When you’re shopping for beauty products, it can be easy to get confused with all the various terms used to market the product to you. Clean, green, non-toxic, safe, eco, organic vs natural… the list goes on, but what does it all mean?! Some of these terms are often used interchangeably (guilty myself on this one!) but in this post I’ll be breaking down some of the commonly used marketing terms to find out what they really mean when it comes to your beauty products.
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Organic vs Natural: What does organic beauty mean in 2024?
Organic beauty relates to products that are formulated with organically grown ingredients – this is often considered the gold standard with better quality than conventionally grown ingredients. In general, this means that ingredients are grown using organic farming methods, without the use of artificial herbicides, synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The term ‘organic beauty’ is unregulated in skincare and cosmetics. So you have two choices: you can choose to take the brand’s word for it and trust that their ingredients are organically sourced, or you can go a step further and look for products that are certified organic by an independent third party body like the Soil Association in the UK.
How to know if a beauty product is organic
Certification by an independent body is one of the easiest ways to know if a product is truly made with organic ingredients, otherwise the term organic beauty can actually be meaningless. For example, the Soil Association reviews the entire sourcing and manufacturing process of a product to rigorous standards and also guarantees no animal testing, nano particles, parabens, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances. You can find out more about the Soil Association Certification here.
It’s worth noting that not all certification bodies have the same standards so the exact quantities of organic ingredients included in the products can vary.
Organic beauty certifications
Some certifications to look out for depending on where you are in the world include:
- Soil Association (UK)
- Australian Organic
For universal certified organic beauty worldwide, COSMOS (Cosmetic Organic Standard) has been developed collaboratively with the Soil Association in the UK, BDIH in Germany, Cosmebio and Ecocert in France and ICEA in Italy as a new harmonised standard for organic and natural cosmetics.
Why you should swap to organic beauty
Each year, the Soil Association champions switching to products made with organic ingredients with their ‘Organic September’ campaign. In 2023, Organic Beauty & Wellbeing week falls between 11th-17th September, encouraging you to make just One Small Swap to a Certified Organic Beauty or Wellbeing product, to “make a world of difference to climate, people and the planet”.
Products made with organic ingredients are undoubtedly better from a sustainability standpoint. Organic farming keeps the soil healthier with no artificial fertilisers and pesticides used. This reduced use of pesticides in turn is also better for nature and wildlife – according to the Soil association “On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, and there are around 75% more wild bees on organic farms”.
Using organic beauty products also benefits you, to reduce your toxin exposure from pesticides and other controversial ingredients. Certain ingredients like parabens and phthalates, and synthetic colourings, dyes or fragrances are not permitted in certified organic products.
Some of my favourite brands with certified organic products by various independent bodies:
- Botanicals – read my reviews here
- Green People – read my reviews here
- Fushi – reviewed here
- Herbfarmacy – reviewed here
- Inika – reviewed here
- Inlight Beauty
- John Masters Organics – reviewed here
- Lulu & Boo – reviewed here
- Neal’s Yard Remedies – reviewed here
- Odylique – reviewed here
- Pai Skincare – reviewed here
- Therapi Honey Skincare – reviewed here
What does natural beauty & clean beauty mean?
When it comes to the natural cosmetics industry, there are many terms that may be used to describe a product like “naturally active”, “plant-based” or “inspired by nature” but phrases like this are currently unregulated. With the rise in popularity of natural beauty, there are unfortunately some mainstream brands that may market themselves as natural using certain buzz words and design features, but in reality only contain a very small percentage of naturally derived ingredients – this is what’s known as “greenwashing”.
Chemical-free is another term that is sometimes used, but to be honest there is no such thing. Simple water itself is a chemical and many natural plant derived ingredients have chemical components, so personally I’m not a fan of promoting a product as “chemical-free”.
There seems to be a lot of differing views on what makes a product natural, so it’s generally open to interpretation. Some other terms you might hear often which are used interchangeably with natural beauty, particularly on social media, are “clean beauty” or “green beauty”.
Natural or Clean beauty doesn’t have a set definition – it can mean different things to different people
It’s definitely worth becoming clued up on ingredients so you can decide for yourself if a product meets your own ideal of “clean” and “natural”. It’s also worth remembering that sometimes a small amount of non-natural/synthetic ingredients or preservatives can actually be needed to make sure the products don’t go off too quickly.
Related reading: Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid in Your Beauty Products
My personal interpretation of a natural beauty product is that it should contain a significantly high percentage of naturally derived ingredients that are kind to the skin and also free from the most common controversial and undesirable synthetic ingredients.
If you’re looking for inspiration, all of the brands listed in my Natural & Organic Brand Directory meet this criteria.
One other thing you can look out for is the COSMOS Natural signature which is for products containing a larger percentage of ingredients which cannot be organic, such as water, salt or clay, but still meet COSMOS standards of no animal testing, GM ingredients, controversial chemicals, parabens, phthalates, synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances. This certification will give you some peace of mind on the quality and integrity of a product.
Since the organic and natural beauty industry is growing every year, here’s hoping that transparency of beauty brands will soon become a basic custom!
If you’re looking to choose more natural products for yourself, check out these resources: