Organic, All Natural, Non Toxic, Chem-Free — What’s The Difference?

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The green beauty movement has gained momentum, now representing one of the fastest growing sectors of the cosmetics industry. And if you’re one of the many that has switched to clean skin care, you might have noticed that seemingly every other product on the shelf claims that it’s “natural,” “organic” or “non-toxic.” Most are not.

Beauty brands see the rising popularity of clean beauty and how shoppers genuinely care about what they’re putting on their skin. But instead of changing the ingredients in their products, they’re merely changing their labels. This breakdown will help you understand what the popular buzzwords–organic, natural, chem-free– actually mean as far as regulations go, and when you can trust them.

Unfortunately, none of these terms are strictly regulated by the FDA or USDA for use in the cosmetics industry, but there are still ways to sort the clean products from the imposters.

Natural

Natural essentially means that a product doesn’t contain any additives or synthetic ingredients. Unfortunately, there are no regulatory standards for “natural” in beauty. While there are plenty of natural makeup and natural skin care brands that are actually natural, there are also many brands which claim to be natural while packing their products with synthetic ingredients. Here are 3 tips to spot truly natural products:

  1. Natural ingredients should be easy to read and recognize. If you don’t know one, research it for yourself.
  2. Ingredients on a label are listed in order of highest content in a product. Thus, natural ingredients should be at the top of the list.
  3. There should be a seal from a third-party certifying organization.

Organic

Organic means something that has been produced without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sewage, ionizing radiation, antibiotics, and growth hormones (source).

To identify if a product is actually organic, look for a seal from a third-party organic certifying organization such as the USDA Certified Organic program. If you don’t see it, then there’s no guarantee that the product meets organic quality standards. Here are 3 things to look for to see if a product is actually organic:

  1. The amount of listed ingredients that are “certified organic.”
  2. The listed non-organic ingredients–research if they are safe and clean.
  3.  A seal from a third-party certifying organization.

Non-Toxic

Non-toxic means “a substance that is not expected to cause symptoms or be dangerous to humans or the environment” (source).  Thus, non-toxic products shouldn’t contain ingredients like phthalates, formaldehyde, petroleum & petrochemicals, parabens, or asbestos since they’re linked to toxic responses in humans including death, organ failure, reproductive and hormonal disruption, or cancer.

Fortunately, this is a term that is legally regulated, so a product claiming it’s “non-toxic” should at least be safe in that regard.

Chem-Free

If you see chemical-free on a label, consider it a warning sign. Not only is “chem-free” an unregulated term, but it’s also inaccurate. Every ingredient is technically a chemical, even water! Thus, be wary of products marketing themselves as chem-free–if they’re trying to mislead you, it’s likely their products are not as clean as they seem.

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