Organic and Natural Cosmetics

Changed on: 15.03.2021
cream jar with flower petal
cream jar with flower petal

Consumer demand for environmentally friendly, sustainable production, the protection of biodiversity, the protection of natural resources, the application of the highest animal protection standards, production using natural ingredients and simple manufacturing processes has also increased for cosmetic products. Therefore, it was time to define rules and principles for the labelling of "organic and natural cosmetics", to maintain consumer trust and ensure fair competition using transparency, control and traceability.

There is no standardised, legal definition for the term “natural cosmetics” at a European level. There are various natural cosmetics quality seals based on guidelines found in private law. The products do not comply with a standard norm, as the criteria on which these guidelines are based are rather different. This situation is confusing for both consumers and manufacturers.
The Austrian Food Code (Codex Alimentarius Austriacus, short: Code) summarises what consumers can expect from natural cosmetics in terms of generally accepted standards.

Natural Cosmetics

Natural Cosmetics

Natural cosmetics are products made from raw materials that come from plants, animals and minerals.

Such natural substances may only be extracted and processed using physical, microbiological or enzymatic methods. Chemical extraction and/or processing steps are prohibited. Exceptions are preservatives (they may also be used in natural-identic quality -- i.e. they can be produced using chemical methods) and emulsifiers or surfactants (may be processed chemically).
Only cosmetic products that comply with these criteria may carry the name “Natural Cosmetic” (product) or similar, bearing in mind that “Organic Cosmetic” (product) does not have the same sense or meaning.

Labels making claims such as “includes natural lime-blossom essence”, for instance, or images of plants on the packaging, do not make a product a natural cosmetic product. What counts is the overall impression that the cosmetic product gives the informed, careful and discerning consumer.

The amended version of this Code chapter has applied since 14.01.2014. The full text can be found in Code Chapter B 33 Cosmetics, Subchapter: Natural Cosmetics.

What can I, the consumer, do?

  • Sale in specific shops such as health food stores does not guarantee that the product is a natural cosmetic product. 
  • Careful reading and checking of the list of ingredients may help when classifying whether the product is really natural. 
  • There are many private seals and certifications in the field of natural cosmetics. Consumers should always take a closer look under which seal/certificate a product is classified as natural and which criteria were used. The criteria of such privately issued seals/certificates may differ from the requirements of the generally much stricter Austrian Food Code. 
  • Bans on using parabens or synthetic UV filters and mineral oils are something that almost all natural cosmetics definitions have in common.

Organic Cosmetics

Organic Cosmetics

Chapter A 8 Section 6 Organic Cosmetics was included in the Austrian Food Code (ÖLMB) on 24.11.2010 as part of the chapter on “agricultural products from organic agriculture and products made from them”. This chapter describes manufacturing, labelling and visual presentation, as well as the advertising of organic cosmetic products. The terms “biologisch” und “ökologisch” (“organic” and “ecologic”) and any derivatives and contractions thereof, such as “Öko” or “Bio” alone or in combination with other words, may only be used if the product and its ingredients meet the requirements of that section in the Austrian Food Code.

The criteria for organic cosmetic products are basically the same as for natural cosmetics, including additional principles taken from the rules for organic foods.

Cosmetics manufactures that want to place their products on the market as organic cosmetic products must have their operations inspected for organic production by a Biokontrollstelle (certification body for organic products), accredited in line with Regulation (EC) No 834/2007.

The inspection body must be shown on the label and its seal can be attached to the product. However, this does not grant the right to affix the Community logo to the packaging, as EU organic food regulations do not apply to cosmetics.

The natural ingredients in organic cosmetic products are classified into natural substances of agricultural origin (plant or animal products) and those with no agricultural origin (mineral resources and water).

Plant and animal-based ingredients with agricultural origins must comply with at least 95 % of the regulations on organic/ecological production (Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 including the implementation regulation). Additionally, there must be an organic minimum with regards to the finished product (see table below).  This should prevent unjustified organic claims, such as in the case of a watery solution with a “homeopathic” content of an ingredient in organic quality.  

CategoryOrganic minimum levels in % with regards to the finished product*)
Oils/water-free hygiene and care products
Organic minimum levels in % with regards to the finished product *)
Perfumes/Eau de Parfum/Eau de Toilette
Organic minimum levels in % with regards to the finished product *)
Emulsions for skin care (W/O)
Organic minimum levels in % with regards to the finished product *)
Other products
Organic minimum levels in % with regards to the finished product *)

Table: Minimum organic content levels  in organic cosmetics

Furthermore, rules were established for up to what level watery mixtures such as distillates, extracts, hydrolates and also re-diluted concentrates may be used to calculate organic content. Only the percentage actually extracted from plants should be used for the calculation of the organic component.

As with natural cosmetic products, only natural scents and aromatic substances may be used that comply with International Standard ISO 9235 and substances listed in the standard having been isolated using physical methods. The approved natural-identical preservation substances are those also authorised for use in natural cosmetics.

The entire text can be found at: Kapitel A 8 Abschnitt 6 Biokosmetik.