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Definition of organic and natural cosmetics

Vanity and concern for wellbeing have existed since human existence, so it’s easy to explain that people have always been looking for ways to improve appearance and keep skin in good condition.

Since in the early days of mankind only nature was available as a source of raw materials, preparations and remedies of every kind, man has used nature to care for his skin. In many thousands of years, experience has developed in the handling of natural substances and their use to beautify and care for the skin. The resulting products were not only components of everyday life, reports of ancient cultures also mention the special importance of these cosmetic applications which were reserved only for ruling classes or exclusively as grave goods. Thus, with thousands of years of experience, a cosmetic science was developed in the successful use of natural substances as skin care products.

The popularity and thus the demand for cosmetic products increased steadily with the growth of the population and already in the 19th century cosmetic products were used in such large quantities that industrial production became necessary. The great demand and the desire for consistent product properties regardless of the time and place of purchase resulted in requirements for stability, reproducibility and year-round availability of raw materials that could no longer be satisfied from natural sources. The emerging chemical industry and its petrochemical and synthetic raw materials were the opportune solutions to the problem.

This marked the end of the era of pure natural cosmetics. The patent for the cosmetic application of petroleum jelly in 1872 may well serve as a milestone for the crossroads between today’s conventional cosmetics and pure natural cosmetics. Natural cosmetics then again experienced a perceptible renaissance through impulses from the anthroposophical way of life and the movements of the 1960s.

The responsible German ministry developed a definition of natural cosmetics in 1993 and further developed it in 2010 in order to make natural cosmetic products distinguishable from conventional cosmetics in terms of consumer protection and consumer education. In Austria, too, the authorities developed a definition, Codex 33, which is used by some companies in Austria, but not beyond. In 1997, in order to distinguish the serious efforts of natural cosmetics companies to produce honest natural cosmetics from conventional products in green packaging (greenwashing), the leading German natural cosmetics companies joined the initiative of a natural product chemist to define „controlled natural cosmetics“ and worked out the world’s first industry standard for organic and natural cosmetics applied in practice with common objectives. Products manufactured in accordance with this standard were identified by the symbols for the raw material sources of natural cosmetics (sea waves and plant leaves) and the sun as an energy source.

The idea of this standard was widely recognized, but the exclusive international implementation failed and only encouraged many other organizations to offer a variety of similar, but different in detail, organic and natural cosmetics standards and labels. The resulting confusion was no longer sufficiently transparent for consumers, retailers, consumer protectors and consultants.

In order to create realistic consumer expectations for the purpose of informed purchasing decisions, public service controls in the sense of consumer protection and a generally acceptable view of organic and natural cosmetics, the experts have developed the following definition. This definition is so comprehensive and generally written that it covers all existing industry standards in the basic principles and does not conflict with any industry standard. This led to a definition which justifies the classification of cosmetic products as organic and natural cosmetics if they comply with the following rules.


Organic and natural cosmetics include cosmetic products that consist exclusively of natural substances or natural substance derivatives or the permitted substances for preservation. The exclusive use of natural substances does not guarantee the health safety of the finished products. The resulting cosmetic products are subject to the same legal regulations as other cosmetic products.

1. A) Raw material definitions

Organic and natural cosmetic products are exclusively composed of the following classes of raw materials:

1.) Natural substances

raw materials from plants (conventional or organic), animals, biotechnology, minerals

2.) Natural substance derivatives

Substances produced exclusively from natural substances according to permitted synthesis methods. Petrochemical components are not permitted.

3.) Synthetic substances with defined use permits

e.g. preservatives

1. B) Criteria

1a) Vegetable raw materials

The use of vegetable raw materials, as far as the corresponding qualities are offered, should consist of certified organic starting material / organic quality / certified organic cultivation in accordance with the EC Organic Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007; until 31.12.2008 Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91). If the product does not contain at least 50% of the organic-certifiable raw materials in organic quality, the organic labelling must be omitted and the product is then only referred to as „natural cosmetics“. The organic substances must be identified as such (e.g. by asterisks in the INCI declaration). The use of genetically modified plants or plant components is not permitted in accordance with the EC Eco-Regulation. As long as there is no continuous GMO-free detection system, the PCR method is regarded as proof. The threshold value of a random, technically unavoidable admixture is 0.9%.

