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The truth about natural, organic and fairtrade product claims

Marketing claims for natural and organic cosmetic products do not always live up to expectations, a fact that has been underlined by formulation consultant Judi Beerling at yesterday’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit.

In a presentation, entitled ‘Marketing Claims: Natural & Organic Cosmetics Brand Assessment', Beerling took a look at the some of the leading products on the European market to assess formulation content against companies’ claims.

The aim of the presentation was to discover how the amount of synthetic ingredients used in formulations compares with the amount of natural, organic and fairtrade ingredients, contrasting this with the positioning on the market.

Focusing in on synthetic ingredients, in contrast to claims

In particular, the presentation looked at the amount of synthetic ingredients that are largely prohibited by natural and organic certification bodies, including parabens and a range of preservatives, especially formaldehyde donor preservatives.

Beerling chose to highlight products from six different brands – L’Occitane, Naked, Boots, Weleda, Johnson & Johnson, Boots and Weleda – all with quite different positioning and marketing claims.

Each of the products were given a score from 1 to 10 – 1 being almost totally synthetic and 10 being the highest content of certified natural ingredients - to assess to what degree the company’s claims were contrasted by the formulation content. Some of the results were eye-opening.

L'Occitane shows big contrast between standard and organic ranges

The first case study was Occitane’s Standard Range Hand Cream, which, although containing natural ingredients such as beeswax, coconut and lavender oil, also contained a high percentage of synthetics such as tetrasodium EDTA and propylene glycol. Beerling awarded this product a score of 2.

In contrast, Occitane’s organic range Lavender Harvest Hand Cream was also assessed. Certified by Ecocert, the formulation was found to have a 99.69 per cent natural content, while 29.57 per cent of the formulation was found to be organic, giving it a score of 8.5.

The Naked brand Jojoba Gentle Exfoliating Face Wash is marketed with a 97 per cent natural content claim. However, Beerling stated that ingredients listed on the label such as bisabolol EDTA, acrylates copolymer and magnesium nitrate were contrary to this claim, giving the product a score of just 2.

Beerling did point out that this product was originally sold online but is currently not listed, which may fall in line with the company’s current move to reformulate some of its products, something that is also a marked trend throughout the category.

Johnson & Johnson stumbles on inclusion of unacceptable synthetics

Falling in line with moves by the big players to get in on the naturals act, J&J has also launched a naturals baby range. In line with this, Beerling chose to assess the formulation of Johnson’s Natural Head-To-Toe Foaming Baby Wash.

Although the formulation was found to have a number of natural ingredients, Beerling felt that the use of cetylhdroxyethyl cellulose and sodium coco sulphate were not acceptable ingredients for a product targeting this category, which bought the score down to 5.

Boots Extracts Fairtrade Brazil Nut Body Butter was found to have one of the highest synthetic contents of all the products that were assessed. Marketed on the strength of its one organic fairtrade ingredient – brazil nut oil – it also had a long list of synthetics that included dimethicone and dipropylene, giving it a ‘range score max of 2 in our assessment’.

On the other hand, one of the best rated products was Weleda’s Moisture Cream For Men, which is NaTrue/BDIHcertified to have a minimum 70 per cent of naturally derived organic ingredients, giving it a score of 8.

No regulation of natural term, but awareness is driving change

Drawing attention to the wide disparity in marketing claims and actual formulation content, Beerling underlined the fact that there is still no regulation of the natural term for cosmetic and personal care products.

“However, the tide is beginning to turn as accepted industry norms are emerging, consumers are increasingly questioning ingredients and there is growing recognition and trust of certification logos,” said Beerling.

“Likewise, there is also an increasing trend towards reformulation of products to get closer to the standards, which also suggests that industry is doing its part, too.”


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