What To Look For When Buying Natural, Green or Organic Beauty Products

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Increasingly more people are turning to natural skin, haircare and food products. The Huffington Post claims growth in the natural and organic beauty product sector is outpacing growth in the category overall (at a compound rate of 13% annually).

Consumers are showing a keen interest in the origins, cultivation-criteria and sustainability of products and raw materials used.  This awareness results in the organic sector experiencing a renewed and increasing demand: this is witnessed in the general food industry but also the personal care, baby care and in particular the booming natural cosmetics industry.

However very few of us know what labels mean when they say organic or natural or how true the labelling is.

"It's a fact our skin absorbs over 60% of what we put on it, so choosing natural skin care is choosing healthier skincare", says Bill Baker, the owner of Consonant Skincare (their trademark reads - What goes on your body, goes into your body).

Baker continues,"There are varying grades of oils and production methods that can have a big effect on the quality of the end ingredient. It’s important to ask questions about the source of the ingredients that are in your favourite skincare products."

Here's what to look for before spending money on things that could be potentially toxic.

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail UK.

1. Don't Trust Every Natural or Organic Label:

The U.S. government does not currently regulate how the "natural" label is applied to personal care products. There are no laws requiring pre-market testing for an ingredient's safety prior to its inclusion in a personal care product. Many products with a "natural" or "made with organic ingredients" label may only use a small percentage of natural ingredients. Many products use harsh, synthetic chemicals to enhance absorption or as preservatives. In that case, no special labeling is required.

Thankfully, labelling laws in South Africa are becoming better regulated and potentially better enforced with the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act. It has, for example, formulated guidelines about providing information on the use of genetically modified organisms in food products on their labels. Some of these guidelines, however, are regarded as too ambiguous to completely protect the consumer, and the organic industry has not been included in the labelling laws.

For more information check out:

(SAOSO) - South African Organic Sector Organisation
Smart Green People -
EcoCert - Certification body for sustainable development in Southern Africa
Euromonitor International  - Skincare in South Africa
CTFA - The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association of South Africa

2. Look for Reliable Certification:

If a product is certified as natural or organic by a trusted organization, you can rest assured that it truly is. Look for these certifications in the product descriptions when you're shopping online.

If you're buying things online these are a few certifications you can rely on thanks to Overstock.com :

Certified USDA organic: In order for a health or beauty product to be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 95% of the ingredients must be natural or derived from natural sources. The other 5% is generally made up of ingredients that keep the product fresh while it is shipped to you and while it's in your medicine cabinet.

The Natural Standard: Products that meet the Natural Standard, as defined by the Natural Products Association, are made mainly with natural ingredients, contain no ingredients that may have suspected health risks, have not been tested on animals, and use environmentally sensitive packaging.

BDIH certification: BDIH is a German association that developed guidelines for certified natural cosmetics in Europe, defines natural products as those with high-quality plant-based ingredients and no synthetic colors or fragrances, no silicones, no paraffin, and no petroleum products.

EKO organic mark: To be eligible for the compulsory EKO organic mark, products must be made with 95 percent organic ingredients and without any ingredients that have been genetically modified or radioactively irradiated. The EKO mark is owned by the Dutch certifying organization SKAL and can be found on most organic products from European Union countries.

3. "Natural" Doesn’t Necessarily or Always Mean "All-Natural"

To some manufacturers, "natural" means "naturally inspired," where "naturally inspired" means, "our synthetic product is loaded with dangerous phthalates, smells vaguely like a scent you might find in nature but contains nothing from nature".

There is a vast difference between products that contain organically certified ingredients but were not necessarily made utilising an organic process, which means they are not '100% organic'. 

4. Look for Small Packages. 

If it’s in a huge container and sits on a shelf for ages it probably has preservatives and is less likely to be truly made of natural ingredients.

5. Learn to Read Labels

Watch for red-flag ingredients by reading labels. If you committed to a natural lifestyle, whether it's food ingredients or beauty product ingredients this is a really important step. Get to know a few of the ingredients that may be harmful and keep them in mind when you are shopping.

A lot of brands pretend to be natural, but when you read the fine print it turns out that they aren't the real deal.  Keep a list on hand (save it somewhere like your phone) that way you can double-check if you're unsure.

List of Ingredients to Avoid

Parabens and Phthalates: hormone disruptors

BPA and BPS: hormone disruptors

Fragrance and Parfum: can hide lots of problematic chemicals

PEG’s: possible carcinogens

Bromopol, DMDM Hydrantoin, and Quanterium-15: releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen

Words that end in “-thiazolinone” like “Methylisothiazolinone” : irritants, possible neurotoxins

Triclosan and Triclocarban: thyroid disruptors

BHA (butylated hyrdroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene): male hormone disruptors

Retinyl palmitate, Retin A, or Vitamin A derivatives: possible carcinogen.

6. Painful Prices 

Fillers and chemicals are an economical and fast way to make a product. When ingredients are grown organically, processed in an eco-friendly way, and packaged in recyclable or biodegradable packaging, more money and time is spent to create the final product. And while that may show up in the price, your health is worth every cent.

7. Natural, Green and Organic Do Not Mean the Same Thing.

In the Green Beauty Guide, author Julie Gabriel defines green beauty products as those that are free of toxic chemical ingredients and utilize environmentally-conscious packaging materials and shipping methods. Although they need not be completely plant derived, green beauty products should ideally include some organic ingredients.

This is where things get a bit sticky...

In the U.S Natural refers to products composed of 95% ingredients (not including water) derived from petroleum-free, renewable flora, fauna and mineral resources. Products must have environmentally-conscious packaging and never be tested on animals. When used, approved synthetic ingredients must be considered people-safe and earth-friendly.

Organic describes substances grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and processed without man-made chemicals.

Made with Organic Ingredients means that 70% or greater of the ingredients are organic content.

USDA Certified Organic is the highest standard.  USDA Certified Organic means that 95-100% of ingredients must meet USDA organic standards for food.  More information about USDA Certified Organic is available here.

Read "The Organic Beauty Con" from the UK's Daily Mail about some of the beauty industry's "organic" claims before you get bamboozled...

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