definition of organic and natural cosmetics

As long as people have existed, there has been vanity and concern about wellbeing, and so it is easy to explain how humans have always been in search of remedies that improve the appearance and keep the skin in good condition.

Given that, in the early human era, nature was the only available source of raw materials, preparations and remedies, people turned to nature for skin care. Thus, over many millennia, experience was gained in dealing with natural substances and using them to beautify and care for the skin. The resulting remedies were not just part of everyday life – reports from ancient cultures also mention the special importance of cosmetic products reserved exclusively for the ruling classes or for funerary offerings.

Thus, millennia of experience gave rise to cosmetic science in the successful use of natural substances as skin-care products. The popularity, and thus the need, for cosmetic products increased steadily with the growth of the population, and as early as the 19th Century, cosmetic products were used in such large quantities that industrial production became necessary. The great need and desire for consistent product properties regardless of the time and place of purchase prompted demands for stability, reproducibility and year-round availability of raw materials, which 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.

Thus, the era of pure natural cosmetics came to an end. The 1872 patent on the cosmetic use of Vaseline may well have marked the parting of the ways between today’s conventional cosmetics and pure natural cosmetics.

However, the anthroposophical lifestyle and the movements of the 1960s prompted a perceptible renaissance in natural cosmetics. The responsible German ministry developed a definition of natural cosmetics in 1993, which was then expanded in 2010 to make natural cosmetic products distinguishable from conventional cosmetics in terms of consumer protection and consumer education. The Austrian authorities likewise developed a definition, Codex 33, which is used by some companies in that country,

but not elsewhere. In recognition of the serious endeavours by the natural cosmetics companies to distinguish genuine natural cosmetics from conventional products in green packaging (so-called “greenwashing”), in 1997, the leading German natural cosmetics companies joined the initiative of a natural product chemist to define “controlled natural cosmetics” and worked together to achieve the common goal of establishing the world’s first industry standard for organic and natural cosmetics. Products

manufactured to this standard were recognised with the symbols for the raw material sources of natural cosmetics (ocean waves and plant leaves) and the energy source of the sun.

The idea of this standard has been widely acclaimed, but failure to implement it as the exclusive international standard prompted

many other organisations to develop a variety of organic and natural cosmetics standards and marks that were broadly similar, but differed in their details. The resulting confusion was no longer sufficiently transparent for consumers, retailers, consumer advocates and appraisers.

To create realistic consumer expectations for informed purchasing decisions, public-service controls in the interests of consumer

protection and a generally acceptable view of organic and natural cosmetics, the experts have developed the following definition. This definition is written so comprehensively and broadly that it covers all existing industry standards in the basic principles and is not at odds with any industry standards. The result is a definition that justifies a 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 permitted substances for preservation. The exclusive
  • use of natural substances does not guarantee that the
  • finished products are safe for health. The resulting cosmetic
  • products are subject to the same legal regulations as other cosmetic products.


A) Raw Material Definitions

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

1a) Natural Substances

Raw materials from plants (cultivated conventionally or organically), animals, biotechnology, minerals natural cosmetics are also suitable for use in organic and natural cosmetics. The use of genetic engineering in biotechnological production of cosmetic raw materials and cosmetics is prohibited.

1b) regulation of animal raw materials

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

1c) Biotechnologically Produced Cosmetics and Cosmetic Raw Materials

Given that microorganisms are as much a part of nature as plants and animals, their metabolic products and components

1d) Mineral and Inorganic Substances

Mineral and inorganic substances are part of nature and therefore allowed. Similarly, substances whose chemical composition is identical with that of naturally occurring pigments and minerals, are permissible because the occurrence of inorganic salts, acids and alkalis (e.g., sodium chloride, magnesium sulphate, sulfuric acid, potassium hydroxide solution) corresponds to natural processes, and their use is therefore permitted.

2) Natural Substance Derivatives

For the production of natural cosmetics, it is also permissible o use modified natural substances, provided that they are made from natural substances in their individual building blocks (100% natural requirement). Permitted manufacturing processes include hydrolysis, hydrogenation, esterification (also with inorganic acids), redox processes, other cleavages and condensation reactions.

Exclusively substances produced from natural substances by permitted synthesis methods belong into that category. Petrochemicals are not permitted.

3) Synthetic Substances with speciasl onjectives

3a) Synthetic Substances with defined Use Permits

To ensure microbiologically perfect cosmetic quality, nature-identical preservatives, their salts and their esters are permitted: (reference numbers from the Cosmetics Product Regulation, Annex V)

Reference numbers 1 and 1a Benzoic acid
Reference number 2 Propionic acid
Reference number 3 Salicylic acid
Reference number 4 Sorbic acid
Reference number 14 Formic acid
Reference number 34 Benzyl alcohol
Reference number 13 Dehydroacetic acid

In the case of natural cosmetics containing one of these preservatives, the indication “preserved with …” (naming the preservative) must be clearly shown in the immediate vicinity of the description “natural cosmetic.”

3b) Fragrances and Flavourings

Natural cosmetics may contain only those natural fragrances that correspond to the designations and definitions of the international standard ISO 9235, as well as the substances listed therein, which are 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.

B) Formulation criteria

1a) Plant-based Raw Materials

The use of plant-based raw materials should, as far as the appropriate qualities are offered, consist of certified organic raw material/certified organic cultivation according to Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28th June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products, which repealed Regulation (EEC) No.2092/91 with effect from 1st January, if the product does not contain at least 50% of the bio-certifiable raw materials in organic quality, the organic claim must be omitted, and the product is then referred to only as a “natural cosmetics.” The organic substances are to be identified as such in the presentation (for example, by asterisks in the INCI declaration).

In accordance with the EC Organic Regulation, the use of genetically modified plants or plant components is not permitted. As long as no integrated GMO-free detection system exists, the PCR method is used 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.

For the production of plant extracts or isolation of plant substances (extraction), water, ethanol from vegetable sources, vegetable oils, vegetable fats, glycerine from plant sources, carbon dioxide and other suitable solvents of natural origin or permitted derivatives thereof are permitted. The use of non-natural solvents is permitted only for the extraction of natural cosmetic raw materials (e.g., lecithin) if the solvent is completely removed again, and no natural alternatives can be used.

In addition, fragrances and flavourings obtained by biotechnological production are permitted for use.


Any chemical treatment of the water by the cosmetics manufacturer using the addition of auxiliaries (e.g., chlorination) or methods such as ozonation, ionising radiation or electrochemical treatment (seawater) is prohibited. UV irradiation, ion exchangers and equivalents are permitted.


C) Exclusion Criteria

Organic and natural cosmetics deliberately exclude the use of groups of raw materials that are incompatible with the idea of nature

  • Organic-synthetic dyes
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Ethoxylated raw materials
  • Pollution contaminants in a considerably higher ratio than

occurs naturally in the natural substance

  • Silicones
  • Synthetic halogenated organic compounds, synthetic halogenated organic building blocks, synthetic halogenated organic intermediates and resulting compounds such as quaternary compounds or carboxyl compounds
  • Petrochemical products such as paraffin oils and waxes
  • rbal or animal materials subject to species protection (analogous to the Nagoya Protocol)
  • Radioactive irradiation: the treatment of plant and animal
  • raw materials as well as the end product with ionising radiation

is not permitted.

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