Natural and Organic: What Exactly Does That Mean?

Shopping for natural skincare, cosmetics, and body care products can be a somewhat daunting task. Because the words “natural” and “organic” are used so loosely and without regulation (contrary to popular belief, the FDA does not regulate the sale of skin care and cosmetic products!), there is a lot of confusion about what those terms actually mean.  Without any regulation, the reality is that many personal care products sold in the United States contain ingredients that have been BANNED in other countries!  Shocking, isn’t it?

I hear beauty gurus on YouTube, makeup artists, and sales reps in department stores frequently describe a product as “organic” when it doesn’t even contain a single organic ingredient!  There is so much bad information being passed around, it’s hard to tell what is what, isn’t it?  So as a consumer, what are we to do? Who can you trust if you’re looking for truly toxin-free products to use?

Luckily there are organizations out there like the EWG and NPA that have created standards and definitions so that consumers can educate themselves in order to make informed decisions about the products we use on ourselves and our families.  So, in order to simplify things, I’m going to do my best to explain the differences in terminology so that you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

NATURAL
NPA Seal
Unfortunately, the word “natural” doesn’t mean much….simply that the ingredient is from a source found in nature.  This term is too vague to mean anything, because natural ingredients can be “tinkered” around with in a laboratory to create some pretty nasty chemicals.  So even if a product is described as “all-natural,” this is by no means a guarantee that the product does not contain harmful ingredients.  A private organization called The Natural Products association has created standards for natural products, as well as a seal you can look for to identify products that have passed their certification process.  Companies like Aubrey Organics, Burts Bees, Badger, and Yes To Carrots have had many of their products certified.  The Natural Products Association standard holds that natural products should contain only ingredients that come from a renewable/plentiful source found in nature. They also require that neither the products itself or ingredients in the product are tested on animals.  The NPA lists 10 ingredient classifications that should NEVER be included in a product described as natural.  They are:
  1. Parabens – Synthetic preservatives that are potential endocrine disrupters
  2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Harsh cleansing agent that can potentially damage the lipid layer of your skin and cause irritation
  3. Petrolatum/Mineral Oil/Paraffin – Non-renewable byproducts of crude oil with potentially dangerous impurities
  4. Chemical Sunscreens (Avobenzone/Oxybenzone) – Synthetic sunscreens that get absorbed and potentially disrupt hormone balance
  5. Glycols – Petroleum derived synthetic chemicals that can potentially draw other chemicals into the bloodstream
  6. Phthalates – Synthetic fragrance components that are potential toxins
  7. Ethoxylated ingredients like Sodium Myreth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEGs or PPGs – classified as a possible carcinogens
  8. Ethanolamines like MEA/DEA/TEA – Foam and viscosity boosting ingredients that can interact with other ingredients to form nitrosamines, a known carcinogen
  9. Synthetic polymers (PVP/ Acrylates) – Synthetic stabilizers that may contain residual PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons); most widespread organic pollutant
  10. Formaldehyde Donors (DMDM Hydantoin/ Diazolidinyl Urea/ Methylisothiazolinone) – Preservatives that work by releasing formaldehyde
ORGANIC
The term “organic” is incessantly misused in the beauty industry.  For an ingredient to be organic, is not only has to be natural, but there are certain standards in which the ingredient must be grown, processed, and handled.  By definition, organic means that the ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation.  The USDA seal is the highest level of assurance that the product you’re buying is made with at least 95% organic ingredients.  There are also the following definitions:
  • Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
  • Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

If you are looking to purchase a product that is totally organic, look for the USDA organic seal. If it doesn’t have the seal, read the ingredient label to find out how many ingredients are truly organic and how many are synthetic.

As far as personal care products go, it is difficult to find products that are truly 100% Certified Organic.  But we can at least find ones that contain as many organic ingredients as possible, while altogether avoiding the unhealthy toxins listed above.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Because natural products are “all the rage,” companies will write anything on their labels and advertising propaganda to make you believe you are getting a healthy product.  But when it comes to your health, YOU have to be your own advocate!  Don’t let sexy advertising and packaging with leaves and flowers trick you into thinking you’re getting something that’s healthy!

Since we know the words “natural” and “organic” can be used without regulation, YOU, the consumer, have to take matters into your own hands and READ YOUR LABELS.  Don’t rely on a label or a salesperson telling you that the the product is “all natural” or “100% organic.”  And even if a product does contain only natural ingredients, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those ingredients aren’t harmful.  Print out a list of ingredients to avoid, familiarize yourself with the lingo, and you’ll become more confident in the decisions you’re making about which products to purchase.

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4 Responses to Natural and Organic: What Exactly Does That Mean?

  1. Robin @ toxicbeautyblog.com says:

    >Hi! Thanks for visiting Toxic Beauty Blog! I just had to come over and check your blog out too! Great post…I posted on this same topic a while back. It's really important though to remind people not to be fooled by "organic fakers" and become knowledgeable about ingredients and the difference between natural and organic. I will definitely visit again.

    I shared this great post on Twitter too! 🙂

    Robin @ toxicbeautyblog.com

  2. TheSilverLining80 says:

    >Yay!! I'm so glad you stopped by! I'm becoming more and more aware of the fakers….I hope to learn even more and share my findings through this blog. Thanks for the twitter post! You're awesome!

  3. Cacilda says:

    it was really excellent post! i always like to read this blog. thanks.http://www.tekna.org

  4. graceseptember says:

    hi I love your blog as well as your helpful videos on Youtube. I highly recommend the book there’s lead in your lipstick: toxins in our everyday body care & how to avoid them
    by gillian deacon. she also is the bestselling author of green for life. thumbs up on educating people on the products that they used on a daily basis. keep up the good work & goodluck in your studies 🙂

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