Natural and organic beauty products are rising in popularity and have become more readily available over the past couple of years. But the terms “organic” and “natural” can be misleading. They are often used interchangeably despite the fact their differences, and packaging can confuse consumers into buying products that are not what they were expecting. Read on to find out how natural and organic beauty products are different from one another and from products labeled vegan and cruelty-free.
A product is considered "natural" when it contains ingredients that are sourced from nature rather than created synthetically. Synthetic chemicals are produced through laboratory manipulation and are not found in nature, though it is possible to create synthetic versions of natural ingredients (such as Vitamin E.) Natural products generally don't include ingredients like petrochemicals, parabens, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates, phthalates, synthetic dyes and synthetic colors.
The main distinction between natural and organic beauty products is that organic ingredients must pass more rigorous standards of purity. In order to be organic, an ingredient must have been derived without the use of synthetic pesticides, petroleum fertilizers or sewage sludge fertilizers, and it must not be a genetically modified organism (GMO.)
Labels on organic and natural beauty products can be very deceptive. In the United States, there is little regulation of advertising products with the term "natural." This means that a product with a low percentage of natural ingredients can still be advertised as "natural." To advertise as organic, a company may have its product certified organic by the USDA. A USDA Organic Seal denotes that a product has an organic content of 95% or higher. Products with 70% or greater organic composition can be labeled "Made With Organic Ingredients." This means that products claiming they're made with organic ingredients could potentially also contain harmful synthetic ingredients. Complicating the matter are independent certification organizations, such as Ecocert and NSF, that create their own standards to which companies may comply.
The terms "vegan" and "cruelty-free" are not linked to or synonymous to "natural" or "organic," though there is often some overlap. Vegan is the term used to describe cosmetics free of animal products. Vegan cosmetic brands are also cruelty-free, but it is possible a vegan product could be composed of synthetic preservatives such as methyl- and propylparaben, and therefore not "natural." Cruelty-free products-- or those that have not been tested on animals-- are not necessarily vegan, organic, or natural. A number of the big name drugstore and high-end cosmetic companies are cruelty-free, but their products are usually comprised mostly of synthetic ingredients.
An organic ingredient is by definition natural, and vegan cosmetic products are necessarily cruelty-free. Aside from that, products may be labeled natural, vegan, or cruelty-free without bearing the qualities of the others.
The bottom line? When shopping for natural and organic beauty products, don’t take advertising claims at face value. Remember that product packaging and advertising may be worded deliberately to mislead you into thinking you’re purchasing something you’re not. Research the safety of your cosmetics’ ingredients, research the companies you do business with, and read your ingredient list before buying.