Organic Face Oils: Hype or Holy Grail for Skincare?
by Heather Smith on May 08, 2023
We're all on a quest to find the perfect skincare routine that suits our skin type and aligns with our values and preferences. Amongst the available options, organic face oils have claimed their spot as an essential beauty item for many individuals.
But the question remains: are these elixirs worth the extra hype they receive?
In my experience as an expert in face oils, I'll lay my biases on the line now: I prefer organic ingredients and always choose them over their non-organic counterparts when available. However, in the quest to produce effective, results-based skincare products, I've decided not to "chase" a label.
What I mean by this is that I'm not willing to drop the percentages of active ingredients in my formulas just to meet rigid (and costly) certification standards like 100% or 95% organic ingredients.
Some of the best, most potent, active botanicals can never be certified organic because of the science and manufacturing processes needed to make them - I'm not willing to pass on using them to ensure I can use a "certified organic" logo on my packaging.
The Difference Between Organic and Non-Organic Carrier Oils
Organic carrier oils are sourced from certified organic farms that use specific techniques and meet set criteria. Organic certification is a rigorous process that ensures the plants are grown and the oil is processed without using particular types of chemicals or banned methods.
The benefits of organic carrier oils depend on the specific oil. They may generally be higher in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. They are also not subjected to different processes like bleaching and refinement, which may protect the delicate phytochemicals from degradation.
These benefits are difficult to prove conclusively, but there is some scientific data to support increased antioxidant and phenolic capacity in foods that are farmed by organic standards.
There is sometimes an image of natural skincare with fields of flowers and plants handpicked for their powerful properties. This romantic image can be true, especially regarding the farm-to-face movement. Some luxury and niche natural brands are able to literally farm and produce their own carrier oils.
This is the ultimate in supply chain management and freshness!
Imagine being able to grow a field of lavender flowers and produce your own lavender oil for your own products.
Unfortunately, this isn't a reality for most skincare brands or products for obvious reasons. Most carrier oils are mass-produced. The critical difference lies in the farming practices used.
Organic certification sets a high standard for production methods.
The USDA and CFIA are the primary certifiers in North America. Rules and regulations are precise and include things like being unable to use specific pesticides or fertilizers on the field for a minimum of 3 years, living conditions for animals, genetic engineering and modification not being permitted, and explicit handling practices (i.e. no irradiation), and others.
What Makes an Organic Facial Oil Better Than Its Non-Organic Counterpart
As a science-minded formulator who values both efficacy and sustainability, weighing all aspects of decision-making regarding ingredients is essential.
First and foremost, when you consider any carrier oil, all of them are natural. Deciding between organic and non-organic has nothing to do with the distinction between natural skincare products and chemical or synthetic ingredients.
Rosehip seed oil and organic rosehip seed oil are essentially identical. The nuances lay within the specific phytochemical compounds that can be detected and measured and have beneficial effects when applied to your skin.
The distinction between these two types of natural face oils lies primarily in how they are produced and processed – factors that ultimately impact their quality and potential benefits.
Organic oils are derived from plants grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thus, by choosing organic face oils over non-organic alternatives, we may provide our skin with a richer array of beneficial compounds that work synergistically to nourish and protect our complexion.
Another potential benefit is the differing level of care and attention paid to oil production in general. To maintain organic certification, farmers must adhere to rigid standards that are reviewed and enforced.
This sets the bar higher.
This level of accountability ensures a brand invests in high-quality materials backed by ethical practices while fostering trust between consumers and manufacturers alike.
Is There A Downside To Using Organic Face Oils
Green beauty and clean beauty are skincare movements that focus on ingredient origin, sustainability, and the potential effects on the health and wellness of the users. Unfortunately, media hype, inaccurate information, anti-science messaging, and fear-based marketing are prevalent in the industry.
The primary disadvantage to choosing organic over non-organic is the cost to the consumer. Rigid certification practices and maintenance of certification are expensive, so producers pass that on to consumers. However, if budget is a consideration, many excellent options will work wonders for your complexion - organic or not.
Consumer preferences matter a lot in this area. For example, some people would rather have 100% organic ingredients, regardless if there's a trade-off with results. Others prioritize stability and proven results above all else.
By carefully examining each product's formulation alongside its claims, consumers can make informed decisions about what best suits their unique needs – ensuring optimal outcomes for their skin's health while remaining true to their core values.
