Proliferation of Ethical Labels in Cosmetics Industry

The number of ethical labelling schemes in the cosmetics industry is proliferating. Growing consumer demand for eco-labelled products is behind this trend, however there are questions about the long term implications.

Most label developments have been in the natural & organic cosmetics market. There are now over 30 symbols and labels that represent natural and organic cosmetic standards.  

Ecocert and NaTrue have gained most international traction, with the Ecocert logo now present on over 12,000 cosmetic products.

Adoption rates of natural & organic cosmetic standards vary considerably between regions. Western Europe has the highest adoption rate where almost 3% of all cosmetics are now certified. Certification is also gaining popularity in North America, however the market share remains below 1% in all other regions. Adoption rates are especially low in Asia, where mostly imported products are certified.

Proliferation is occurring as eco-labels cross over from the food to cosmetics industry. Fairtrade, the second largest eco-label for food products, is becoming popular in parts of Europe. The Vegan Society and Vegetarian labels are also migrating from food products to cosmetics. The Rainforest Alliance seal – highly evident on food commodities – has also recently been approved for use on cosmetic products.

Other labels represent some environmental or ethical aspects. In Scandinavia, the Nordic Swan and EU Eco-flower are well-established, representing cosmetic products with low environmental impacts. Cruelty-Free logos, such as the Leaping Bunny, are also commonly used by ethical cosmetic brands in Europe and North America.

The Halal label is possibly the most prospective. Unlike other labels, it appeals to religious beliefs – and not environmental / ethical concerns – of consumers. With 1.5 billion Muslim consumers, it is getting interest from exporters in the west, as well as Asian and Middle-Eastern brands. Halal certified cosmetics contain no ‘forbidden’ ingredients.

As shown at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, there are concerns about the ramifications of this label proliferation. First, most labels are adopted on a national basis, with few having a significant regional presence. Second, there is little harmonisation between the growing myriad of standards. Even in the natural & organic cosmetics industry, there has been little progress in aligning standards.

As a consequence, multiple logos and symbols are appearing on cosmetic products. As has already been seen in the sustainable food industry, this development leads to consumer confusion. Whilst standards assure consumers that certified products meet some ethical requirements, the plethora of symbols and logos has a counter effect. A wider question is: does a truly ethical product need multiple ‘badges of honour’?

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit
The future direction of ethical labels is regularly featured at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. Representatives from leading certification agencies and labelling schemes participate; they includes Ecocert, NaTrue, ICEA, Soil Association, COSMOS, CosmeBio, NPA, NSF, Australian Organic, ISO, Halal Certification, Nordic Swan, EU Eco-Flower, Cruelty-Free, Vegan Society, etc. The executive summit are now hosted in Europe, North & Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific. More details are on the website

Posted: September 11th 2015

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