According to EU law, unlike food and drink, there's no actual legislation when it comes to beauty products. This means that, as consumers, we can be easily fooled into thinking that the "natural" product that we've chosen is packed with natural ingredients, rather than chemical nasties. So, what to do?
Read the label
The key to choosing pure skincare products lies in reading the label. If the brand claims to be organic, first look for a certification mark from a known organisation such as the UK's Soil Association. Any organic products which carry the Soil Association symbol must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. If a product has at least 70% organic ingredients, it can still be certified, but it must state exactly what proportion of the ingredients are organic. Many product labels will also highlight exactly which ingredients are natural or organic by adding asterisks with a footnote to explain.
On spa products made outside of the UK, look out for other recognised certification marks. COSMOS is a Europe-wide private standard that was developed by five members who carry out their own certification: BDIH (Germany), Cosmebio (France), Ecocert (France), ICEA (Italy) and the Soil Association (Great Britain).
When it comes to "natural" being used on a label, unfortunately there is little to no legislation to protect consumers from being misled. If you want to be sure that you're avoiding chemicals, check the list of ingredients, and if there is something listed that you do not recognise, Google it! Luckily, there are plenty of online resources where you can find out exactly what each cosmetic ingredient is.
No certification? Then look to see what percentage of organic or natural ingredients the product does have. If the label doesn't list the percentage, or highlight which ingredients are organic, you're probably right in thinking that the percentage may be tiny.
However, just because a company doesn't have certification, that's certainly no reason to discount them. There are many reasons that organic companies don't seek certification. Perhaps they want organic Fair Trade ingredients from suppliers who won't have that certification, but are still organic, nonetheless.
We spoke to the creators of two of our favourite organic skincare brands, who, although not certified, use perfectly pure ingredients.
Nicola Elliott, founder and director of NEOM Luxury Organics: "Although our products don't carry the Soil Association logo on the full product, the percentage of organic ingredients in our products is certified by the Soil Association. (We can find being certified by the Soil Association a little restrictive when coming up with weird and wonderful scents!) We have a NEOM promise: No petro-chemicals, No PEGS, No silicone, No synthetic fragrances (we use natural essential oils), No parabens (we use natural ingredients instead, such as cinnamon, which acts as a preservative) and No SLS (we use natural xantham gum, a natural alternative). In fact, no nasty chemicals whatsoever."
Fiona Tutte, founder of Pure Lochside explains her view: "Organic certification is a lengthy process. What's important for us, is that everything in our products is therapeutic and of the highest quality. For instance, we choose to use an essential oil which is distilled from lavender plants grown at high altitudes. Growing the plants at around 1,000 metres above sea-level changes their chemical constitution, and means they can be distilled at lower temperatures. This has given us great results. Our products have even helped people get rid of their eczema."