How can you tell if 'organic' cosmetics are actually organic?

Reader Kelly Ho wrote in to askST: "How do you determine if organic cosmetics are organic? What are the requirements?" Style reporter Melissa Heng checked with the experts for the answer.

There are no industry standards or regulations governing the use of the term "organic" for cosmetic products.

Generally, ingredients for organic cosmetics come from organic plants, which are loosely defined as crops grown with only natural fertilisers and pesticides.

However, because there is no official global definition of what is "organic", a crop classified as organic in one country might not be categorised as such in another.

So how can consumers assess if something is truly organic?

Dr Roland Chu, an associate consultant at the National Skin Centre, says several certification organisations around the world, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), set certain minimum standards in order for products to be certified organic. To identify such products, consumers can look for "certified organic" seals. For example, products certified by USDA will display the "USDA Organic" seal.

In an article published in The Straits Times in November last year, Dr Alain Khaiat, president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Singapore, said other certifying bodies that consumers can trust include Cosmos, EcoCert, Natrue, NSF and BDIH.

"Look out for their logos on the labels. And make sure the certification logo applies to the entire product and not just one ingredient in it," added Dr Khaiat.

At the end of the day, are organic cosmetics better than non-organic ones? Dr Chu says the short answer is no. "There is no robust evidence that organic products are better for your skin than non-organic or synthetic ones. Whether the ingredients are organically grown or not will have no bearing on how they affect your skin."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'How can you tell if 'organic' cosmetics are actually organic?'. Print Edition | Subscribe