What's Really in Your "Organic" and "Natural" Beauty Products?

You try to be conscious about what you put on your skin and purchase beauty products that are labeled “organic” or “natural,” but do you understand what those terms mean?

If it’s really important to you that the products you use – from lotions to makeup and shampoo – are free of harsh chemicals, then you’ll probably need to spend more time reading the labels and researching the companies, because “organic” and “natural” might not mean what you think they do.

All “organic” products are not created equal

Did you know “organic” can mean more than one thing? In fact, there are three different organic classifications:

  • “100% Organic”means that the product contains only organically-produced ingredients. They are produced without synthetic preservatives, radiation, pesticides or petrochemicals. The USDA seal may appear on the package.
  • “Organic”products must contain a minimum of 95 percent organically-produced ingredients. The USDA seal may appear on this type of product.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”means that the product contains at least 70 percent organically-produced ingredients. The USDA seal cannot be used on these products. 

The risk you run with anything less than 100% organic lies in the 5-30% of non-organic ingredients contained in the product, which could be the very chemicals you were trying to avoid by purchasing organic products.

“Natural” can mean anything

The term “natural” is not a regulated term. Sadly, it can be nothing more than a marketing ploy.

If you examine the list of ingredients in a product labeled “natural,” you will often find some unacceptable ingredients.

For example, federal law does not mandate that companies list the dozens of ingredients found in the single ingredient labeled “Fragrance.” You will often see “Fragrance” at the end of the list of ingredients on various products.

Here’s the problem with “Fragrance” as an ingredient: fragrances often contain Phthalates. What are Phthalates? Google it and here’s the description you get: “Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl.”

I’m guessing you’re not really excited about putting anything with Phthalates on your skin after reading that.

Phthalates have been associated with numerous health problems.  The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a valuable resource to rate the ingredients found in beauty products. The hazard scores are listed on a scale from 0 to 10 based on toxicity.

“Plant-based” is also unregulated

There is also no federal regulation of the term “plant-based.” However, I believe this terminology is more transparent than “natural” or “organic” since it tells you what’s actually in the product: plants.

Plant-based is a term frequently used to describe a food diet based on plants including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits.  A similar definition can be extended to plant-based products since they will contain elements generated from vegetables, plants and fruits.

Of course, you’ll want to look for products that are 100% plant-based or you run into the same problem you find with products that aren’t 100% organic. For some consumers, the price point of USDA-certified organic products may be cost prohibitive.  Plant-based products may be a suitable alternative for those who do not want to place hazardous chemicals on their skin and are looking for products at a more reasonable price point.

With any of these products - natural, organic or plant-based - you also want to look for products that provide results. Some products out there don’t contain any harmful chemicals but also don’t contain any ingredients that improve the tone, texture or overall health of your skin. I created my product line, Avanti Rx, after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and searching the market for a 100% plant-based product that was also medical grade, and finding the options lacking.

By understanding the classifications, you’ll be better educated to make decisions based on ingredients, price points and desired results the next time you’re shopping for skin care products.

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