Organic vs Conventional Ingredients: What’s the Difference?

Written by: | May 1, 2017 | 3 responses

There is so much to consider when you choose the ingredients for your natural skincare formulations.  Perhaps the first decision you will make, though, is whether to source organic or conventional ingredients. Organic ingredients can be expensive, but choosing conventional ingredients could mean your strictly organic- seeking customers may not be interested in your product. This decision may lead you to try to change your formulations from organic to conventional or vice versa. On the surface, it seems like a simple replacement–a plant is a plant regardless of how it’s grown, right? Not exactly.

What’s the difference between organic and conventional?
The obvious difference is in the growing and processing of the ingredients. Organic products and ingredients must meet strict guidelines established by the USDA to carry the USDA certified organic symbol. For a product or ingredient to be labeled as USDA certified organic, 95% or more of the product or ingredient must be non-GMO, free of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and can not be processed using industrial solvents or irradiation. The remaining 5% may only be processed with additives on an approved list. While all organic ingredients and products must be non-GMO, just being non-GMO does not mean the same as organic.

The difference goes beyond the growing and processing methods. Organic ingredients can behave differently in formulations than conventional ingredients. Some of the differences can greatly affect the feel, look, or even aroma of the finished product. Here are the most common examples we see when formulating.

Grapeseed Oil – This is a popular ingredient in many formulations, however, there is a big difference in color between organic grapeseed and conventional grapeseed. This difference can profoundly affect the color of your finished product.



Emulsifying Wax Any time you combine oil and water, you need to have an emulsifier to ensure your formulation doesn’t separate. Emulsifying wax is a commonly used ingredient, however, there is a huge difference between conventional emulsifying wax and organic emulsifying wax. Conventional emulsifying wax is made of cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60 while organic emulsifying wax is made of beeswax, lecithin, and copernicia cerifera (carnauba) wax. While they serve the same function in a formulation, they are very different ingredients requiring different methodology and percentages to effectively emulsify. This difference can dramatically change the feel of the finished product, so if you have been using conventional emulsifying wax but now want organic emulsifying wax, you will most likely have to reformulate.

It’s easy to visually see the difference in the ingredients mentioned above, but in my experience, essential oils carry the most notable difference. Organic lavender smells similar but much different than a french lavender, or a more traditional lavender 40/42. Organic ylang ylang smells similar to jasmine, where conventional ylang ylang smells much different. There is much more to consider when selecting organic vs conventional ingredients and even more to consider if you want to switch ingredients in your current formulations. Whatever you choose, we wish you happy formulating and if you get stuck or need professional help, we’re here for you with Custom Manufacturing and Formulation Services.


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