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Cosmetic Buzzwords Explained5 min read

It’s no secret that there is a big shift happening in the beauty and cosmetic industry. Consumer empowerment is at an all-time high. Why? Because cosmetics are more targeted than ever before. The rise of independent and transparent brands is in response to consumers’ actual cosmetic needs and desires. Want fuller eyebrows or more glowy skin? Now there are serums, gels, creams, oils and masks that can all help you achieve your desired look.

But that’s not all. Consumers are also shopping more consciously. Recent studies indicate that their purchases show a preference for products that are without harsh chemicals and dyes, do not harm animals, or leaves out any pesky ingredients. To keep up with these preferences, many beauty brands are using buzzwords like natural, organic, non-toxic, vegan, or clean on their labels to better reach consumers. It’s very encouraging to see so many brands embrace these consumer preferences – but the question remains: what do they really mean?

Keep reading to see what ingredient standard works best for your lifestyle.

Organic

What is it?

Products that are produced from certified organic ingredients that are processed without the use of synthetic chemical compounds.

Is it regulated?

Yes, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) not only regulates how organic products are produced and handled but also the labeling requirements. For a product to be labeled as organic, it must follow all certified organic requirements and display the official USDA organic seal. However, there are levels to this:

  • Products that contain only organically produced and processed ingredients (with no other ingredients or additives) can be labeled as 100% organic.
  • Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients.
  • Products containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term “organic”.
Is it safe?

There is no scientific evidence that suggests products labeled as organic are more or less safe than similar products that are not organic.


Natural

What is it?

Who knows! The FDA doesn’t know either as the use of the term “natural” on cosmetic products has no regulatory meaning or requirements.

Is it regulated?

Not a chance.

Is it safe?

Not necessarily. A product labeled as “natural” or “all-natural” does not mean it is safe or even good for you. That same “natural” product you may consider purchasing doesn’t mean it is free of pesky ingredients like parabens, sulfates, fragrance, phthalates or even toxins. Yes, you heard that right!


Cruelty-free

What is it?

Products that are not tested on animals.

Is it regulated?

Kind of. If you check the back of a cruelty-free cosmetic product, you will most likely notice a small bunny beneath the ingredients list. This indicates that the product is a part of the Leaping Bunny Program and is in accordance with their guidelines on animal testing, which “requires that no new animal testing be used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or ingredient suppliers.”

Is it safe?

It’s safe for animals, as they are not being used for tests, but that doesn’t mean it is more or less safe for human consumption.


Vegan

What is it?

Products that do not contain ingredients of animal origin, by-product, or derivative.

Is it regulated?

Sort of. Though the definition of vegan is rather straightforward, like “natural”, there is also no formal FDA regulatory meaning for vegan. However, there are non-profit companies that have created their own vegan certifications such as Vegan Action and PETA. It is also important to remember that if a product is vegan-certified by either Vegan Action or PETA, that does not mean that the whole company is certified-vegan

Is it safe?

Not necessarily, for the same reason as “natural” products. Plus, it is difficult to tell if cosmetics are vegan just by reading the ingredient list – since companies are not legally required to label which of their ingredients were derived from an animal, plant source, or synthetically. Therefore, investing in a skincare brand that shares your same ethical values helps to cut out a lot of the guess work.


Non-toxic

What is it?

Products that have no ingredients that cause toxic reactions in humans.

Is it regulated?

The FDA has a list of banned ingredients that are not to be included in consumer products, however a product could still contain trace amounts.

Is it safe?

Not necessarily. For example, lead and other dangerous metals (that are also classified as carcinogens!) aren’t banned substances by the FDA. Yes, you read that right. They are only banned when a product contains beyond an allowed percentage of that dangerous ingredient.


Clean

What is it?

Products that contain both natural and synthetic (man-made) ingredients.

Is it regulated?

No, not any more than “natural” products.

Is it safe?

Clean products tend to focus on safety over source, but safety is subjective. The aim is to avoid ingredients like parabens, sulfates, phthalates and synthetic fragrances, but to still include synthetic ingredients that don’t have dangerous side effects.


The Takeaway

Do. Your. Research! If any of these cosmetic ingredient standards are important to you, take the initiative to read the ingredient list and understand what your favorite brands mean when they use these buzzwords. Next time when you are shopping the shelves (and webpages) of your favorite brands, you’ll be a more conscious consumer in choosing cosmetics that work best for you and your lifestyle. Only you know what’s best for you!

What ingredient standard works best for your lifestyle? Let me know in the comments!

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