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Expert View: How carbon-14 testing is critical in screening “natural” ingredients for cosmetics

Accelerator Mass Spectrometer machine (courtesy of Beta Analytic) - Expert View: How carbon-14 testing is critical in screening natural ingredients for cosmetics.Growing numbers of health and environmentally conscious consumers are opting for cosmetics labelled natural while shifting away from products containing synthetic and chemical-based ingredients write Haley Gershon and Jasmine Garsideof Beta Analytic in our latest expert view. As consumer demand soars worldwide, more and more companies are manufacturing and retailing plant-based products. In April of 2017, CVS Health took a major step …helping people on their path to better health…toward more sustainable products that satisfy consumer expectations.1 CVS Health announced the removal of almost 600 chemical-based personal care products from its store brand and product lines.1

Consumer concern about the environmental and health effects of chemical additives influences the booming global market for bio-based personal care products. Since consumers are willing to pay a premium, the lucrative natural label may be tempting for manufacturers and suppliers alike. However mislabelling and adulteration are rife in the cosmetics supply chain. As a result, lab testing such as carbon-14 analysis is necessary to confirm the validity of label claims or the authenticity of natural ingredients and to gain the trust of B2B clients and end consumers.

Global desire for natural personal care products flourishes

Rightly or wrongly, consumers often perceive natural products as superior to synthetic ones. The shift away from synthetic cosmetic items is a global trend with bio-based personal care products popping up on the market in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and LAMEA. In 2015, the global natural personal care market was estimated at USD 10.16 billion,2 and as a result of growing consumer demand, the global market is expected to more than double to USD 25.1 billion by 2025.3

Currently, North America dominates the natural cosmetics market and demand for these products is predicted to continue to rise. By the end of 2017, North America, alone, accounted for about 33.8% of the global market for natural personal care products.4 In the United States, skin care products remain the leading natural cosmetic purchase, contributing to the countrys 9.2% increase in natural cosmetic sales from 2015 to 2016.5 The Green Beauty Barometer Survey explores the skyrocketing demand for natural cosmetics among women in the United States purchasing all-natural beauty products. Based on approximately 1,300 women aged 18 and older who completed the survey in 2017, data demonstrates

75% of millennial women, 69% of women ages 35-44, and 68% of women ages 45-54 prefer green cosmetics over synthetic products.6 In Europe, consumers are also gravitating towards plant-based products and natural labeled cosmetics. Since 2012 in the UK, data on the natural cosmetic market demonstrates a growth in sale revenues of almost 30%, with natural hair care products being the most popular choice.7

Over time, the increase in consumer demand for natural cosmetic products has fuelled the growing use of bio-based raw materials derived from plant sources – known as bio-based.

U.S. Certification of bio-based cosmetics

The USDA BioPreferred Program stipulates a minimum bio-based threshold for products to be eligible, which varies depending on the type of product and has to be measured in an accredited carbon-14 testing laboratory such as Beta Analytic. For example, the minimum bio-based content is 61% for bath products, 82% for lip care products, and 59% for lotions and moisturizers.8 The program uses ASTM D6866 as the standard analytical method for determining the bio-based content of solid, liquid, and gaseous samples which demonstrates the minimum bio-based content in a product through carbon-14 testing.9 Labels on products certified BioPreferred can display the USDA logo in addition to the percentage of bio-based content measured.

European bio-based certifications

In Europe, bio-based certifications also create consumer confidence in natural cosmetics. TV AUSTRIAs OK Biobased Program indicates the bio-based content of a product through a star system.10 OK Biobased certified products must contain at least 20% bio-based content according to ASTM D6866 testing, since the certification scheme accords stars to products depending on their bio-based content: one star for 20% to 40%, two stars for 40% to 60%, three stars for 60% to 80%, and four stars for over 80%biobased content.10

In Germany, personal care items may also be eligible for DIN CERTCOs DIN-Geprft certification, which identifies the products bio-based content through three quality levels: 20-50% bio-based, 50-85% bio-based, and >85% bio-based. The bio-based content must be demonstrated through ASTM D6866 testing.11 Biobased cosmetic products that meet the requirements of the DIN CERTCO certification can display the DIN-Geprft Biobased logo and the bio-based content level on their labels.

Carbon-14 bio-based testing for authentication

In addition to measuring the percentage of a finished product that is formulated from bio-based as opposed to petrochemical sources as explained above, carbon-14 testing helps manufacturers screen the authenticity of cosmetic ingredients labelled as natural such as aromas chemicals and botanical extracts.

Carbon-14 is a weakly radioactive and unstable isotope of carbon. All living materials including modern biomass contain a known level of carbon-14. Once the organic material dies, it stops exchanging carbon-14 with the biosphere and over time, the level of carbon-14 decrease at a known rate through a process of radioactive decay.12 Fossil raw materials such as petroleum no longer contain any carbon-14.

Carbon-14 testing therefore measures the percentage of a material derived from biomass as opposed to petroleum and other fossil sources. Consequently it works as an effective screening method for any carbon-based material in solid, liquid or gaseous form that are labelled as natural but are suspected to have been adulterated with cheaper synthetic imitations manufactured from petrochemicals.


Customer health and environmental consciousness triggers increased scrutiny of product labels and encourages natural cosmetic purchases. As the market for green, natural personal care products continues to boom, the drive for manufacturers and distributors to obtain analytical data through bio-based testing strengthens. Certifications schemes provide customer assurance of natural cosmetics as manufacturers demonstrate accurate percentage of bio-based content on product labels. In addition, carbon-14 testing is critical in screening products and verifying ingredients to substantiate natural claims. Ultimately,Bio-based testing for natural cosmetic products results in peace of mind for consumers, manufacturers, and suppliers.

Author: Haley Gershon, Marketing Specialist,and co-Author Jasmine Garside, Global Operations Manager, Beta Analytic. Please see below for references.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Bio-Based World News’ editorial team and management.

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1 Cunha S. CVS Health Takes Major Step to Address Chemicals of Consumer Concern. [Internet]. Rhode Island: CVS Health. 2017 Apr 19. [cited 2018 May 10].

2 Grand View Research. Organic Personal Care Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Skin Care, Hair Care, Oral Care, Cosmetics), By Region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, CSA, MEA), And Segment Forecasts, 2018 – 2025. [Internet] California: Grand View Research. 2018 Mar. [cited 2018 May 10].

3 Grand View Research. Organic Personal Care Market Size Worth $25.1 Billion By 2025. [Internet]. California: Grand View Research. 2018 Mar. [cited 2018 May 10].

4 Persistence Market Research. Global Natural and Organic Personal Care Products Market Revenue Expected to Increase to US$ 29.5 Bn by 2028. [Internet]. New York: Persistence Market Research. 2018 Apr 26. [cited 2018 May 10].

5 US: Higher sales of natural and organic personal care products in 2016. [Internet]. North America: 2017 Sep 25. [cited 2018 May 10].

6 Kari Gran. GREEN BEAUTY BAROMETER SURVEY. [Internet]. United States: Kari Gran. 2017 Sep 6-8. [cited 2018 May 10].

7 Research and Markets. The UK Market for Natural & Organic Personal Care Products 2017. [Internet]. Great Britain: Research and Markets. 2017 Aug. [cited 2018 May 10].

8 United States Department of Agriculture. Product Categories. [Internet]. Washington: United States Department of Agriculture. [date unknown]. [cited 2018 May 11].

9 ASTM International. ASTM D6866-18 Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis. [Internet]. Pennsylvania: ASTM International. [date unknown]. [cited 2018 May 11].

10 Beta Analytic. Vincotte’s OK Biobased Labeling Program. [Internet]. Miami: Beta Analytic. 2018 February. [cited 2018 May 11].

11 Beta Analytic. DIN CERTCO’s DIN-Geprft Biobased Certification Scheme. [Internet]. Miami: Beta Analytic. [date unknown]. [cited 2018 May 11].

12 Beta Analytic. Understanding Carbon-14 Analysis. [Internet]. Miami: Beta Analytic. [date unknown]. [cited 2018 May 11].

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