Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Natural is simply defined as anything directly taken from the environment. In modern times, natural applies to products that are least processed and retain most of the properties of the parent plant, animal or mineral source. Thus, a lip balm formulated using beeswax, cocoa butter, castor oil with peppermint oil as a flavor with minimal synthetics is a natural product. However, naturals do not come with guarantees of being safe from pesticides, environmental pollutants, heavy metals, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since very few regulations control the quality of naturals. On the other hand, claiming ‘organic’ requires certification. The materials are derived from organic plants grown using organic fertilizers; soil free from harmful pesticides and chemicals. Raw materials are processed using methods approved by Organic certification agencies, carefully stored in a contained environment with no contamination from other non-organic raw materials. The assurance of clean raw materials and processing methods makes organic products superior to natural.
Organic Certification Process
Most countries have an Organic certification body, e.g. Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) which certifies Organic products in India under its National Program for Organic Products (NPOP). One of the most common and worldwide recognized certification body is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). While food grains, spices can be completely organic as they are directly isolated from the plant, personal care products pose a limitation and are rarely 100% Organic. Thus, a face cream composed of organic oils and butters emulsified in water can have 95% organic content. Furthermore, to ensure the purity of organic products, they have to be processed in a clean and approved manufacturing facility with dedicated segregation procedures for raw materials, packaging materials and unpacked product storage areas. Manufacturing equipment should preferably be separate, nonetheless, common machinery can be employed with approved handling and cleaning protocols.
Are organic cosmetics really better?
Thus, if organic versions are the purest versions of a product, why has their popularity been limited? The most obvious reason is cost. Maintaining stringent cultivation and processing conditions results in limited amount of raw materials: demand overwhelms supply; limited to no preservatives: lower shelf life and ultimately the expense of certification makes this range of products a tough find. While we expect a preparation without any contaminants (e.g. pesticides in herbal actives) and synthetics (e.g. colours, preservatives) to be superior, research shows that consumers quite often fail to find a superior benefit from an organic vs a non-organic product. To add on, the raw materials that can be used in an organic formulation are limited which constrains the aesthetics, feel and overall performance of the product.
The ultimate choice lies in the hands of the consumer. Organic products are definitely clean from pesticides, GMOs, synthetic dyes and petroleum based chemicals. Their superiority over cost effective naturals or semi-synthetics is yet to be established.