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Natural cosmetics – What can the ISO 16128 standard do?



ISO 16128-Norm

The consumer these days finds himself in a dense jungle of seals of natural cosmetics. As of 2016/2017, we now also have ISO 16128 as an international standard in natural cosmetics. ISO 16128 increases transparency above all for the manufacturers of cosmetic products. To this day, there is still no legal definition of what the words “natural” or “biological” even signify in the context of cosmetics.

ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization, an independent and non-state international organization of members from 164 countries. Its aim is to develop and publish international standards (e.g. definitions, specifications and guidelines) for various different industries. ISO standards are known not only within the industry but also among consumers. 

What is in the ISO 16128?

The ISO 16128 standard applies to cosmetic ingredients and finished cosmetic products. The standard defines how to numerically determine the degree of natural and organic origin making it easy to compare between individual raw materials and finished products.

The first part of the standard (ISO 16128-1) was published in February 2016 and defines, among other things, the following categories for cosmetic ingredients:

  1. Natural ingredients
  2. Derived natural ingredients
  3. Organic ingredients
  4. Derived organic ingredients

The second part of the standard (ISO 16128-2) was published in September 2017. It describes the calculation of the natural or organic origin of the categories above. The degree of natural or organic origin, stated as an index, can be calculated for individual ingredients or for finished products.

Specifically, the second part allows the following indexes to be calculated for cosmetic ingredients:

  1. Natural index
  2. Natural origin index
  3. Organic index
  4. Organic origin index

If an ingredient meets the definition of “natural ingredients”, then the “natural origin index” is 1, otherwise 0. The molecular weight or the content of regenerative carbon atoms can be used, for example, to calculate an ingredient’s degree of natural origin. If the “natural origin index” is somewhere between 0.5 and ≤ 1, then it is a derived natural ingredient. The same logic applies to the organic origin.

Working from the index of the individual ingredients, the degree of natural origin of finished cosmetic products can also be calculated. This value falls between 0 und 100 % and can be calculated with or without the water content in the formulation. ISO 16128 makes a distinction between the following categories:

  1. Natural content
  2. Natural origin content
  3. Organic content
  4. Organic origin content

In order to calculate the “natural content” of a finished product, for example, the percentages of natural ingredients are multiplied by the “natural index” and the results are summed. The same calculation also applies to the “natural origin content”, except that in this case the derived natural ingredients are also factored into the calculation.

What can ISO 16128 do compared to COSMOS and NATRUE?

COSMOS and NATRUE compliant products are visibly labelled as such on the packaging where the end consumer can see it. The ISO 16128 standard, however, makes no provision for claims or labels on products. Nevertheless, we do find products on the market already presenting the natural origin content as a percentage on their packaging. 

Differences in the content between ISO 16128, COSMOS and NATRUE are shown in the table below:

  ISO 16128 – Norm COSMOS NATRUE
Target group Manufacturers Manufacturers and end consumers Manufacturers and end consumers
Prohibition of ingredients that would be legally allowed in cosmetics   X X
Prohibition of petrochemical ingredients      
Certification   X X
Definition of natural ingredients X X X
Definition of derived natural and organic ingredients X X X
Definition of derived natural and organic ingredients with >50% natural/organic content X    
Calculation of product contents with or without water With and without water With water Without water

The new ISO 16128 standard is to be regarded as a complement to the existing ISO standards, such as ISO 9001, and is gaining ever more attention among manufacturers. Accordingly, many raw material suppliers are now providing cosmetic product manufacturers with information on the natural and/or organic origin index of their ingredients.



  1. International Standard ISO 16128 – Guidelines on technical definitions and criteria for natural and organic cosmetics ingredients and products. Part 1: Definitions for ingredients. First edition 2016-02-15.
  2. International Standard ISO 16128 – Guidelines on technical definitions and criteria for natural and organic cosmetics ingredients and products. Part 2: Criteria for ingredients and products. First edition 2017-09. 


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Alessandra Kessler

Product & Sales Manager

“Sitting still? I can’t. Thankfully there is always something to do as Product and Sales Manager at IMPAG, whether it’s supporting our customers in projects or in commercial matters. I also find it great that my work takes me everywhere in Switzerland. I go back to the best places in my private time to marvel at the scenery on a hike, or on a snowboard or kiteboard. Then, maybe, if I’ve really worn myself out enough, I can relax for an hour or so.”

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