In a world that’s becoming increasingly overrun with dangerous chemicals, the demand for natural and organic makeup, cosmetics and skin care is now higher than ever.
With the natural and organic beauty industry predicted to reach a staggering $13.2 billion by 2018, the popular opinion is undeniably clear: toxic chemicals in makeup and cosmetics are simply unacceptable and should have no place in our beauty routine.
Times are Changing!
With the rise of social media and the limitless information now available at our fingertips, the truth about dangerous chemicals in everyday self-care products is no longer a secret.
Cosmetics companies around the globe are facing more backlash each and every day from consumers demanding that they do away with questionable ingredients and transition to safer, more organic-based approaches to beauty.
Knowledge is Essential
If you are new to the world of natural and organic cosmetics, simply take a stroll down the beauty aisle of any convenience or beauty store and you will very quickly notice that “natural” and “organic” beauty products are everywhere!
But are they all really what they claim to be? More importantly, will they actually have a significant improvement on your health?
The last thing we want is to invest our time, money and energy into a new, “healthier” beauty regimen that still secretly contains the exact chemicals we are trying so hard to avoid.
The unfortunate truth is that so many of the natural/organic beauty skeptics out there have simply just had bad experiences with false claims or deceptive marketing and perhaps were not equipped with the tools to distinguish between what’s truly "natural" or "organic" and what is not.
If you are one of these individuals who has not had success on your natural beauty journey, or have just been too overwhelmed to begin the transition, don’t give up just yet!
All it really takes is a short sacrifice of your time and a willingness to become familiar with the essential information surrounding natural and organic cosmetics and before long, you will be marching into your nearest beauty store with complete confidence, knowing exactly which products to look for!
Are These Products Worth the Hype?
The short answer is yes, as long as you are choosing the right products. Not all products that claim to be "natural" or "organic" will be worth your hard-earned money but there are many options available that are worth every penny!
As a largely unregulated industry, cosmetics companies are still mostly free to use claims on cosmetic labels at their leisure and only a handful of legitimate certifications exist.
Therefore, with so many well-known toxic chemicals still legal for use in self-care products in the USA, it is more important than ever to be informed and mindful of the makeup, cosmetics and skin care products you choose.
Healing Your Body Takes Time
The universal rule when it comes to the beauty industry is that a healthy body radiates beauty. There are no miraculous makeup or skin care products that can fully disguise an unhealthy lifestyle and therefore, in order to have that beautiful glowing skin we all crave, we must begin by first healing our bodies from the inside out.
The only real way to do this is by limiting the amount of toxins that are being absorbed through our skin on a daily basis and replacing them with nutrient-rich, safer alternatives.
Whether you are a cosmetics fanatic or a makeup minimalist, the ultimate goal is always to address the root cause of cosmetic concerns in order to become the healthiest, most vibrant version of yourself!
Why Read This Guide?
The guide below has compiled all of the necessary information needed to approach shopping for natural or organic makeup and cosmetics with a prepared and open mind.
Equipped with the most up-to-date facts and considerations, shopping for these beauty products can be an easy, stress-free, affordable and enjoyable experience.
By the end of this comprehensive guide, you will fully understand the impact that certain chemicals can have on your health and will be able to separate fact from fiction.
Even better, you will possess the knowledge and tools required to take control of your health, as well as exercise your power and influence over the beauty industry!
All Your Questions Answered
- What are natural cosmetics?
- What are organic cosmetics?
- What is the difference between natural and organic cosmetics?
- What are the benefits of natural and organic cosmetics?
- Which ingredients should I avoid at all costs?
- How do I know which products are the real deal?
- What types of logos or certifications should I look for?
- What’s the best way to transition to a more natural beauty routine?
In This Article
Introduction to Natural and Organic Cosmetics
- Defining natural cosmetics
- Regulation of natural cosmetics
- Defining organic cosmetics
- Differences between natural and organic cosmetics
Benefits of Natural and Organic Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
- Environmental benefits
- Health benefits
- Cosmetic benefits
- Financial benefits
- Additional Considerations
Chemical Toxicity in Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
- Common Toxins Found in Cosmetics
- Potential Harmful Effects of Chemical Toxicity
- Clinical Studies Related to Cosmetics
Packaging: Logos and Certifications
- Natural Cosmetics: Certifications and Logos
- Organic Cosmetics: Certifications and Logos
- Organic and Natural: Independent Certifications
- The Future of Natural and Organic Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
1. Introduction to Natural and Organic Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
Defining Natural Cosmetics
A “natural” cosmetic product generally refers to a product that has been manufactured with predominantly natural or plant-based ingredients derived from the Earth instead of synthetic ingredients produced in a lab.
