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Building Natural Products

By: Eric S. Abrutyn
Posted: March 3, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

It appears that consumer interest in natural and organic products continues to grow. The question is: What does this mean? Are consumers actually interested in products that contain natural materials, or are they really interested in products that are safer and whose production or use have a minimal impact on the planet (i.e., they are renewable)? The key to meeting consumer demand is to understand what natural means in order to formulate and market products that meet expectations.

Since the beauty industry is not regulated, various organizations have offered conflicting positions on standardized guidelines for natural and organic claims. To improve communication on this topic, it will therefore become important to dissociate claims regarding the naturalness of ingredients from the perception of safety.

Safety is inherent in the raw materials used for formulating, regardless of their origin and in the synergies among ingredients—for more than 50 years, the industry has worked hard to monitor the safety of products on the market, supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And recently, additional governmental agencies—such the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Cosmetic Products—have taken a proactive role in sorting out the meanings of natural and organic for the beauty industry. Such organizations act as a clearer scientific focal point in deciding what ingredients are safe for use in cosmetic products. In addition, several organizations currently are monitoring the safety of cosmetics and personal care ingredients, such as the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel.

General Formula Standards

There is an ever-growing list of organizations with standardized guidelines that measure the naturalness of a product formula. The definition for natural in chemicals legislation was introduced in 1981, and in 2000, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Cosmetic Products issued guidelines for natural cosmetic products. Only as recently as 2008, however, did the USDA and the European Cosmetic Standards Working Group (COSMOS)1 provide additional guidance for formulating to meet natural claims. There are a number of non-governmental, for-profit organizations offering organic and/or natural certification for cosmetic products (see “Eco-labels: Environmental Marketing in the Beauty Industry” from the August 2009 issue of GCI magazine), however, organic and natural certifications for cosmetics are not backed by specific legislation, as with food.