail effect” due to the synergistic interaction of different substances and the “additive effect” because of the presence of the same ingredient in many products.

The increasing prevalence of skin issues caused by synthetic ingredients in beauty products is one of the reasons many people look for organic products.

A recent market analysis report stated that the global organic skin care market size was valued at USD 9.83 billion in 2021 and that it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 8.9% from 2022 to 2030. Growing consumer inclination toward chemical-free beauty products is expected to drive the demand for organic skin care products over the forecast period. Organic products are considered to be more effective and have fewer side effects, which, in turn, is expected to increase their application among consumers.

Is organic skin care the same as “natural,” “green,” or “clean” skin care?

No — these terms mean different things.

“Natural” may mean that some or all of the ingredients in a product come from plants or animals. This is not the same thing as “organic.” Natural ingredients can come from organic or nonorganic farms. Natural also does not necessarily mean all the ingredients are safe or environmentally friendly. For example, some manufacturers source squalane, which is a hydrating substance, from sharks. This contributes to shark hunting.

“Green” is a term companies use to convey that their products are not harmful to the environment. Again, though, this is subjective. A company may use this to refer to their ingredients, their packaging, their business practices, or a combination. It does not guarantee that the product is truly harmless.

“Clean” has a looser definition still. This describes products that contain safe, nontoxic ingredients. Clean beauty products would generally not contain ingredients that may be harmful such as parabens and fragrance.

While companies have to meet certain standards before they can use “organic” on their products, any company can use these other terms, regardless of the ingredients they use.

What is organic skin care:

Organic skin care refers to products that include organically-farmed ingredients. The standards of organic farming vary globally.

Organic farms do not use laboratory-made substances, such as:

  • chemical fertilizers

  • chemical pesticides

  • antibiotics

  • hormones

  • parabens

  • sulphates

  • GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Instead, organic farms keep their produce healthy using natural substances. The idea behind this is that organic farming is less harmful to the environment and our health.

When can you call a skin care product organic?

For a skin care product to be organic, it must consist of organically farmed and processed plant-derived ingredients, such as:

  • plant extracts

  • plant oils or butters

  • essential oils

In the USA:

The exact percentage of organic ingredients in a product with “organic” on the label can vary depending on local laws. The use of the term “organic” is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but states set their own thresholds for the proportion of organic ingredients they need to contain.

If a product has a USDA organic seal, it contains at least 95% organic ingredients.

In the EU:

There are two levels of certifications - natural and organic. To meet the definition of a natural cosmetic product, the formulation has to comply with the minimum levels of natural substances and the maximum levels of derived natural raw materials. 

Organic cosmetic has to comply with the criteria for natural cosmetics as well as with the additional requirement that at least 95 % of the natural substances of plant and animal origin and derived natural substances contained in the product come from controlled organic farming and /or wild collection. 

For products that are less than 95% organic, it is allowed to make reference to the organic ingredients on the label and in promotional literature, such as “Shampoo with organic jojoba oil”.

In Australia/NZ:

ACO certifies organic cosmetics under the Australian National Standard, National Organic Program (USDA), and COSMOS standards.

As for the ACO certification: The amount of non organic ingredient(s) will affect the type of organic claim :

  • 100% certified organic content, label can state “100% organic” + bud logo

  • 95%-100% certified organic content, label can state “certified organic” + bud logo

  • 70%-95% certified organic content, label can state “made with certified organic ingredients”, cannot use bud logo but must indicate certification number

  • <70 % certified organic content cannot make any certification claims, can only list ingredients as ‘organic’, cannot include certification number or bud logo


Organic skin care products - just like organic food & beverages are less harmful to the environment and to our health, so for me personally it's a no-brainer to use organic products.

However, be aware of the tricks companies use to make you think their products are better than they actually are. Even if you buy a certified organic product, it might only be 95 % organic - which still leaves 5 % unaccounted for. So be sure to read the ingredients list and if you don't know what a certain ingredient is, google it!



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