These products are usually free of chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, sulfates, synthetic dyes and petrochemicals.
However, when seen on cosmetic packaging, this claim should be taken with a grain of salt, as these labels are used quite loosely in the beauty industry and are not regulated by any singular governing body.
- "It will generally mean that at least some natural ingredients have been used in the formula, but a product can be labeled as natural and contain up to 30 percent synthetic ingredients." -Adina Grigore, Author and Founder of S.W. Basics of Brooklyn
Not All Definitions Are The Same
Most will agree that “natural” beauty products should contain naturally-derived ingredients over synthetic ones whenever possible, but as we will soon learn, the main issue lies in the fact that each company or brand may vary slightly in the specifics of this definition.
One popular cosmetics and skin care company defines their natural products as having “the most beneficial botanical ingredients from nature with the principles of green chemistry” and another defines it simply as “containing natural botanicals.”
Yet another popular skin care company defines it as, “arising from a state produced by nature without interference of humankind.”
By analyzing just these three examples, it is easy to begin to understand the widespread confusion and frustration among consumers shopping for natural makeup, cosmetics and skin care.
Regulation of Natural Cosmetics
The FDA, or Food and Drug Administration, is the agency responsible for monitoring cosmetics in the USA. However, the FDA does not legally define the term “natural” when it comes to cosmetic products and does not monitor or require any safety testing on cosmetic ingredients, with the exception of color additives.
Although they do step in from time to time, occasionally inspecting some cosmetic factories and responding to consumer complaints, “natural” products are not held to any higher safety standards by the FDA than their non-natural counterparts.
Can “Natural” Claims Be Trusted?
The lack of a universally-regulated term for natural cosmetics unfortunately means that products labelled as “natural” may not always be made with renewable resources or be safe, environmentally-friendly or superior.
There is of course the possibility and tendency for a "natural" product to be all of the above but more research is required before coming to a final conclusion.
Since this claim can legally be used by any company regardless of whether or not the product is indeed natural, it falls largely to the integrity of the companies manufacturing these products.
Defining Organic Cosmetics
When relating to a cosmetic or personal-care product, the term "organic" refers to "a brand or ingredient that has been certified as being organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)."
There are many steps that must be taken before receiving this USDA certification but the most important requirement is that the ingredients are grown without fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or any genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Differences Between Natural and Organic Cosmetics
Organic Products Are More Closely Regulated
Certified organic products are regulated by the USDA and must abide by stricter rules and regulations and therefore, the main difference between these two terms is that organic certifications on cosmetics labels are much more closely monitored for authenticity than natural claims.
One Does Not Guarantee The Other
It's important to note here that an organic product is, by definition, also natural.
Alternately, a natural product may be organic but without checking the ingredients and locating the proper certification, there is no guarantee of this and a natural claim does not guarantee organic sourcing.
It is also essential to understand that “natural” or “organic” cosmetics are not necessarily also “vegan” and “cruelty-free” and that there are distinct differences between all four of these terms.
For more information on vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics, don’t forget to check out the “The Complete Beginners Guide to Vegan Cosmetics.”
#BeautySchool: The Real Difference Between Natural, Organic and Non-Toxic Beauty Products
Natural Makeup: What’s Health and What’s Hype
The Difference Between Natural, Organic, and Synthetic-Free Beauty Products
2. Benefits of Natural and Organic Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
As the largest organ of the human body, your skin absorbs everything you put onto it. An average of up to 60% of ingredients placed on our skin end up being absorbed into the circulatory system.
Your Skin is Like a Sponge
Once these ingredients make their way into your bloodstream, they inevitably impact your health in countless ways, from the appearance of your skin to the proper functioning of your hormones.
This means that every beauty product you choose to use carries far greater importance than you could have ever imagined.
Environmentally-conscious and Eco-friendly
Many of the chemicals needed to produce conventional beauty products require heavy mining and therefore contribute greatly to the destruction and deforestation of sensitive ecosystems, such as the Amazon rain forest.
