Style and Sustainability

Ethical Cosmetics: What Do Organic and Cruelty Free Labels Really Mean?

Ethical Cosmetics: What Do Organic and Cruelty Free Labels Really Mean?

Are you striving for ethical bathroom products but concerned by all the different claims on the packaging? We’ve taken a closer look at UK standards to find out which symbols indicate truly organic and cruelty free cosmetics.


The most widely recognised organic symbol in the UK is by the Soil Association. The Soil Association symbol can only be used on organic products from producers with a valid certificate of registration.

100% organic beauty products are hard to find as ingredients such as water and minerals are not able to be certified. Often the percentage of organic ingredients in beauty products is likely to be 70% upwards. Seeking out the Soil Association COSMOS NATURAL symbol is a good place to start as it will indicate the product has been created with the aim to use organic ingredients where possible. The symbol also indicates the product has not been tested on animals, and is free from:

  • GM ingredients
  • Controversial chemicals
  • Parabens and phthalates
  • Synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances

Another widely used logo is ‘ECOCERT organic cosmetic’ for which a minimum of 95% of all plant-based ingredients in the product must be organic. ECOCERT also requires the product to be free from GMOs, parabens, phenoxyethanol, nanoparticles, silicon, PEGs, synthetic perfumes and dyes, or animal-derived ingredients (except milk or honey). ECOCERT also do a ‘natural cosmetic’ logo but this has a lower threshold for organic ingredients at just 5%.

Cruelty Free

Cruelty free cosmetics are harder to navigate.  Gigantic corporations with less desirable cruelty-credentials have purchased many brands previously considered ‘cruelty free’. Whilst these ‘cruelty free’ companies are not directly involved in animal testing, many consumers find it disquieting to have them sit under the umbrella of those who do engage in vivisection. Often the parent company’s reason for animal testing is cited as being necessary to sell products in countries (with booming cosmetics sales) where it is a legal requirement (and hugely profitable).

Other consumers point out that we need to show the ‘beauty giants’ that there is demand for cruelty free products by continuing to support their ‘cruelty free’ subsidiary brands. I find this point difficult to uphold. There are plenty of other cruelty free brands basking out of the shadow of the ‘beauty giants’. Shopping with these brands ensures you put your money towards supporting a truly ethical business model. I digress. Ultimately, animal testing is still happening on a large scale so it helps to keep one eye on the parent companies, and another on the following labels:



Cruelty-Free Kitty is also a fantastic resource for sourcing advice on cruelty free cosmetics. The site clearly identifies cruelty-free brands with questionable parent companies, so you can make a fully informed decision.

We’re conscious that there is a third hugely important element to making ethical cosmetics choices: the farmers and producers of the ingredients. We look forward to publishing a follow up article looking at ‘fair trade’ cosmetics. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your favourite ethical cosmetic brands and how you found them.

We’re looking for three readers to share their ethical beauty routines. Please get in touch here or through our social media if you would like to contribute.

Main photo by Sarah Comeau on Unsplash

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