The Soil Association has always pretty much set the world benchmark for the highest standards in organic health and beauty products. For that reason we sought their independent guarantee of "organic authenticity" when we very first launched Essential Care in 2003. And we have a policy of only producing skincare that is certified to Soil Association standards. But of course the Soil Association’s isn’t the only organic health & beauty standard – how does it differ from the others?
Firstly here is what’s involved in achieving the Soil Association standard: To obtain organic certification for a product, and be able to call the product “Organic XXX” a minimum of 95% of all ingredients must be certified organic. Where insufficient organically grown ingredients exist, the Soil Association will approve products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients (such as our Shampoo) but they cannot be labelled "organic". If the product mainly consists of minerals (such as in our Mint Mask which has a large proportion of green clay which can’t be deemed organic as it doesn’t “grow”, then products can be approved at a lower organic percentage. The remaining ingredients, however, are also subject to strict rules. Substances suspected of being toxic to humans or the environment are not allowed, neither are genetically modified ingredients.
The other most well known standard is Ecocert (from France) which requires a minimum 10% of organic ingredients (this is under review and may be increased to 20% for some product types). Once a product has met that minimum, though, the manufacturer is not obliged to use organic quality for further ingredients. This is a major difference to the SA which stipulates that you have to use organic quality if it's available. It also makes for quite big quality differences when you're talking about expensive ingredients like rose. Bans on potentially toxic or environmentally harmful ingredients like parabens and petrochemicals are comparable to the Soil Association’s.
Another popular health & beauty standard is BDIH (from Germany) which certifies natural rather than organic products.
The UK has a couple of other certifications including Organic Farmers & Growers and the Organic Food Federation which are similar to the Soil Association standards, but a little more relaxed on organic content. Demeter certifies products that contain ingredients grown according to biodynamic agriculture rules.
Going further afield, NOP/NSF in America and ACO of Australia now offer standards similar to those of the Soil Association.
Even if some organic standards are a bit weaker than others, I'd always prefer to see an organic certification on products rather than none at all! There are now a lot of certifications and thus a lot of symbols for consumers to remember!
The next blog is on two new standards that have emerged in Europe in an effort to harmonise and simplify.