Petroleum and aluminum, for example, are two such cosmetic chemicals whose extensive mining contributes to this negative environmental impact.
By avoiding products that utilize these chemicals, we can lessen the demand for these products and consequently, minimize the impact that their manufacturing has on the environment.
Likewise, switching to natural and organic cosmetics will mean that you no longer need to worry about the amount of chemicals you are flushing down the drain and are more likely to have a product that uses recyclable or biodegradable packaging, since most organic and natural companies tend to be environmentally-friendly.
No Irritating or Harsh Chemicals
Chemicals in standard makeup and cosmetic products may potentially work wonders temporarily but the truth is that they only end up causing more damage in the long run.
Harsh chemicals and toxins can clog pores, causing poor skin quality and a dull complexion over time. They can also irritate sensitive skin, causing rashes, breakouts, allergic reactions, hyper-pigmentation and inflammation.
The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has warned against the use of many of these commonly used chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates, because of the well-known adverse side effects.
Natural and organic products can be considered safer overall in the sense that they are generally far gentler on your skin and usually possess shorter, more straight-forward and detailed ingredient lists, lessening the chances of unexpected negative reactions.
Free of Synthetic Fragrances
Usually made from a mix of harmful chemicals, synthetic fragrances are found in most mainstream perfumes and heavily-scented cosmetics and have been linked to a number of health concerns.
By opting for natural and organic perfumes and cosmetics, you will be easily eliminating all of these fragrance-related toxins for natural, plant-based alternatives, such as essential oils.
Packed with Vitamins and Nutrients
Whereas most cosmetics use chemical ingredients to temporarily mask issues, natural and organic cosmetics can get to the root of beauty concerns and actually improve the quality of your skin!
It goes without saying that if you wouldn’t ingest it directly, you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your skin.
Luckily, organic and natural cosmetics eliminate the need to fret over these ingredients and when you extract the commonly-found pollutants, you are left with only high-quality, natural ingredients.
Better ingredients will always equal better results when it comes to your beauty products! Natural and organic makeup, cosmetics and skin care generally contain higher-quality ingredients that are pure, natural and packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
These products are well-known for containing higher percentages of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as many nourishing extracts from grapes, apricot, elderberry, chamomile, green tea, pomegranate, white tea and more.
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin A is necessary for the healthy functioning of our immune system, vision and skin health. Vitamin A can be found in many anti-aging cosmetics and nourishing skin care products, such as night creams, eye creams, face masks and moisturizers.
When sourced from healthy plant-derived precursors such as beta-carotene, this vitamin can be highly beneficial in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reversing photo-aging, lightening complexion and lessening acne scars and dark spots.
Popular in many hydrating cosmetics such as lip balms, lipsticks and lotions, vitamin E is essential for the maintenance of healthy skin, circulation and eyesight. It is a potent antioxidant that supports the immune system, as well as helps to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's.
In cosmetics, vitamin E is famous for its ability to decrease fine lines, soften skin and provide anti-inflammatory and sunscreen-like properties. Almond oil, avocado oil and olive oil are great examples of commonly-used sources high in vitamin E.
Yet another powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun and pollution, and can assist in maintaining healthier, younger looking skin by improving hydration, fading dark spots and evening out your complexion.
Extremely popular in cosmetics such as eye creams, face creams and anti-aging serums, this vitamin helps to fight free radicals and boost overall production of collagen. When combined with other vitamins such as vitamin E, the wondrous effects of vitamin C can be even more effective.
If you want healthy, youthful-looking skin for years to come, organic and natural cosmetics are most definitely the way to go!
Packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, natural and organic beauty products provide the skin with an extra boost of protection from the harmful environmental factors that most often lead to premature aging.
Without the toxic chemicals that ultimately weigh your skin down, your skin cells finally have the chance to function properly, maintaining your youthful and vibrant appearance. Essentially, by not adding extra harm to your skin through toxin exposure, it can finally function at the optimal level.
It's no secret that many brands infamously use chemicals as "filler" content in their beauty products, along with only small portions of the actual desired active ingredients.
Since certified organic and natural cosmetics cannot contain chemicals, no synthetic fillers can be used in the product. This means that you are left with a product that contains 100% of the highest quality ingredients versus only a percentage in conventional cosmetics.
