The Art of Deceptive Labelling — Organic versus Non-organic Skincare



The Art of Deceptive Labelling
— Organic versus Non-organic Skincare.


What do you look for to ensure a product is organic?

We must admit, one of the key drivers for conceiving Noéma was out of the frustration that no company in the beauty industry was as transparent as they should be - after all, these products are made to alleviate skin concerns, not further provoke them. Products are being splashed with ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ on their labels while barely having one botanical ingredient on their list. How can they get away with it? So we ask the question, how can we do better? How can we make ingredient transparency a priority at Noéma, and how can we make sure that people will really know what is in our Made with You range?

We’re creating an unparalleled micro-range of activated essentials. Find out how you can co-design your own natural skincare range with leading experts – and get it free for an entire year.

When it comes to skincare in Australia, there seems to be a common public misconception about the use of the word ‘organic’. Admittedly, we fell into this category until recently. We would see the word ‘Organic’ on our products and assume the best.

Public service announcement:
Just because your skincare says organic – doesn’t mean it is.

What are we  really  putting on our skin?  Image source:  Ximena Mora

What are we really putting on our skin?
Image source: Ximena Mora


Confused? You’re not the only one.

It seems that some commonly purchased products that are thought of as organic by consumers are anything but. They may be ‘naturally-derived’ but are certainly not organic, safe, and chemical or pesticide free. Naturally derived does not mean harmless. Currently, in Australia there is little regulation surrounding the use of the word organic – with brands using loopholes and clever advertising to mislead unsuspecting consumers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) governs the requirements that companies must adhere to when labelling their products. However, the onus for reporting such misleading or deceptive labelling of products falls on the shoulders of an uneducated consumer market. There is a lack of accountability in the industry.

What does organic mean in the personal care industry?

Overall, ‘organically certified’ means an organic cosmetic product has not interacted with any synthetic chemicals such as pesticides or fertilisers, and has had no additives or antibiotics or been radiated at any step of the production process – from growing, harvesting to manufacturing. Achieving organic status is an expensive process and a lot of brands are unable to achieve certification.

'Certified organic' status guarantees that everything about the product has been produced organically and contains only organic ingredients.  

Who deems a product as ‘Organic’ in Australia?

Every country has different regulations for organic certification, and most are strict – meaning that a product created and certified and in one country may not necessarily meet the standards for organic certification in the country of purchase.

In Australia the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) have deemed the organisation Australian Certified Organic (ACO) as the main certifying body for organic cosmetics. The ACO are responsible for declining or accepting applications for ‘certified organic’ status and follows the COSMOS standard, which was developed by five European bodies and is specifically for cosmetics. Certified Organic means a product contains a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients and up to 5% from non-organic sources. Have a look out for their logo on your cosmetics and body care products if this is important to you:


Organic certification is the customer’s guarantee that all products manufactured by a company adhere to the rigorous criteria placed on it by the certifying body. The certification criteria encompass every step of the process, from pre-planting of the soil through to dispatch of end product. Note that to be certified ‘natural’ is different to certified organic: Certified organic is more stringent than certified natural. There is a huge difference in quality of conventional and certified natural products, and greater still between conventional and certified organic products.


The table below identifies the criteria outlined by Australian Certified Organic (ACO) comparing ‘Natural’ versus ‘Organic’ certification:


Can a brand claim to be organic, but not certified?

Organic certification is good to have. But some cosmetic brands don’t have such certification as this is a costly and lengthily process. Some small brands in particular may still choose to stand behind their products and don't feel a need to pay for certification and will deem their products as uncertified organic.  

Another type of certification your favourite brands may choose is ‘made with certified organic ingredients’ – meaning it contains 70–95% certified organic ingredients with the remainder from non-organic sources.

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5 reasons why you should consider switching from conventional skincare to organic or uncertified organic

  1. It’s better for your health: Numerous studies exist on the dangers of chemically derived skincare and the detrimental effects they have on human health – namely hormonal disruption, skin allergies and contribution to neurological disorders. See this article.

  2. Its better for the environment – Certified organic products are required to limit their contaminant output, meaning they are less toxic to the environment and are bio-degradable.

  3. It’s ethical and local: A lot of the time you are able to find a local manufacturer of organic skincare – check out your nearby market. This is where you are able to chat directly to the formulator and manufacturer and will know exactly what is inside, plus you will be supporting local industry. Also – to be certified organic means the company adheres to ethical trade requirements promoting social and economic development of smaller farmers.

  4. Nutrient rich: Organic skincare is rich in active plant extracts – see this article on our top 11 natural skincare ingredients and their benefits.

  5. Preserves skin: Chemical ingredients while in the short term may seem beneficial, a lot of the time they actually cause premature ageing via oxidative damage, and strips the skin of its natural moisture and naturally-protective acidic mantle. See our fascinating article on the skin’s microbiome.


Key Takeaway

We now understand that the term ‘organic’ refers to how an ingredient was farmed - it must be prepared and grown without pesticides, chemical fertilisers, growth hormones or antibiotics. 'Certified Organic' products must meet a number of strict number of specifications as according to the governing body that go beyond the simple ‘organic’ requirements to be certified. The ingredients for this certification must still be grown and prepared under the same conditions as above, but the concentration percentage of organic ingredients must be higher. The 'Certified Organic' certification process however is very expensive and can create financial limitations for young skincare companies. Additionally, not all ingredients are available as Certified Organic, so our ingredient selection will need to take this into consideration.

In essence, organic ingredients are farmed at a higher quality than the natural equivalent. They are not genetically modified or synthetically manufactured to replicate the profile of a natural ingredient, and are always vegan. Higher quality means increased potency, leading to greater health benefits. Here at Noéma we are excited by the concept of making completely organic products (where possible) and we will investigate the financial feasibility of our Made with You products being Certified Organic.


Co-Design Your Activated Essentials —

Here at Noéma, we’re busy researching the best ingredients - so that we can make the best activated essentials for you, with you. We’re taking a radically new direction in skincare; we use you as the key ingredient.

By collaborating with industry experts such as naturopaths, biochemists, product specialists and formulators, our aim is to create an Activated Essentials product range with the best ingredients, formula and design.

We’re taking applications from our diverse community to contribute to co-designing an essential micro-range of products right for them. Get involved in upcoming events and workshops covering wellness, self-care and design.


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