Article by: Perry Romanowski

Listen to a podcast about cosmetic organic standards

If you work as a cosmetic formulator for any amount of time you will likely be asked by a marketer or customer to develop a “natural or “organic cosmetic formulation. It would be nice if you could just go look up a list of ingredients that fall under these categories but unfortunately, you can’t. The reason is that the terms natural and organic have no definition under the FD&C Act which is the law that defines how cosmetics are regulated. Similarly, the EU has no definition for “natural or “organic cosmetics either.

Since there isn’t a standard various groups have come out with their own guidelines for what they think these words should mean when applied to cosmetics. If you are trying to formulate a natural or organic cosmetic, any of the following standards could be adopted.

US Laws – USDA National Organic Program (NOP)

In the United States, there is already a government regulation for organically grown food. This standard has been set by the USDA National Organic Program. These represent the toughest of all standards and it isn’t surprising most cosmetic companies aren’t able to meet them. To get certified you can only use surfactants derived from organic sources (no petrochemicals) and you can’t have any ingredients that are processed via hydrogenation or sulfation. Additionally, no synthetic preservatives are allowed.

After you get certified, you can make claims like “100 percent organic” or “Organic” and you may put the USDA Organic Seal on your products. You can get lesser certifications with 95% or 70% organic materials, however, these do not get to use the organic seal.  There are some legal implications when using the word “organic” for any agriculturally derived ingredient (like oils, sugar, beeswax, etc).

A tough standard which typically leads to inferior functioning products

California Organic Products Act of 2003

This Act regulates the use of organic claims on cosmetics in the State of California only. In order to make either an “Organic” or a “Made with Organic” claim in Calif. you must have a minimum of 70% organic content calculated as described in the Act. You must also register with the California Department of Health Organic Program if you are a California based business.

Private Certification

NSF Organic Certification

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that created standards for products that can be labeled organic. The standards are a bit easier for cosmetic companies to meet while still creating a useable cosmetic product. For example, they allow many ingredients that are banned in the USDA’s standards including some synthetic preservatives and biodegradable surfactants. You’re still not allowed to use petrochemicals however. This organization is attempting to set world-wide standards. NSF is an ANSI Standard that only pertains to the US and is predicated on US law.

QAI Int’l, a for profit certification company, offers certification to the NSF 305 and they are owned by NSF. The standard is available at the NSF web site for purchase. This standard is open to amendment and is rather costly to get certified to.

Soil Association (UK)

The Soil Association is a UK based organization that requires 95% organic material to make an “organic claim. If you wanted to make a “made with organics claim, you only need 70% organic materials. The standards are even easier than the NSF as they allow synthetic preservatives and some petroleum based ingredients. But they do prohibit sulfation and hydrogenation of ingredients.

BDIH (EU, Germany)

The BDIH is a group out of Germany who endeavors to set standards for cosmetics throughout the EU.
Their standards are on the same level as the Soil Association however, they are a bit tougher on preservatives because they limit most synthetic ones. They also don’t allow petrochemicals. However, they also do not restrict the processes of hydrogenation and sulfation.


Ecocert is a set of organic standards established by a French company which was originally designed to apply to organic farming but has been also adopted by some in the cosmetic industry. Their standards are fairly easy to meet for most cosmetic companies which is why they are so popular with many cosmetic ingredient makers. Go here for a listing of their organic cosmetic standards.


Cosmebio is a French association who’s members are committed to using natural and organic cosmetics and have been certified by an independent control organization. Interestingly, they keep a list of specific product brands that have been certified by the group. They are members of Cosmos and primarily use the EcoCert Org. Cosmetic which was took into account both French cosmetic laws and EU Cosmetic Directives.


The Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute (ICEA) is an organization out of Italy that provides certification of organic products. Their requirements for being an environmentally friendly brand can be found here.


This is a set of standards by a company out of Belgium. The Ecogarantie applies to products that are environmentally-friendly and meet their requirements of quality and sustainability. They focus primarily on using natural ingredients. No synthetics allowed.