By purchasing high quality natural or organic cosmetics, you are actually receiving more of the principal ingredients per bottle when compared to conventional makeup and cosmetics.
This means that your money actually goes a lot further when comparing the value of both types of cosmetics!
Affordable and widely available
That's right! The myth that it has to be both difficult and expensive to shop for natural, organic makeup or cosmetics is nothing more than a misconception.
Options are growing by the day, from organic lipstick to organic foundation, and there are brands and products to fit every budget and lifestyle that are safe, effective and great for your skin!
Since certified organic cosmetics will not contain synthetic preservatives of any kind, these products will have a considerably shorter shelf life when compared to their non-organic counterparts.
There are some natural preservatives available, however, and some organic makeup brands have even come up with their own unique natural substitutes for the usual synthetic preservatives.
As with all makeup and cosmetics, it is important to replace your natural and organic beauty products before the expiration date listed on the packaging.
Another important consideration to take into account when making the transition into chemical-free makeup and cosmetics is that products that are certified organic will never be waterproof or water-resistant.
This of course should not be a deterrent but simply something to keep in mind if you are shopping for non-toxic makeup such as organic mascaras, eye shadows or concealer.
Natural and organic ingredients can be extremely potent and include some of the strongest products on the market.
This means that plant-based ingredients can have highly beneficial results, but if you have sensitive skin, you can still react badly to certain essential oils or other natural ingredients.
It’s important to remember that everyone's skin is different and will always react differently to certain ingredients, organic or otherwise.
For example, sage is not recommended for use by pregnant women and rosemary is not recommended for epileptics.
6 Reasons To Use Organic Makeup
Why Your Skin Deserves Organic Beauty Products
Vitamin E in Cosmetics
Organic Makeup: Should You Make The Switch
Vitamin C in Skincare Products
All You Need To Know About Beta-Carotene
3. Chemical Toxicity in Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
From toothpaste to shampoo, makeup, soap, creams, lotions, pills or food products, there's no denying that the number of chemicals we are exposed on a daily basis is growing each day,
From the internal contributors we consume daily, to the external toxins such as pollution and smog, it's no wonder our skin is constantly fighting to overcome the damage caused by these many factors.
Common Toxins Found in Cosmetics
There are currently over 10,000 different harmful chemicals found in everyday self-care products and, believe it or not, only about 10% of these chemicals have disclosed safety data associated with them.
Recent studies have reported that approximately 20% of cosmetics contain one or more chemicals linked to cancer. The list of these potentially carcinogenic or harmful chemicals is extensive and it would be nearly impossible to memorize every single one, however, the below list includes some of the most common chemicals that should be avoided at all costs:
- This sweat-blocking chemical is found in most deodorant and antiperspirant products and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer in women. For this reason, it is important to choose deodorants that are labelled “aluminum-free.”
- These chemical additives have been linked to severe headaches, blurred vision and hyperactivity in children.
- Also known as as: Benzoic acid, sodium benzoate or parahydroxybenzoate
- Commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics, this ingredient can aggravate asthma and cause gastric issues and numbness of the mouth.
DEA, MEA, TEA
- A common skin irritant that can cause allergic reactions, irritate eyes and dry out hair and skin.
- This chemical is popularly used in cosmetics for its ability to aid in the absorption of ingredients.
- Studies have reported a link to birth defects, as well as damage to the male reproductive system.
- Popular in many nail polishes, liquid soaps, shampoos and hair care products, formaldehyde is a toxic chemical that has been classified as a known carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Researchers, as well as the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Although it poses the biggest threat when inhaled, formaldehyde can also be be absorbed through the skin.
- The EU has strict guidelines in place for products containing any formaldehyde-releasing ingredients and all products containing more and .05% are required to disclose this percentage on the label.
- Added to almost every cosmetic product, fragrance or “parfum” can be a hard ingredient to avoid.
- Since there are no legal requirements for companies to disclose the chemicals used to create their fragrances, they are most often made up of a mix of harmful ingredients, sometimes containing up to 200 undeclared substances.
- Fragrance additives are often skin irritants that can throw off the pH balance of your skin and may cause hyper pigmentation, allergies or dizziness.
- They have also been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer and nervous system disorders.
- There are many non-toxic perfume alternatives available on the market that use gentle plant-based essential oils instead of chemical-based fragrances.
