o Organic We live in a world where keeping up with lifestyle trends and what is considered stylish or healthy has become almost de rigueur. At the same time, the realisation that we cannot take the environment for granted is growing. We hear terms like organic, environmentally friendly, pure and natural reverberating through fashion, beauty and even culinary circles. But what do we know about these concepts, and how much of it is reliable? When we hear that someone has become a vegan, eats only organic food because of all its supposed benefits, or wears all-natural make-up - how can we be so sure this isn't just a passing fad to be shelved when the next one comes along? And can there really be something better than what is already all-natural? But perhaps the biggest question is: just how pure should so-called organic products be to earn that name? Natural and organic beauty is one of the fastest-growing movements in the cosmetics market today. Although the beauty industry is booming, it can leave consumers confused. One of the biggest marketing ploys today is the use of the word 'organic', despite the fact that many consumers are unsure of its meaning. So what does natural and organic skin care mean? With all the apparently organic players in today's market, there is still only a handful that can claim to be truly organic. Organic cosmetics are produced without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, animal-derived ingredients or pesticides; in other words, ingredients are pure and unadulterated. There are no industry regulations on what constitutes truly organic or natural products, and the only way consumers can be assured that what they are purchasing is really organic is to buy products which have been organically certified by recognised bodies. Among the most recognised certificates are ACO (Australian Certified Organic), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), Soil Association, CCF (Choose Cruelty Free), ECOCERT (European Certification), OTCO (Oregon Tilth Certified Organic) and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). The latter two are among the strictest standards available, as they require items to be 100 per cent organic before they allow their seal to be put on packaging. With stringent rules in place, brands such as The Organic Pharmacy, Nest, Organic Home, Sanctum, Stem Organics and Origins' new Origins Organics line are living up to the true meaning of being organic. Both The Organic Pharmacy and Nest opened their first organic concept counters at Harvey Nichols earlier this year, offering an array of certified-organic brands from the US, Britain and Australia. Hoping to contribute to Hong Kong's organic beauty offerings, they aim to educate customers on what organic and holistic really mean. Brenda Lee, distributor of The Organic Pharmacy in Hong Kong, says that it is not enough just to say a product is certified, as there needs to be an association standing behind it. Xenses Spa introduced the Stem Organics range earlier this year, a small range of skin care products with a minimum 78 per cent certification and ingredients sourced largely from the Australian outback. Reading the ingredients label is a simple way to decipher whether the product is what it claims to be. Many brands still claim to be organic although only a fraction of the ingredients are. 'A responsible brand will list the organic ingredients on the packaging and mark 'certified organic' next to the specific ones,' Ms Lee says. 'It is very clear from the packaging if the customer takes time to read it. Unfortunately, some brands do not even translate their ingredients on packaging, so customers can't understand it anyway.' So how does one make out the difference? There are three classes of organic products recognised around the world. Products containing less than 70 per cent organic content are called non-organics; those containing over 70 per cent are labelled certified organic ingredients; and those with a concentration of more than 95 per cent organic content are certified organic. Products can be classified as 100 per cent organic, but they must contain 100 per cent organically-produced ingredients (not including water and salt). This is the one label that absolutely guarantees a completely organic product and carries the USDA Organic Seal as proof. Although the words organic and natural have become part of everyday language, they are frequently misunderstood and misused. Origins Organics defines organic as produced, manufactured and handled in accordance with stringent approved methods of agriculture. Natural products on the other hand are those derived from natural ingredients and which retain their natural properties in the finished product. So the next time you're out shopping, take a few minutes to check out the difference. The best kind of consumer is an informed one. Not only are you choosing the right product for yourself, but you're paving the way to a greener environment. That's the beauty of it.