What are the differences between certified organic cosmetics and conventional cosmetics?



The first great difference lies in the choice of the ingredients . First of all, the derivatives of oil, the chemical preservatives and the chemical dyes typical for conventional industry are excluded in a certified organic cosmetic . Without counting their harmful effects for the health of human beings, these ingredients are also extremely detrimental for the environment. In the manufacture of an organic cosmetic, the ingredients that exist in natural form or of natural origin will be favoured above all.

In the term – cosmetic organic osmetic-, there is the word organic referring to organic agriculture. That means that any ingredient originally coming from an organic culture (with or without transformation) entering the formula of a cosmetic will undergo a control in order to guarantee and to make sure that it fulfills the requirements of organic agriculture (free from pesticides, chemical fertiliser, synthetic fertilizer, GMO etc…). This aspect of organic agriculture in the choice of the ingredients determines the quality of the finished product and also makes it possible to ensure the traceability of the ingredients and the manufacturing processes of the products, and to guarantee the authenticity of the certified organic cosmetic products. The major difference between the use of these natural ingredients but resulting from a chemical agriculture for conventional industry and from an organic agriculture for the industry of  certified organic cosmetics is the percentage used : below 1% for the first and, according to the product and the manufacturer, of 5 up to 30% and more for the second.

On the labels, this aspect is often represented by an asterisk following the INCI name. For example, “Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*” on INCI list means that this ingredient results from organic agriculture. [1]

Another difference lies in the process of obtaining the ingredients and the finished product. Only processes respectful of the environment are used for the manufacture of an organic cosmetics product and only physical transformations are allowed: drying of the plants, wild gathering, extraction by distillation, filtration and purification, mixture, cold pressure, inter alia , which allows the preservation of all the properties of the active ingredients. Conventional industry uses processes of chemical extraction (by solvent), hot refining, of essential oils diluted to the maximum, irradiated clay, heated honey.

The vitamins are synthetic for conventional industry whereas they are natural for certified organic industry, and the minerals are extracted by solvent for the first and by processes paying a detailed attention to the site of extraction and the environment for the second.

The formulation of a cosmetic

The principal components of a cosmetic are the aqueous phase and the oily phase. The excipient forms the base of the product and the principal components – water and oil – have the role of maintaining the hydro-lipidic equilibrium of the skin. The more good-quality oils there are, the better the product is. The traditional products use few oils and vegetable butters because of their high cost. They rather use oils and animal fats like stearine extracted from sheep and ox greases, lard or pork grease, lecithin extracted from the brain of the animals. One also extracts oils from the muscles and genital glands of tortoises, from shark liver (the cosbiol), from the sinuses of the cachalot (the spermaceti). One also uses excipients of mineral origin coming from the refining of crude oil (petroleum jelly, paraffin which block the pores of the skin and cause cutaneous irritations in addition to being reproduced on the list of the Food and Drug Administration as products suspected to be carcinogenic!) and of glycerin of animal and mineral origin (petrol). These excipients are not used for their cosmetological properties since they are free from them (quite to the contrary, they are rather detrimental), but rather for their ridiculous price. In this industry, there is no relationship directly proportional between the price and the effectiveness.  In the certified organic products, all these products are prohibited and are replaced by vegetable oils (of jojoba, argan, shea tree, olive, apricot). In the last 50 years, more than 100.000 new chemical substances of synthesis have invaded our products of great consumption, and we have few evaluations as for their harmfulness and their bio-accumulation. The projections of the organic beauty care make it possible to prohibit the petrochemical bases used by traditional cosmetic industry. Of the 12 ingredients present on “Dirty List” only one (Sodium Lauryl Sulphates) is still tolerated by some certifications while the products resulting from conventional industry abound in these 12 ingredients without counting those which are also detrimental but which are not on the list.

The aqueous phase : mainly present except in the case of cosmetics entirely composed of greasy substance (example: oil, butter, pomade), it is made up of water and water-soluble substances.

The oily phase : is made up of soluble oils and ingredients in oil.

Active ingredients : are the ingredients which are responsible for the effectiveness of the product. The majority of the agents against the ageing of the skin are in vegetable, essential oils and in the extracts of plants which are the basic ingredients in the manufacture of certified organic cosmetics. Conventional industry uses little of it and, as we saw, these ingredients result from chemical agriculture. On the other hand, one finds there active ingredients like extracts of placenta, embryonic extracts, caviar, by-products from the slaughter-house and ingredients resulting from the petrochemical industry and, when they result from plants, the ingredients are extracted by chemical processes, their percentage is then negligible and constitutes the “war-horse” of the immense publicity which will accompany the marketing of the product.

Emulsifiers : these are ingredients being used to bind the aqueous and the oily phase in an emulsion and to stabilize them.

The emollient : these are ingredients having for property to soften the skin.

The tension-actives : these are the ingredients added to reduce the surface stress and thus to facilitate the spreading out of the product; they have the capacity to mix with water and oil. They can have emulsifying, foaming-agent or disinfecting properties.

Additives (organoleptics): these are the ingredients to adjust the colour, the odour.

The preservatives are used to preserve the product and the fitters of pH to maintain balance between the acid factor and the basic factor of the skin.

Difference between a conventional cosmetic and an organic cosmetic – Table

Family of ingredients Conventional cosmetic Organic cosmetic
Water Water obtained by various processes according to the industry (sterilized for example) or from drinking water Quality water obtained by processes respectful of the environment, floral water, extracted from plants, medicated water (water distilled from plants), infusions
Emollient Silicone oil (Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, particularly harmful for the environment), oil and wax of mineral origin (Parrafin obtained from the refining of oil), synthetic squalane, synthetic Glycerine, petroleum jelly coming from the refining of oils Vegetable oil (avocado, jojoba rich in vitamins), vegetable non-drying oils (almond oil), vegetable butter (shea tree, cocoa), olive squalane, vegetable glycerin, oily vegetable macerat (macerated camomile)
Emulsifiers Derived from PEG (Peg-120), lecithin, sodium borate, OCTOXYNOL-9 Beewax, carnauba wax, liquid wax (jojoba), derived from corn and coconut oil, vegetable lecithin
Tensio-actives Derived from sulphate, quaternium Derived from renewable and vegetable matters and sugar such as coconut oil, glucose, starch
Additives Synthetic dye, synthetic perfume, increased presence of allergens Dye of vegetable origin (beet, beta-carotene), essential oil, vegetable extracts
Preservatives Synthetic: paraben, phenoxyethanol, 2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1,3-DIOL, FORMALDEHYDE, triclosan Some soft synthetic preservatives (benzoic acid, salycilic acid) and other natural ones (certain essential oils, citric acid)
  •  Small note: if conventional industry spends billions of dollars in publicity and media presence to convince the customers, the industry of certified organic cosmetics, like the entire movement of sustainable development, is especially an awakening of conscience.

[1] ↑   It is necessary though to check what is the significance which the manufacturer gives to the asterisk

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