- USDA organic products will have each individual ingredient listed as opposed to the general term “fragrance.”
- This petroleum-based ingredient is known to cause dryness in skin and hair.
- Often used in cosmetic skin peels, these chemicals cause damage to the skin by corroding the outermost layer of the skin, leaving it more prone to sun damage.
- Retinoic and hydroxyl acids are two examples of keratolytic chemicals used in skin products that promote peeling.
- Often found in whitening toothpaste, foundation, eyeliner, lipstick and various other cosmetics, this chemical is a well-known neurotoxin that has been linked to miscarriage, gastrointestinal problems, decreased fertility, seizures, brain damage and kidney malfunction when exposure is over a prolonged period of time.
- Lead is never purposefully added into cosmetics, but rather, finds its' way into products through cross-contamination, often through questionable color additives.
- Shockingly, lead was found in more than half of the 33 various lipstick brands tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
- This chemical is another skin irritant often added to cosmetics that is known to dry out skin and hair.
- Found in 1 of every 10 cosmetics, nitrosamines are the resulting toxins that form when certain makeup and skin care products and combined or layered on top of one another.
- Although it is not an ingredient on its own, this harmful toxin is a carcinogen that is extremely common among the majority of women who use multiple cosmetic products each day.
- There is no limit to the combinations that can result in the formation of nitrosamines, whether it be sunless tanners combined with mascara or shampoo combined with concealer.
- Found in almost all drugstore cosmetics, parabens are perhaps the most widely-used and well-known preservative used in cosmetics.
- Most often used in makeup, shampoos, conditioners and many skin care products, parabens appear in almost every product that contains water (or “aqua”) and are often be disguised under the names butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
- Mostly eliminated from cosmetics in the EU, parabens have been linked to type II diabetes and cancer, and are known to disrupt endocrine, immune system and nervous system functioning.
- The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed parabens as a Category 1 substance due to their adverse effect on the endocrine system, which is directly responsible for healthy hormone function.
- Parabens also mimic estrogen and were found in 18 out of 20 breast tissue samples, according to a 2004 study.
- Another common petroleum-derived ingredient, paraffins are known by dermatologists to clog pores and cause rashes and acne outbreaks.
- This chemical can be found in wax, petroleum or mineral oil form.
- A common ingredient found in many perfumes, soaps, lip balms, body sprays, detergents, nail polishes and more, phthalates are a toxic chemical most often used to plasticize and add fragrance to products.
- Known for disrupting endocrine function, phthalates can decrease sperm count and fertility in males and can disrupt hormone levels.
- They are also linked to cancer, neurological damage, premature delivery in pregnant women and type II diabetes.
- This sneaky chemical can sometimes make its way into products under the ingredient cocktail referred to as "fragrance" and is often not disclosed on cosmetic labels.
- With over 470 million pounds of phthalates being produced each year, high exposure to this chemical is widespread among public consumers and the long-term effects are increasingly becoming the center of attention among many major health agencies.
- The EPA’s “Phthalate Action Plan” specifically targets the following eight most harmful phthalates: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-n-pentyl phthalate (DnPP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP).
- When used in large amounts, this petroleum-derived ingredient can interfere with healthy metabolic functioning by increasing the body’s acidity level.
- Reported to cause nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, confusion and fatigue, toluene is an ingredient added to many nail products and polish removers.
- It is derived during harmful fuel production processes, such as gasoline, and is absorbed through the air when these products are opened.
- Toluene has also been reported to have negative effects on the nervous system.
Potentially Harmful Effects of Chemical Toxicity
Conventional Cosmetics Lack Regulation
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, does not currently monitor the ingredients used in beauty products and has not done so since 1938. This means that many, if not most, of the ingredients found in conventional cosmetics have not been safety tested and the long-term effects of exposure are largely still unexplored.
Chemicals Banned in the EU
On the contrary, the EU does regulate their cosmetic products and companies in the EU must abide by strict health and safety regulations. Sadly, many of the 1,300 chemicals banned in personal care products in the EU are still legal for use in the US. In fact, the US has made less than thirty adjustments since 1938.
No Governing Body For Cosmetics
This means that cosmetics and makeup companies in the USA have almost complete freedom when it comes to the ingredients they include in their products, since no governing body is monitoring the integrity and safety of these products besides the companies themselves.