Alternatively, the use of plant material from certified wild collection is permitted.

Water, ethanol from vegetable sources, vegetable oils, vegetable fats, glycerol from vegetable sources, carbon dioxide and other suitable solvents of natural origin or permitted derivatives thereof are permitted for the production of plant extracts or the isolation of plant substances (extraction).

The use of non-natural solvents is only permitted for the extraction of natural cosmetic raw materials (e.g. lecithin) if the solvent is completely removed and no natural alternatives can be used.

1b) Animal raw materials

The use of products traditionally produced by live, non-genetically modified animals for human consumption or use (e.g. milk, honey, lanolin) is permitted. However, vertebrate products may only be used if they are obtained from live animals in compliance with animal welfare rules. Components of dead vertebrates must not be used.

1c) Biotechnologically produced cosmetics and cosmetic raw materials

Since microorganisms are just as much components of nature as plants and animals, their metabolic products and components are also suitable for use in organic and natural cosmetics. The inclusion of genetic engineering in the biotechnological production of raw materials for cosmetics and cosmetics is prohibited.

1d) Mineral and inorganic substances

Mineral and inorganic substances are part of nature and therefore permitted. Also substances whose chemical composition is identical to that of naturally occurring pigments and minerals are included, because the formation of inorganic salts, acids and alkalis (e.g. sodium chloride, magnesium sulphate, sulphuric acid, potassium hydroxide solution…) corresponds to the processes in nature and their use is therefore permitted.

2) Natural substance derivatives

Modified natural substances may also be used in the manufacture of natural cosmetics, but these must be manufactured from natural substances in their individual molecular building blocks (100% natural obligation). Permitted manufacturing processes are hydrolysis, hydrogenation, esterification (also with inorganic acids), redox processes, other cleavages and condensation reactions.

3a) Synthetic substances with defined use permits

Nature-identical preservatives, their salts and esters are permitted to ensure microbiologically perfect cosmetic quality: (reference numbers from cosmetics regulation Annex V)

Reference no. 1 and 1a Benzoic acid

Reference no. 2 Propionic Acid

Reference no. 3 Salicylic Acid

Reference no. 4 Sorbic Acid

Reference no. 13 Dehydroacetic acid

Reference no. 14 Formic acid

Reference no. 34 Benzyl alcohol

In the case of natural cosmetics containing one of these preservatives, the words „Preserved with …“ and the name of the preservative must be clearly indicated in the immediate vicinity of the indication „Natural cosmetics“.

3b) Fragrances and flavors

In natural cosmetics, only those natural fragrances can be used which comply with the designations and definitions of the international standard ISO 9235 and the substances listed therein which have been isolated by physical methods (steam distillation, dry distillation, pressing) but not by enfleurage. Synthetically reconstituted essential oils, or synthetically produced nature-identical fragrances and chemically modified natural raw materials are not permitted in fragrance compositions.

In addition, fragrances and flavours obtained through biotechnological production are also permitted for use.


Any chemical treatment of the water by the cosmetics manufacturer through the addition of additives (e.g. chlorination) or methods such as ozonisation, ionising radiation or electrochemical treatment (sea water) are prohibited. UV irradiation, ion exchangers and equivalents are allowed.

1. C) Exclusion criteria

Organic and natural cosmetics deliberately avoid groups of raw materials that are not compatible with the idea of nature:

  • organic-synthetic dyes
  • synthetic fragrances
  • ethoxylated raw materials
  • contamination by impurities in considerably higher relation to the natural substance than occurs in nature
  • silicones
  • synthetic halogenated organic compounds, synthetic halogenated organic synthesis building blocks, synthetic halogenated organic intermediates and resulting compounds such as quaternary compounds or carboxyl compounds
  • petrochemical products such as paraffin oils and waxes
  • plant or animal materials under species protection (analogous to the Nagoya Protocol)
  • radioactive irradiation: the treatment of vegetable and animal raw materials as well as the final product with ionising radiation is not permitted

Only cosmetic products that at least meet these requirements may be labelled as organic and natural cosmetics.