Organic Personal Care and Cosmetics: What Companies Need to Know to Enter this Booming Market

Jackie Bowen looks at consumer trends, while explaining organic standards and label claims.

By Jackie Bowen, General Manager of Agriculture and Organic Programs at NSF International

One of the largest growth areas in the personal care industry is the organic personal care sector, which posted $9 billion in global sales in 2011 and is expected to reach $11 billion by 2016 according to the Organic Monitor and Mintel Research. This article will assist companies interested in entering this market to learn about consumer trends and to understand organic standards and label claims relevant to consumers and regulators.

Market Growth

Last year, growth in organic personal care reached 9.5 percent, and organic non-food sales in 2011 surpassed $2 billion, making it the fastest growing category in the organic industry according to the Organic Trade Association. The growth comes from startup companies, and established players moving into the organic sector.

Consumers Want Healthier, More Environmentally Friendly Options

Drivers of this growth trend include consumer interest in reducing and eliminating chemicals (such as parabens, phthalates and aluminum salts) suspected of being harmful to human health and the environment.

Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the products we put on our skin are absorbed by the skin, including chemical residues, according to Natural Foods Merchandiser’s 2012 market overview.

A 2010 report by the President’s Cancer Panel identifies organic products as a way for consumers to reduce exposure to these and other harmful chemicals that increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

The production of organic personal care products can also help minimize pollution by utilizing natural resources efficiently with better plant-growing methods and limiting synthetic chemicals and waste that would otherwise cycle back to the environment.

This is another reason consumers are showing preference for organic personal care products.

In fact, a recent independent survey conducted on behalf of NSF International showed that 87 percent of safety-minded consumers and 76 percent of the general population prefer a product that has been independently tested and certified as sustainable or "green."

Consumers are looking for a trusted label and are becoming savvier in what to look for in terms of greener and organic ingredients that promote health and environmental sustainability. The good news is that the green sector in personal care is driving growth in green chemistry with more ingredients available to manufacturers.

Building Consumer Trust

A manufacturer looks critically at what drives consumer behavior - what consumers want (or don’t want) in a product - while also being mindful of emerging regulatory drivers and changes.

Consumer trust is paramount.
Fifty percent of safety-minded consumers and 39 percent of the general population want to see independent certification marks on organic products.

There has been some misuse of the term “organic” in brand names and on product labels in the personal care sector. This has lead to confusion and mistrust in the marketplace among regulators and consumers.

Lipstick you can eat?

The National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets standards for organic foods, but it does not currently have a specific standard for organic personal care products.

As of 2002, the only personal care and cosmetic products in the U.S. that can be certified as organic are those that contain organic food-grade ingredients in accordance with the NOP. This conundrum – how to make an organic lipstick or shampoo essentially containing only edible organic ingredients or ingredients from the National Organic Program National List – created a need for a different certification solution for the personal care sector.

An Organic Personal Care Standard Consumers Can Trust

NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization, addressed this issue by convening industry stakeholders including consumer groups, trade association members, ingredient suppliers and product certifiers as well as regulatory and public health officials.

Collectively, they developed the transparent and consensus-based national standard NSF/ANSI 305. The standard defines labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products containing a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients.

It is the only transparent, consensus-based standard for the organic personal care sector and helps assure consumers and regulators that organic personal care products are both functional and contain truly organic ingredients as listed on the label.

NSF/ANSI 305 covers products that may be applied to or used externally on any part of the body (e.g. hair, face, hands and feet), including:
  • Cosmetics

  • Rinse-off and leave-on hair care products

  • Oral care products

  • Personal hygiene products
It allows certified products to use the “contains organic ingredients” front panel claim while meeting requirements that include certified organic ingredients, materials, processes and production specifications.

Specifically, NSF/ANSI 305:
  • Defines organic labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients
  • Allows for the chemical processing necessary to create an effective personal care product
  • Satisfies retailer demand for proof of organic integrity (e.g. Whole Foods Market and the National Cooperative Grocers Association encourage third-party certification (such as NSF/ANSI 305) for all organic personal care and cosmetic products they sell)
  • Complies with the NOP organic ingredients list and the California Organic Products Act (COPA) labeling law
  • Allows products certified to this standard to use the NSF “contains organic ingredients” certification mark

How is this different from the National Organic Program (NOP) standard?

NSF/ANSI 305 allows for organic ingredients to undergo certain chemical processes not recognized under the NOP. However, like the USDA NOP regulations, NSF/ANSI 305 includes requirements of organic ingredients, materials, process and production specifications and labeling. The NSF/ANSI 305 standard also requires that NOP-certified ingredients be used.

So, how does the certification work?

Manufacturers work with a third-party certifier and submit a detailed application explaining their business and the products they use and produce. A third-party certifier must also conduct an on-site inspection, as well as a technical review, auditing the business’ records. Quality Assurance International (QAI) is such an accredited certifier.

It’s predicted the pursuit of natural beauty will actually drive environmental good in a future marketplace with more organic personal care products on the shelf in both the U.S. and EU.
For more information, and to get started on your certification go to personal care information or contact Jonathan Lackie, 858-200-9708,
ABOUT the AUTHOR: Jaclyn Bowen is the General Manager of Quality Assurance International (QAI), part of the NSF International family of public health and safety companies. NSF develops American National Standards through a transparent, consensus-based process with representatives from industry, consumer groups, regulatory bodies and academia. For more information, contact