Although growing pressure from the public is sparking some movement in Congress, there is still a long way to go. It’s now more important than ever to become an educated consumer and to take action by choosing to purchase only non-toxic cosmetics.
Clinical Studies Related to Cosmetics
There are currently thousands of studies that dig deeper into all of the ways in which many cosmetic chemicals negatively affect your body and your health.
One of these recent studies was conducted by UC Berkeley, in conjunction with Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas. This study found a link between the exposure to chemicals commonly found in beauty products and a higher level of hormone disruptors in teenage girls.
The study concluded that by limiting exposure these chemicals, they were able to significantly reduce levels of these hormone disruptors in the teenage girls.
Unsafe for Pregnant Women
As you can imagine, cosmetics containing harmful chemicals are perhaps most dangerous for pregnant women and many of these chemicals can cause birth defects and impact the brain development of the unborn baby, resulting in various behavioral disorders.
In addition, one popular cosmetics company was ordered to pay $72 million in damages after a lawsuit linked one woman’s death from ovarian cancer to usage of certain talc-based products from their brand.
The good news is that by transitioning to chemical-free makeup and cosmetics, you can feel confident that your products contain only hydrating, pure ingredients derived from natural sources, versus any of toxic ingredients being researched in these endless clinical studies.
Teen girls see big drop in chemical exposure with switch in cosmetics
Why Use Organic Skincare and Makeup? 5 Good Reasons
Organic Makeup: Should You Make The Switch?
EPA: Phthalates Action Plan
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
10 Toxic Ingredients That Might be in Your Makeup
4. Packaging: Logos & Certifications
Natural Cosmetics: Certifications
As we recently explored above, natural claims on cosmetics, makeup and skin care products have no legal definition or government regulation and are largely used for marketing purposes. Therefore, there is not an official logo or certification when it comes to natural beauty products.
Don't Forget To Read The Label!
It is important to understand that in order to choose the best natural makeup or cosmetics, you will need to spend some time reading the ingredient label before coming to an conclusion.
However, as we we soon discover, there are some credible independent certifications that we can look for when shopping for natural cosmetics that can make this process much easier.
In addition to "natural" claims, you may also come across the following additional claims on cosmetics labels: “safe,” “clean,” “green,” “eco-friendly,” or “all-natural.”
Similarly to natural cosmetics, all of these other claims are also predominately used for marketing and are not monitored by any one organization.
Organic Cosmetics: Certifications & Logos
According to the FDA’s website, “Cosmetic products labeled with organic claims must comply with both USDA regulations for the organic claim and FDA regulations for labeling and safety requirements for cosmetics.”
So what are these USDA regulations and what exactly do they mean for your cosmetic products?
The USDA, or United States Department of Agriculture, provides an official certification to companies whose agricultural products abide by the strict regulations needed for personal care, cosmetics and body care products to be considered “organic.”
USDA: What is the National Organic Program?
These standards are based upon the production, handling, processing and labelling of the ingredients used and follow the regulations established by the USDA’s National Organic Program, or NOP.
Before receiving their certification, each point in the manufacturing process must be approved by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agent. This includes approving the manufacturer of the final product, the handlers of the ingredients and the location where the ingredients are produced.
Upon receiving the certification and official logo from the USDA, cosmetics companies are eligible to receive one of the below four categorizations:100% Organic
- Products must contain only organically produced ingredients (with the exception of salt and water).
- These products have the rights to use the USDA Organic Seal on their labels and are required to include the certifying agents name and address as well.
- Products must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients (with the exception of salt and water).
- These products have the rights to use the USDA Organic Seal on their labels and are required to include the certifying agents name and address.
- The remaining percentage of ingredients used under this category can be made up of either non-agricultural substances or non-organic agriculture substances not commercially available, but all substances must be on the National list of approved ingredients.
- Products must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients (with the exception of salt and water).
- These products do not have the rights the use the USDA Organic Seal on their labels but are required to display the certifying agents name and address.
- In this category, the company may list up to three organic ingredients or food groups on their packaging, such as “facial moisturizer made with organic lavender, chamomile and hibiscus.”
Less Than 70% Organic Ingredients
- These products do not have the rights the use the USDA Organic Seal on their labels and also cannot display the certifying agents name and address.