Once most of these groups started coming up with their own standards, someone sat back and thought it might be a good idea to get everyone on the same page. So the various groups (BDIH, Ecocert, Soil Association, Cosmebio, Ecogarantie and ICEA) got together and set up Cosmos. In January or 2010 they issued their Cosmetic organic and natural standards. Not all of them have made the change to the common standard but they have each committed to do so.

Natural Products Association

Not to miss out on the natural standards setting business, the Natural Products Association created their own standards. They give guidelines on natural ingredients, safety, social responsibility, and sustainability. To this end they offer raw material suppliers the ability to certify their raw materials and they keep a list of certified raw materials. This could be helpful to cosmetic chemists.


NaTrue is attempting to set the International standard on natural and organic products. This group is based out of Brussels and is focusing on creating a natural standard for consumers of cosmetic products. They focus on only allowing plant-based ingredients.

Whole Foods Premium Standard

Whole Foods (an all-natural grocery store chain in the US) has created a Premium Body Care Quality Standard for personal care products. The purpose of the standard is to identify natural products sold in their stores. This is a tough and somewhat arbitrary standard but here is a list of the Acceptable and Unacceptable ingredients. Of course, if you can’t qualify for their Premium Body Care Quality, they still allow you to sell in their store.


OASIS is an association set up in the United States who came up with their own standards. You can see them here and decide whether you can meet them or not. This seems to be a work in progress.

QAI/NSF NSF/ANSI Standard 305

NSF is a non-governmental, not for profit company who aims to create standards for all kinds of things in the world. They have come up with their organic standards for cosmetics. They don’t really publicize exactly how to get certified so you’ll have to check with them (probably after paying them some money).

Cosmetic Chemist and organic certification

There you have it, all the natural and organic standards that we could find. Which one should you use? Excellent question. At the moment no one has come out as the clear leader in this standards-setting business. Your best bet if you want to be certified, is to pick a set of standards that your company can live by and use them. Just be sure that you can still produce functional cosmetic products! With some of these standards you can’t.

Do you know any certification programs that we missed? Leave a comment below.



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  2. Avatar

    Any regulatory help for India? Can’t find any good information anywhere.

  3. Avatar

    what about the Greener Life Diamond through Essential Depot in FL ???

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I had never heard of them. Thanks for letting me know.

  4. Avatar
    Doug Erick

    I looked at the Whole Foods link… very disheartened. They just used the USDA NOP program which pertains to food, not cosmetics. Legally it is all they probably could do. Foods can get away without adding a preservative by freezing or canning. Those products are made to be completely used at the first opening. It would be criminal for a cosmetic formulator to send out a formula with out some way of controlling bacteria. Putting an opened bottle of shampoo or body wash on a shower ledge while showering is asking for contamination. And not to expect it to be done is … well as a manufacture I hope you have a good insurance policy. I am currently assisting a company with organic plant certification. The restrains on products claiming to be organic makes perfect sense for food, but leaves me questioning how it could ever pertain to cleaners and cosmetics.

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    I want my product to be certified as natural by Ecocert ,BDIH or ICEA. But as per their standards, product should contain at least 95% components from natural origin. In my product I am having 85% water and rest 14% is emulsion base and actives. So how should I formulate to get it certified as natural.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Those certification groups do not consider water to be part of the formula. I would suggest you go through of natural formulation course for more ideas.

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    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Thanks for the addition!

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        Perry, could we have your opinion on their cosmetic standards?This certification body has a reputation for being an uncompromising advocate of organic food and cosmetics. Everybody in France says they have the strictest standards, but they are very little known outside France. Maybe because their standards are nearly impossible to meet, or maybe just because they don’t even bother to translate their website into English 🙂

        Here is the link to their cosmetic standards:

        1. Avatar
          Perry Romanowski

          Unfortunately, the document is in French and I can’t read it so can’t comment.

          In general, if a standard is not recognized by people around the world it has very little hope of catching on around the world. Maybe this might be compelling to French consumers but that is a relatively small cosmetic market.

