With Organic September in full swing, we caught up with the Soil Association to find out more about their certification guidelines for beauty and wellbeing products, and answer your questions on all things organic.
Share with us a brief history of the Soil Association’s beginnings, and how the certification of organic beauty products came into being.
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of people concerned about the increasingly intensive farming practices in the UK following World War II. Soil Association Certification was then launched in 1973 to provide an organic certification service. We are a not-for-profit business that is wholly owned by the Soil Association charity, and this year we are celebrating our 50th year of providing organic certification! In the UK today, 70% of organic food is certified by Soil Association Certification.
While certification is a legal requirement for food to be labelled as “organic”, this is not currently the case for beauty and wellbeing products. In 2002, we created the first standardisation guidelines for organic products in this industry. Neal’s Yard Remedies was one of the brands that was integral in the development of these standards, and we are proud that they still choose to certify their products with us today.
How has the Soil Association evolved since it was founded?
In 2010, the Soil Association Charity launched the COSMOS Organic and Natural standards in collaboration with four other European partner agencies. COSMOS was founded with the aim of creating a harmonised standard that would be recognised internationally. Today, we certify products classed as cosmetics to this standard. Soil Association Certification is the only UK-based certification body able to provide certification and business support for this standard.
Our original private label Soil Association Health and Beauty standard still exists for non-cosmetic products, including items like cleaning products, candles and personal care items.
If a beauty product is labelled organic, what difference does it make if it doesn’t have the Soil Association logo?
It is perfectly legal for a beauty or wellbeing product to be labelled as “organic” even if it only contains 1% organic ingredients, as the term is not regulated in our industry in the same way it is in the food and drink industry. That is why it is so important to look for standards like Soil Association COSMOS Organic, which guarantees the product contains the minimum required percentage of organic ingredients.
Our logo also guarantees there are no synthetic micro or nano plastics in a product, nor synthetic polymers that are used to bulk products out. There is no guarantee these ingredients are not present when a brand merely labels their product as “organic” or says that it is “made with organic ingredients” if it does not have third-party organic certification.
Finally, our logo also means that the whole product supply chain, from farm onwards, has been inspected to ensure sustainability is adhered to at every point. We make sure manufacturing facilities have waste and water management systems in place, and that they are not using chemicals like bleach to clean down equipment. It is an all-encompassing certification for guaranteeing sustainability.
What is the difference between COSMOS Organic and COSMOS Natural?
COSMOS Organic products must have a minimum of 95% Physically Processed Agricultural Ingredients (PPAIs) from organic agriculture. These are ingredients from agriculture that have gone through a physical process such as crushing or squeezing and are mainly things like butters and oils. While in practice, many COSMOS Natural products do contain ingredients from organic agriculture, there is no minimum percentage required.
Both standards, however, have restrictions on the type of ingredients that can go into a product. COSMOS Organic and Natural both guarantee
No GM (genetically modified) ingredients
The final product is not tested on animals
No parabens and phthalates
No use of endangered plants
No synthetic microplastics and other synthetic plastics
No synthetic colours, dyes and fragrances
How can choosing certified organic help fight climate change?
Organic farming does not allow the use of fossil fuel-based nitrogen fertilisers. The use of these fertilisers in non-organic farming contributes to climate change and air pollution. For example, 25% of the nitrogen air pollution in London is caused by these fertilisers! The environmental degradation caused by non-organic farming therefore goes beyond the immediate vicinity of the farm. The release of more nitrogen, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere also contributes to the effects of global warming. By prohibiting their use, organic farming has a reduced impact on the climate and planet compared to non-organic farming.
These nitrogen fertilisers also wreak havoc on our waterways. “Dead zones” in our oceans have increased exponentially in the last 30 years. The scientific consensus is that the primary cause of the increase is the runoff of nitrates from farms into waterways, which ultimately ends up in our oceans. Nitrates cause an increase in algae in areas of the ocean, which depletes oxygen in the water and means life cannot survive. To protect our oceans, farming needs to fix its reliance on nitrogen fertilisers.
Another way organic farming fights climate change is through the soil. The soils on organic farms are an excellent carbon sink. On average, they store two times more carbon than non-organic, keeping more of it out of the atmosphere.
What do you consider Soil Association’s greatest achievement in the last year?
We are really proud of the “Certified Edit of Organic and Natural Beauty” that we launched with Latest in Beauty for Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Week 2022, in which Neal’s Yard Remedies took part. This brought Latest in Beauty customers a box made up exclusively of products certified by us, for 74% less than the total retail price of the products. This collaboration made certified organic beauty more accessible and allowed us to reach a new consumer market, enabling us to educate more people on what our symbol means and why they should be looking for products that carry it.
Share with us one small act that we can all do this Organic September.
As our campaign slogan says, make “one small swap” for the planet! The next time you need to buy a beauty or wellbeing product, whether it’s in September or beyond, be sure to look for our logo. This guarantees that the product you’re purchasing is environmentally friendly in terms of the way the ingredients are grown, and won’t cause any harm when it goes down the drain.