- Products with less than 70% organic ingredients cannot display the term “organic” on the principal display of their packaging but are permitted to list the USDA-certified organic ingredients in the ingredients list.
Organic and Natural Cosmetics: Independent Certifications
The USDA’s website makes a point of clarifying that additional independent third parties do exist that provide separate certifications for cosmetics outside of their National Organic Program (NOP).
Certifications Outside of the USDA
These third parties may include foreign standards outside of the USA, as well as eco-friendly and earth-friendly labels, just to name a few.
The USDA does not regulate these outside certifications and is also not responsible for monitoring non-agriculture products or products that have not been certified by them.
There are currently eight independent organizations worldwide that offer certifications for natural and organic products outside of the USDA’s NOP standards.
This organization, founded in Germany, requires their certified products to contain only ingredients that are 100% naturally-derived. They provide certifications solely for natural products and do not currently certify organic products.
They will also certify products that contain “nature-identical” ingredients, which are lab-produced ingredients that are identical in composition to their natural counterparts.
The BDIH has now tested over 2,000 products and rejects the use of petroleum-based products such as paraffin, as well as synthetic fragrances, silicones and synthetic dyes.
Also originating in Germany, this association bases its certification on what they refer to as “Biodynamic” principles, and is a branch of the mother company Demeter International.
In order for a farm to receive a certification stating that they are “Biodynamic,” the entire farm must abide by the Demeter Farm Standard for at least three years (or one year if the farm is organic) and must apply to be recertified each year.
The term “Biodynamic” refers to their principle that a farm is a self-contained living organism and should therefore follow the natural cycles found in nature. Their focus is on a closed farming method that does not rely heavily on imports and they believe in their certified products having a “chain of accountability” from start to finish.
Demeter currently owns two trademarks, “Biodynamic®” and “Demeter®,” and no farm is permitted to use these claims until they obtain the proper certificates directly from Demeter USA.
EcoCert is a European non-profit organization that originated in France in 1991 and that provides both “Natural” and “Natural/Organic” certifications to qualified companies in over 80 different countries.
They certify primarily food products, including 70% of the organic food products in France, but also specialize in cosmetics, perfumes, textiles and fair trade products.
In order to qualify for an EcoCert, products must contain at least 95% naturally-derived ingredients first and foremost.
Additionally, they must contain no more than 5% synthetic ingredients and must contain at least 5% organically-sourced ingredients for the “Natural” label and at least 10% organically-sourced ingredients for the “Natura/Organic” label.
Companies may include water content towards their total organic ingredient percentage and minimal synthetic preservatives can be used in these products.
Before becoming certified, potential companies must apply and undergo on-site inspections to ensure compliance with the EcoCert standards.
A non-profit organization founded in Belgium, NATRUE provides three certifications for cosmetics products: “Natural Cosmetics,” “Organic Cosmetics,” and “Natural Cosmetics with Organic Portion.”
In order to qualify for the “Natural Cosmetics” variation, products must contain 100% certified natural or naturally-derived ingredients.
Products that qualify as “Organic Cosmetics” must also contain only certified natural ingredients and of these, at least 95% must be organically-grown in a controlled wild and/or farm environment.
Lastly, “Natural Cosmetics with Organic Portion” must contain all certified natural ingredients and of these, at least 70% must be organically-grown in a controlled wild and/or farm environment.
Products certified under NATRUE are recognized by the NSF/ANSI 305 standard and cannot include water or salt in their organic or natural ingredient calculation. They also prohibit the use of GMO ingredients and “nature-identical” substances can only be used when the natural ingredient cannot be derived from nature through “reasonable technical effort.”
NPA (Natural Products Association)
This US-based non-profit organization provides “Natural” certifications to products that contain at least 95% naturally-derived ingredients.
All certified products must abide by the NPA Natural Standard, which focuses primarily on natural ingredients, responsibility, sustainability and safety.
This means that in addition to all-natural ingredients, products under this label should not be tested on animals and should utilize eco-friendly packaging, biodegradable ingredients and not contain any ingredients suspected to be a human health risk.
These products can contain minimal amounts of synthetic materials.
This non-profit organization is based in the US and offers certifications for “Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients.” Products certified under this label must contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients.
These products cannot include water and salt in their organic ingredient percentages and can contain small amounts of synthetic materials.
In addition to bearing their logo, certified products may also use the phrase “contains organic ingredients” on their packaging.
The NSF’s website states that the NSF/ANSI 305 is currently “the only American National Standard that defines labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products containing at least 70 percent organic content.”
An American non-profit organization founded in Oregon, USA, Oregon Tilth began certifying organic products in 1982 and is an official certifying agent for the USDA’s NOP (National Organic Program).
They are also an NSF licensed certifier to the NSF/ANSI 305 standard for Organic Personal Care Products, mentioned above.
In order to become Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO), companies must first undergo on-site inspections, abide by strict manufacturing regulations and sign legally-binding contracts that promise they will maintain the organic integrity of their certified products.
Oregon Tilth’s main goal as an organization is to, “educate and encourage producers to create organic systems that improve soils, preserve natural resources and minimize public health risks.”
Providing certifications for products that are “Organic” or “Made with Organic Ingredients,” the Soil Association is a UK-based non-profit association founded in 1946 that now has over 27,000 members.
Products that qualify for the “Organic” certification must be made up of no less than 95% organically-sourced ingredients and “Made with Organic Ingredients” must be no less than 70% organic.
Companies under this certification may not use water content towards their total organic ingredient percentage and small amounts of synthetic preservatives are accepted.
The Soil Association was the world’s first organic certification program and is the most widely-used organization for organic certification in the UK today.
Natural and Organic Cosmetics: Non-certified Logos
If you see find any logos or organic claims listed without the accompanying USDA Organic Seal or one of the above independent certifications, it most often means that the item or brand does not operate within the required standards and therefore cannot truly be considered organic or natural.
There is still a chance that the product is indeed organic or natural but it will require you to dig deeper by visiting their website or perhaps contacting the manufacturer directly.
FDA: “Organic Cosmetics”
USDA: Organic Cosmetics Fact Sheet
USDA: Organic Certification
Certified Organic and Natural Beauty
Demeter Farm Processing Standards
EcoCert Certification Process
NATRUE Label Requirements
NPA Natural Standard for Personal Care Products
NSF Organic Certification: Personal Care
Oregon Tilth: Personal Care Products
Soil Association Organic Standards: Health and Beauty Standards
5. The Future of Natural and Organic Makeup, Cosmetics and Skin Care
According to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., the organic personal care industry is expected to grow to more than $25.11 billion globally by 2025.
As the demand for all-natural products continues to grow and people’s attitudes and lifestyles become more organically-inclined, the availability these products will only become more and more widespread.
Company and Brand Integrity
It is essential to remember that the world of plant-based cosmetics is not always as always black and white as we often wish it would be and as we have seen, there are many considerations to take into account while shopping for these products.
There are plant-based ingredients that can still be harmful or allergenic to individuals with skin sensitivities and, likewise, not every synthetically-sourced ingredient has been reported as being toxic to humans.
When it comes to a product’s quality and safety, it all comes down to the integrity of the brand and the company manufacturing the product.
There are endless benefits to using natural, organic makeup and cosmetics, but this does not mean that you should trash every cosmetic product you currently own. It takes time and process will be gradual!
Balance is Key
It’s important to maintain balance in your life and to not become obsessed with your quest for the perfect all-natural beauty routine.
This balance means having the knowledge and the patience to find the healthiest middle ground between your healthy living goals and the countless chemicals hiding in just about everything in our modern world.
The Ultimate Goal
The goal really is simple: Limit the amount of harmful chemicals in your beauty collection and replace them with healthier alternatives.
It’s really all about learning to swap “this” product for “that” healthier alternative. Granted, it will be impossible to achieve this 100% of the time and therefore, there is no sense in driving yourself mad over it.
One trusted method that many natural beauty fanatics often turn to is selecting a handful of well-researched, go-to brands that you know you can always count on. Once you build that foundation, it will feel more comfortable for you to branch out and discover new brands and products!
You're Ready To Go All-Natural!
In summary, the knowledge contained in this guide now leaves you equipped to properly analyze natural and organic labels and to discover your personal collection of go-to products and brands that stand behind the natural standards your body truly deserves!
Perhaps the most essential takeaway is to remember that knowledge is power and as long as you are aware and making conscious, healthy choices to the best of your ability, you are doing your body a huge favor and you will glow from the inside out!