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Marketing Claims: Say It, Mean It, Do It … Not Always


LONDON—Organic Monitor released the results of a new study that assessed more than 50 international brands of natural cosmetic products and ranked them in terms of their naturalness. Unfortunately, very few natural and organic cosmetic brands are living up to their marketing claims.

The Brand Assessment study involved a chartered chemist examining the ingredient composition of cosmetic products and classifying formulations according to their level of naturalness. Certified-organic cosmetics received the highest rating (9 to 10), pure-natural cosmetics received 5 to 7 ratings, naturally inspired cosmetics received a 2 rating, and conventional cosmetics received a rating of 1.

One major finding was the formulations of most natural brands are not meeting their marketing claims. Many companies claiming to have chemically clean cosmetics actually are falling foul of having contentious synthetic ingredients. Many such brands are classified as semi-natural or naturally inspired, even though they claim to be 100 percent natural. Surprisingly, some organic cosmetic brands are given low naturalness ratings; although their products contain certified-organic ingredients, the formulations still have synthetic ingredients not common in natural and organic products.

The research highlights the importance of certification in creating a level playing field for formulators. Natural abd organic standards have tight guidelines on permitted and prohibited ingredients and encourage green formulations. Thus, brands with high levels of certified products received high naturalness scores.

Brands that received high naturalness scores include: Intelligent Nutrients (9), Green People (8) and Living Nature (7). Intelligent Nutrients products received high naturalness ratings, as they contain high levels of organic (food) ingredients, with almost all products certified organic. New brands launched by large multinationals also scored high in terms of their natural and organic formulations: Garnier Bio Active (L’Oreal), Diadermine Bio Expertise (Henkel) and Johnson’s Natural (Johnson & Johnson). The high naturalness ratings of these brands epitomize how the natural and organic arena has evolved from just having small niche brands.

With so many brands marketing their cosmetic products on natural and organic claims, the study encourages companies to take the certification route. Standards provide a clear list of approved ingredients and processes to formulators. Furthermore, certified products build consumer trust since symbols and logos such as ECOCERT, Soil Association, BDIH, NPA and NaTrue clearly distinguish legitimate natural/organic products from falsely labeled ones.

Although certification is encouraged, there is also some criticism of Fair Trade and new eco-labeling schemes for cosmetic products. A growing number of Fair Trade organizations are allowing cosmetic products to be certified Fair Trade if they contain a minimum level of Fair Trade ingredients. Many consumers perceive these products as pure natural since they are certified and often marketed on their Fair Trade (natural) ingredients. However, this Brand Assessment study found many Certified Fair Trade cosmetics received low naturalness ratings because of high level of synthetic substances; most Fair Trade standards do not have an approved and prohibited list of synthetic ingredients. Tighter standards are called for otherwise Fair Trade seals could add to the existing consumer confusion about natural products.

Organic Monitor found the level of naturalness of brands varies considerably between geographic regions. European brands, partly because of the high adoption rates of natural and organic standards, score highest. North American brands are the second most natural, while brands in other regions generally received lower ratings. Although a growing number of Asian and Latin American brands are emphasizing their natural—and in many cases, indigenous—ingredients, the formulations are usually high in synthetic preservatives, emulsifiers and other ingredients.

One reason behind the low level of naturalness of such brands is lack of experience with green ingredients. Judi Beerling, head of technical research at Organic Monitor, said: “Many Asian companies are not accustomed to using the new palette of green ingredients, preferring to use familiar synthetics in their formulations." These products, although may contain certified organic ingredients, would fall short of any recognized natural/organic standards.

To address the formulation issues associated with natural and  organic cosmetics, Organic Monitor is dedicating a workshop and seminar program at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Hong Kong Nov. 7 to Nov. 8, 2011. Some of the key findings of this Brand Assessment study will be presented at this executive summit, and established Asia-Pacific brands like Himalaya Herbals and Comvita will participate.

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