As a beauty junkie, we know spots like Sephora and Ulta are basically your second home and you’re well familiar with products touting claims like “clean” formulas, “natural” ingredients, or “organic” certification. As a woman who cares about my health, I love seeing that beauty brands are making great strides to offer healthy products, but what’s the difference between these various claims and what the heck do these labels even mean?
There’s been a growing demand for companies to purge their cosmetics of harmful chemicals, which explains the increase of “clean”, “natural”, and “organic” products entering the market. In fact, it’s expanding so quickly that the global organic beauty market is projected to have a 9.4% annual growth rate. To get a more in-depth look on clean, natural, and organic beauty, I dove into some research so I could share my findings with our community and it led me further than I’ve ever been on the subject. I am absolutely stunned at how little regulation there is within the cosmetics industry which allows any ol’ product to be labeled as safe-to-use even if it still uses known toxic ingredients.
Obviously, this is scary information. Even as a beauty expert, it’s crazy to fully realize the lack of regulation here when it comes to so-called clean, natural, and organic beauty. It’s clear there’s room for improvement in the industry and there needs to be more self-regulation, but a good starting point is to get you, as a consumer, on the same page. So let’s start with what clean, natural, and organic actually mean. That way, you’ll know exactly what to look for when you shop for your next beauty product!
As consumers become more cognizant of their holistic health, there has been a general shift towards clean beauty. Some ingredients that have been mainstays in cosmetic formulas, such as silicones and mineral oils, are being widely blacklisted as skin irritants and, in some cases, linked to disease. “Clean” products, in theory, are free from these toxins, superfluous additives, and use sustainable production practices. BUT, since there are no official FDA or USDA guidelines for what qualifies as “clean”, there’s a large grey area for what companies can market as “clean” beauty.
For clean beauty, avoid products containing any of these commonly-used toxins: sulphates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, pesticides, petroleum derivatives, artificial coloring, and synthetic fragrances.
Similar to “clean”, “natural” is also missing from the FDA and USDA lexicon, which means -- you guessed it -- there’s no official verification of whether or not a product is all-natural. It’s suspected that products only need 1% of its contents to be naturally-derived to qualify as a “natural” product. Although not all naturally-occurring substances are safe for cosmetic use, the initiative to incorporate more natural products can help detox your body from unnecessary synthetic chemicals and help you become one with Mother Nature.
Remember that ingredients are listed in decreasing order of percentages. So make sure all the natural ingredients are at the top of the list and any synthetic materials are left towards the bottom (be mindful that some “all-natural” products require preservatives, which are technically synthetic, to increase shelf life).
While the FDA doesn’t regulate organic certification, the USDA does. You can be sure that verified organic ingredients have been developed with approved natural processes and materials that “promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”. That means no GMOs, pesticides, or sewage sludge (yes, sewage!) were involved in the process. Although organic status in cosmetics is still loosey-goosey, if you see the USDA organic seal, that means at least 95% of the product is certified organic ingredients. If a product has less than 70% organic ingredients, it’s technically not allowed to make any “organic” claims anywhere on its label, but the USDA and FDA have no authority over how companies choose to market their products.
Always remind yourself: no USDA seal, no deal.
It’s easy to fall victim to these large corporations’ greenwashing marketing ploys, especially when we’re trying to instill healthier, more environmentally-friendly practices into our routines. Rather than relying on labels, the most effective way to know if your products are clean, natural, and organic is to turn the bottle over and inspect the ingredient list. I admit, it takes some time and research, but I promise that the payoff is worth it and you’ll have more peace of mind knowing exactly what you’re putting on your body. To make it easier, there are useful tools like cosdna.com that have archives of different products and ingredient breakdowns. Plus, you can follow clean beauty Youtubers, like @dirt.naturals and @conscious_bee, for trustworthy product recommendations!
Making the switch to natural, clean, and organic products may seem overwhelming, but once you know what to look out for, it gets easier. To help you get started on your healthy beauty journey, here are some of our top clean beauty products and clean dupes for your beauty cult-favorites.You can also check out our 100% organic and vegan face oil to jumpstart your clean beauty cabinet.
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