Case study: Organic Facial Oil vs Non-Organic
Taking the rosehip seed oil example from above, I checked my favourite supplier. Their non-organic, cosmetic-grade rosehip seed oil is $75/kg and available in stock. The organic version is $190/kg and is out of stock. That is a 2.5x price difference plus a supply chain issue.
Digging deeper, both products have plenty of information available to confirm their authenticity - safety data sheet, certificate of compositional analysis, country of origin, etc. They also have nearly identical fatty acid profiles.
If you took these two oils and did a test 50:50 on your face (organic on one side and non-organic on the other side), it is doubtful that you will notice a difference.
Bottom line: There is a clear difference in production, but if cost is a factor for you, don't think that using non-organic face oils is suddenly going to be harmful or ineffective. Potential advantages exist, but it isn't very likely the impact on an individual basis is genuinely significant.
What Are The USDA Certification Standards For Cosmetics
Not all products claiming to be 'organic' truly adhere to the strict standards set by regulatory bodies.
The USDA has stringent certification standards for cosmetics requiring at least 95% of the product's agricultural ingredients to be organically produced to bear their logo on the packaging. Additionally, the word organic can be used on the primary display panel of the packaging. Anything less than 95% and the labelling requirements get very specific.
By familiarizing yourself with these guidelines and maintaining skepticism towards ambiguous claims on labels, you can ensure that your pursuit in selecting high-quality organic face oils is well-informed and successful.
There are many certification organizations, some with more or less rigid certification, monitoring, and maintenance requirements. USDA organic is the gold standard that sets the stage for others. Many other important organizations, like ECOCERT, also exist.
Why Some Brands Choose Not to Become Organic Certified
The certification process for organic labelling can be expensive and time-consuming. This can be difficult for small businesses, especially if the return on investment is low.
A second issue, which is more important from my perspective, is the inability to tailor your product formulation specifically if you want to use certain active ingredients at specific percentages.
If an organic version of a particular ingredient is not available, then the brand would need to make a decision to either change ingredients or just go without the certification.
An example is squalane which can be made from organic base materials, but the final product won't bear the certified organic logo because it doesn't officially meet the criteria (due to the way squalane is fractionated, processed, and hydrogenated). That means if you want to make an organic facial oil that contains squalane, you'd have to be sure not to exceed 5%.
Similarly, Bakuchiol is an excellent active ingredient that won't be able to be certified due to the production processes necessary to create it. Many other ingredients fit this designation, so if you limit your formula to a maximum of 5% non-organic ingredients, you could easily limit the effectiveness of your product - all to be awarded the use of a logo.
In the skincare world, this is known as "label appeal" - adding or subtracting ingredients in order to achieve a specific "look" to a label.
How to Avoid Falling For False Marketing Claims
I recommend looking for certifications from reputable organizations such as USDA Organic or ECOCERT. However, keep in mind that some brands may choose not to obtain these logos due to cost constraints while still maintaining high-quality standards.
Be cautious of buzzwords like 'natural' or 'eco-friendly,' which can be misleading; focus on transparency, ethical sourcing practices, and third-party evaluations.
Brands that list specific percentages (i.e. 86% organic ingredients) are being transparent and likely choose to use as many as possible without compromising the effectiveness or percentages of their more active ingredients.
Don't hesitate to contact the company directly if you have questions about their ingredients or processes – a truly committed brand will be more than happy to address your concerns and help you achieve skin mastery through informed choices.
Organically farmed ingredients are less refined and may contain more phytochemicals and antioxidants. Choosing organically certified ingredients is certainly my preference, as is using them on my own skin.
Is it worth the hype to seek out specific, rigorous organic certification? That depends on the goal of the product.
If the product is designed for consumers who choose only the most natural ingredients, even at the cost of reduced effectiveness, then going through the rigorous certification steps makes sense for the brand.
However, if the maximization of active ingredients and specific additives that can never be available in an organic form is the goal, then forgoing the certification and maximizing the balance between ingredient origin and effectiveness makes much more sense.
Ultimately, finding the right balance between organic ingredients and overall formula effectiveness should be the primary goal when choosing facial oils.
Read more about getting started in the world of face oils with our comprehensive beginners guide to Face Oil.
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