Cosmetics Claims: When can you claim Natural, Organic, Vegan and Non-GMO? — Part I

March 15, 2022 – In recent years, consumers have become more aware of green themes, ranging from what ingredients are in a product, how sustainable ingredients are sourced, to the impact of those ingredients and the product packaging on the environment. It has affected the cosmetic market, too. The public prefers natural products, and proliferation of associated claims such as natural, organic, non-GMO, etc., has occurred.

Today, we would like to dig into those claims to analyze when cosmetic brands can use them and how they must substantiate them and ensure they are compliant with the EU regulatory framework.


Regulatory Framework

When it comes to cosmetic claims, the most relevant regulatory acts are the EU Cosmetics Regulation (Article 20) and the Commission Regulation (EU) 655/2013  – laying down six common criteria for the justification of claims used about cosmetic products: legal compliance, truthfulness, evidential support, honesty, fairness, and informed decision-making.

It is essential to highlight that there is no official regulation nor harmonized criteria on the definitions of ‘natural’, ‘organic’, and ‘vegan’. Therefore, while cosmetic product claims have to comply with the above legislation, there is no precise interpretation of how these claims apply to products without being considered misleading.


Voluntary schemes

In February 2016, the International Standardization Organization (ISO) published ISO 16128-1, which provides guidelines on classifying any legally permitted cosmetic substance into one of eight categories including natural, organic, and non-natural. Subsequently, in January 2017, ISO 16128-2 was published, providing a framework to determine a cosmetic ingredient’s natural, natural origin, organic, and organic origin index and calculate the related content for a finished cosmetic product.

Unless mandated by law, the application of the ISO 16128 guideline is voluntary, and these documents do not address product claims and labeling, environmental or socio-economic considerations (e.g., fair trade), packaging materials, or baseline regulatory requirements for cosmetics.

Considering the lack of precise rules, cosmetics manufacturers can either choose to self-declare their products as natural/organic or certify their products as natural/organic according to the criteria laid down by an independent body. A certificate and accompanying on-pack label use obtained from an accredited independent control body can further help support claims substantiation. Different entities can use other criteria and certification schemes to assess whether raw materials and finished products are qualified for a certificate.


NATRUE AISBL – the International Natural and Organic Cosmetics Association – is a Brussels-based international non-profit association founded in 2007 to advocate for better regulation on natural and organic cosmetic products as part of its mission to protect and promote natural and organic cosmetics to the benefit of consumers worldwide. NATRUE is the holder of a private, voluntary standard-setting verifiable criteria to permit independent certification of both cosmetic raw materials and finished products via a NATRUE approved certifier to obtain the use of the NATRUE Label.


Substantiation and contextualization

Labeling a cosmetic as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ can be a commercial advantage. Nevertheless, such claims still run the risk of greenwashing – a phenomenon whereby companies use green slogans to deceptively persuade the public that a product is environmentally friendly when it is not. The lack of specific legislation has contributed to it. Still, there are horizontal initiatives to address the issue, such as the recent European Parliament Report, the Commission initiatives on green claims substantiation and consumer rights, and the updated guidance on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive covering environmental claims.

‘Green’ claims are related to the sphere of people’s lifestyle choices and personal values. Beauty brands shall avoid claiming that products are safer just because they contain natural ingredients. In this way, the consumer can make an informed choice when buying cosmetic products.

Therefore, when using natural and organic claims, their substantiation (as for the evidential support criteria) and contextualization are very important – especially regarding the meaning given to them by the manufacturer.

According to the criteria of truthfulness: “Ingredient claims referring to the properties of a specific ingredient shall not imply that the finished product has the same properties when it does not” (EC, 2013). Hence, a cosmetic cannot be presented as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ when only few raw materials have these characteristics, as it would be misleading.

A common way to communicate higher transparency towards the consumers is to clearly indicate on the label the percentage of natural or organic ingredients contained in the product. On the other hand, the risk of misleading the consumer is high when using general wording or claims such as ‘100% natural’ or ‘100% vegan’. Overall, care must be taken since it may be possible to apply a natural claim to an ingredient, but it is more difficult to apply it to a finished product without the risk of misleading the consumer.


The next article will describe the most relevant elements related to the substantiation and contextualization of the claims ‘100% natural’, ‘100% vegan’, ‘non-GMO’, and ‘organic’. Do not miss it!

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Written in collaboration with NATRUE




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