          1. Avatar

            Hi everyone !
            Indeed the website of Nature & Progrí¨s is not translated and it is a shame !
            We chose this label for our cosmetic brand for mums-to-be because it really is the strictest existing organic label nowadays and a guarantee of safety for our customers.
            What we also like is the fair and sustainable development side, which we do not find with other label.

            Maybe France is a relatively small market, but Nature & Progrí¨s begins to be present in Europe and its values deserve to be better known 🙂

            Here you will find a small text in English about the label :

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            I can’t agree with Perry and Omum on the size of the French organic cosmetic market. It is the world’s third largest (behind the US and Germany). And if you count only certified natural and organic cosmetics then it is very close to the size of the American one (roughly 35% smaller).

          3. Avatar
            Perry Romanowski

            Well, it still is not large enough world wide to have an impact on the Natural Standards of products around the world. At least not yet.

          1. Avatar
            Perry Romanowski

            Thanks for the update!

      1. Avatar

        it doesnt work any more, does it?

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    Hello Perry,

    I am particularly interested in developing an affordable, natural based line with non carcinogenic ingredients and skin-benefiting properties. (obviously there is much more to my idea than just that). Can you please give me an idea on which direction to start? thank you! x


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    HI perry , how are you i think you remember me this is sameena shaik here i ask many times to you can you help me please how can make a face cream and which use raw & material and give the continuity and which base use the solid face cream just like the fair&lovely oik i am waiting your replay oik bye TAKE CARE

    1. Avatar

      Hello Sameena

      I’m not sure I understand your question as it is too broad. To copy a face cream, please read the free download “How to Knock off Any Cosmetic Formula” and follow the steps there. Hope that helps.

      Perry, 44

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    Hello Cris,

    I don’t know enough about the IOS standards to have an opinion. A quick look shows that they are probably a fine enough standard to follow. They don’t seem to have been adopted by too many companies. It’s really arbitrary what standard you use so I’d be inclined to follow the one that has the most other companies that follow it.

    Perry, 44

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    I’m really interested to know more listed certified organization or gov’t authority giving a Lab test result or some certification to companies to prove that thier cosmetic brands fall unto natural organic ingredients. What can you say about the IOS 2008- Cosmetic Intl. Organic Standard are they credible enough to prove that the cosmetic brandis natural organic?Thanks
    Stay Healthy

  19. Avatar

    @Sarah – I’m not sure that there are any manufacturers that specialize in that area. Most any contract manufacturer will be able to produce natural/organic products.

    Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

  20. Avatar

    Hi Perry,
    Who are the leading cosmetic manufacturers (as opposed to companies with in-house R&D) that specialize in natural and/or organic product development and formulations?

  21. Avatar

    @Sara – I think you would have to check with the USDA organic program officials.

  22. Avatar


    Does anyone know if an ingredient,
    for example
    Calendula extract
    INCI: Glycerin (and) Water (and) Calendula Officinalis Extract

    certified as organic by Ecocert would be acceptable in
    an organic formula in the US


  23. Avatar


    Is there a need for a challenge test on products that contain no water? Or is a challenge test required for all finished cosmetic products? Also, what tests are typically performed on finished cosmetic products? Is just having APC/ yeast and mold acceptable? Or does it require more testing?

  24. Avatar


    None of the links in the article work. Just an FYI. Thanks for the informative article.

    1. Avatar

      @Trinh – thanks for the tip! I fixed them all.

  25. Avatar
    Cassandra Radka

    I am searching a position formulating organic cosmetics. Which companies in the US categorize themselves as organic cosmetic companies?

    1. Avatar

      Some of the main companies would be

      Burt’s Bees (acquired by Clorox)
      Aveda (acquired by Estee Lauder)

      But really every big company has some type of organic brand.

      There are many smaller companies that are organic focused. See Whole Foods for numerous brands who would be considered organic like Juice Beauty, JASON, Kiss My Face, etc. You can see it here.

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