What Organic and Natural Labeling Really Means
The skincare market seems to be flooded with products that claim to be organic or natural. Once considered less effective than other skincare products, new technologies and techniques have changed the efficacy of natural and organic products. For that reason, natural and organic products are claiming their place in a crowded market and competing for your dollars. But what does natural and organic really mean and are these products really effective?
Organic Skincare Products
When a skincare product is labeled organic, it means that it was formulated from a class of chemical compounds that are derived from plants or animals. New guidelines now include all compounds of carbon³. That means potentially harmful ingredients like benzene or cetearyl alcohol could also be considered organic, since they are derived from carbon containing substances.
In the skincare industry, most organic ingredients are not made from ‘whole’ ingredients, but extracts, compounds, and essential oils derived from ‘whole’ products.
For example, one of the most effective anti-aging skincare ingredients we know is derived from Swiss Apples (a ‘whole’ fruit), however, we only harvest the organic stem cells of the Swiss Apple so that on the label it appears as malus domestica stem cells. Or take the ingredient citric acid, derived from lemons – both organic ingredients derived from organic, whole foods.
Why not use the whole food? For a number of reasons, but primarily because using the whole food would make the product extremely perishable and susceptible to bacteria, fungal and viral growth. Therefore extracts, compounds and oils from these beneficial plants and foods are used to deliver results to the skin.
Certified Organic Labeling
The terms ‘organic’ not only implies that the ingredients in the product are derived from whole foods and plants, but that they were grown and manufactured using bio-sustainable methods to promote ecological balance.
In order to carry the “USDA Organic” certification, 95% – 100% of the ingredients in the product must come from accredited whole food sources.
If 70% – 94% of the ingredients in the product are from certified organic USDA whole foods and plants, you may see the term “Made with Organic Ingredients”.
If less than 70% of the ingredients in the product are from certified organic USDA whole foods and plants, you may see the term “Contains Less Than 70 Percent Organic Ingredients”.
Natural Skincare Products
The term ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ implies that the ingredients in the skincare product are derived from natural sources, like soybeans used to provide Lecithin. Lecithin is present in skincare products to act as an emulsifier for the product but it also helps to hydrate, replenish and repair the skin due to its essential fatty acid content.
Some ‘natural’ ingredients can be more economically produced when manufactured artificially. For example, Vitamin C (derived from oranges), is most often manufactured in a laboratory as Ascorbic Acid. So, is ascorbic acid considered a ‘natural’ product? Not to naturalists and purists – but in the skincare industry it is considered a ‘natural’ ingredient.
Unlike Organic labeling, the FDA and USDA do not have any standards or requirements for labeling natural products. This can lead to some deception among some manufacturers of skincare products – so it helps to understand product ingredients and labeling.
Natural ingredients can be simply that, ingredients derived from nature, or they may bear no resemblance to nature. For example: a very common ingredient like sodium laureth sulfate (a cleansing, foaming agent used in shampoos and many over the counter cosmetics and personal care items) is derived from coconuts, but in its manufactured form sodium laureth sulfate is considered an irritant to the skin and has been linked to organ toxicity.
Natural or Organic vs. Scientifically Altered Ingredients
Can scientifically altered natural or organic ingredients be considered holistic? Holistic practitioners will say ‘no’ because they want their products to contain ingredients obtained from the original source. But most whole ingredients are only good for a very short time (think fruits and veggies). Creating skincare products from whole food and plant sources might work for DIY facials (and those can be very effective), but they cannot withstand time on store shelves. For that reason, natural and organic products must be formulated from compounds, extracts, oils and other active ingredients derived from natural sources making them suitable for use in manufactured skincare products.
For example: Lactic acid, found in milk, is a natural, gentle AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that exfoliates and hydrates the skin. Cleopatra bathed in milk and was said to have the most incredible skin ever! That said, while lactic acid (AHA) is a fabulous ingredient for the care and maintenance of healthy skin, the whole food source (milk) cannot be used in skincare product for obvious reasons. So does a product containing AHA classify as an organic or natural product – the industry says ‘yes’.
What Does Cosmescutical Mean?
Many skincare companies promote their products as cosmesceutical to differentiate themselves from over-the-counter products. The term implies that the product contains active ingredients that are more effective than products available over the counter.
The word cosmeceutical is a hybrid of the words cosmetic and pharmaceutical. Cosmetic means to improve the overall appearance of the skin, and pharmaceutical refers to an ingredient that actually affects the structure or behavior of the skin (such as an ingredient that accelerates cellular turnover).
While cosmeticuetical is not a term recognized by the FDA or USDA, it refers to a topical skincare product that claims to have a targeted, therapeutic effect on the skin.
At Home Natural or Organic Skincare
- Facial Masks and Other Home Treatments
- Home Remedies for Spring Skin
- Grapefruit Skincare
- Summer Facials
If your goal is to use truly natural or organic skincare products, you need to do your homework and understand a little more about labeling, organic and natural ingredients. For that we have two resources you might find helpful.
- The INCI Directory – which lists common ingredients found in skincare and cosmetic products and lists their function.
- Environmental Working Group, the nation’s most effective environmental health research and advocacy organization. Visit their Skin Deep Skincare Database for critical information on cosmetic ingredients.