The top five misconceptions about natural and organic beauty
It can be confusing to shop for natural and organic skincare. There is a lot of misleading information out there, especially online. To clear the air and demystify what consumers believe about natural and organic beauty and personal care products, here are the top five misconceptions.
1. It says “organic” on the label, so it must be.
Not necessarily. For some brands, the word “organic” is somewhat subjective. Their definition may be that the product contains organic ingredients, but at what percentage? And would other ingredients in the formulation be acceptable to an organic certifier? Organic certifiers generally require 70 percent organic ingredients and above, and they prohibit certain ingredients, such those from petrochemical origin.
The USDA defines “organic” under its National Organic Program, but it’s a food certification. There’s no federal definition of what constitutes organic personal care. However, at a state level, California regulates organic personal care under the California Organic Products Act (COPA).
Look for a third-party certification, such as USDA NOP, Demeter (which is actually biodynamic), or EcoCert, but keep in mind that some very pristine brands opt out of organic certification for various reasons.
2. It’s natural, so there’s no need to worry about toxins or allergens.
First, it depends on how the natural ingredients are grown and preserved. The brand may have formulated with natural (or nature-identical) preservation methods, but unless it has checked to make sure the raw materials weren’t preserved with allergens, there may be traces of them in the final product.
Second, some very natural substances can cause allergies. For example, oils and extracts from the daisy family (e.g., arnica, chamomile, calendula) can cause allergies for those who may have seasonal allergies to these plants. Further, EU cosmetic regulations require that designated fragrance allergens must be listed in ingredient declarations if they meet or exceed certain percentages of the formulations. Of the 26 fragrance allergens, 16 are naturally occurring in plants (e.g., linalool, which is found in lavender).
4. It’s vegan, so it’s natural.
Vegan means that the product doesn’t contain animal byproducts (including beeswax and honey) and that it wasn’t tested on animals. Many synthetic ingredients derived from petroleum-based raw materials are vegan but are not natural.
5. It’s paraben-free, so it’s natural.
Parabens are one of many synthetic preservative options–others include methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea and phenoxyethanol. And these are just other preservatives. When you think about other ingredients used in products, such as emollients or colorants, there’s plenty of room for other synthetics.
Keep in mind that it may not be a brand’s intention to mislead consumers about “natural skincare.” In some cases, marketers may be advertising “natural” based on a very different definition than what consumers think. This has been the source of legal controversy in the food industry, when some food products with natural claims were found to contain GMOs. (GMO-free claims are not a trend in cosmetics yet, but they could be in the future, which could push brands to clearly communicate their definitions of natural.)
Don't be afraid to reach out to brands directly with your questions. Believe me, they are used to it!
Ingredient guru and regulatory expert Lisa Sykes spends her days at Universal Companies, poring over ingredient declarations and brand marketing to ensure that claims are accurate and compliant.
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