Understanding Organic Certification for Cosmetics

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Using “Organic” On your Product Label

You see just how popular “organic” products are as soon as you walk into any grocery store, big box store, local coop or salon, etc. Organic is everywhere and that’s a good thing. With the organic personal care market expected to grow to $15B annually by 2020, this is a hot market section; it’s good for skin and good for you – bottom line, but… Organic Certification isn’t as simple as it might appear!

Not all organic products are created equal. You’ll find that some cosmetic and skin care companies claim their products are organic even when those products have not been certified under programs such as the USDA National Organic Program under the organization of Oregon Tilth.

Label Options for USDA Certified Organic Products

The below information is from the US Department of Agriculture’s documentation on Organic Standards for personal care products. Any cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product that does not meet the production, handling, processing, labeling, and certification standards described below, may not state, imply, or convey in any way that the product is USDA-Certified Organic or meets the USDA Organic Standards.

  1. “100 percent organic”–Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address. 
  2. “Organic”–Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address. 
  3. “Made with organic ingredients”– Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either “body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary, and chamomile,” or “body lotion made with organic herbs.” Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address. 
  4. Less than 70 percent organic ingredients– -Products cannot use the term “organic” anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are USDA-certified as being organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel. Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and may not display a certifying agent’s name and address. (Water and salt are also excluded here.)

NSF/ANSI 305: Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients

In 2009, NSF, in conjunction with ANSI, created this standard specifically for personal care products. To become certified to this standard, products must undergo a thorough review by an independent organic certification organization, such as Oregon Tilth, to verify that a manufacturer’s product formulation contains at least 70 percent organic content by weight.

This program differs slightly from the USDA Certified Organic program. One such difference is that NSF/ANSI 305 allows for some limited chemical processing necessary to create personal care products. For example, soaps containing organic ingredients are permitted to undergo chemical processing known as saponification, without which these products could not lather. However, such processing would not normally be permitted under traditional organic regulations.

Essential Can Help you Get USDA Organic Certification

Essential has been a USDA Certified facility since 2009. We are certified by Oregon Tilth and our customers can work with us to obtain the USDA Certified Organic designation or the NSF “Contains Organic Ingredients” certification, also through Oregon Tilth.

The potentially confusing reality is that just because we are a certified facility, not all our products can be certified. Only those products whose ingredients are, or can be, certified to match the standards, may carry the seal or designation “organic.”

When you work with Essential’s Private Label group, you’ll have access to our compliance team to help navigate the process. We’ll work with you to help select ingredients that meet the standard, and will help you submit your label for approval from Oregon Tilth. Once you’ve passed that step, we can manufacture, fill and label your products.

Please let us know if you have any other questions or comments. We’re here to help!


Other Essential Blogs on USDA Certified Organic Skin Care



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3 years ago

I am a student conducting a research project about personal care products, and I am curious as to what percentage of personal care companies hold each of these “organic” labels. Any info or direction on where to find such statistics?

3 years ago

Hi Andrew,

I can only speak to our own customer base— which would give you a % of less than 10% USDA Certification. You might want to reach out to Oregon Tilth and see what they know.

Organic Certification is very difficult. Surfactants, preservative systems, emulsifying systems — all are very strictly controlled and many, many ingredients will eliminate a product from qualification.

Because USDA Certification was developed for agriculture, cosmetics must fit into this system. NSF 305 is a more applicable certification system, but most people do not know of it.

Let us know if we can be of further help.


3 years ago

hi, I am Maha Rifai, co-founder of Beesline S.A.L a manufacturer of skin care based in Beyrouth – Lebanon (ME). Our US distributor wants us to have the USDA organic Label. 2 of our products are 100% natural and organic, we have all documents but I think that even if we submit those documents we still need to be inspected. what do you advise or is our case a hopeless one?