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What Does Natural Mean in Beauty Products?

Paying a Premium For "Natural" Products? Here's What You Should Be Looking For Instead

You know that skin is the largest organ, but did you know that it actually absorbs 60 to 70 percent of whatever we put on it? That fact recently got me thinking about the numerous chemicals I slather on every day in the name of self-care, and whether I was actually harming myself by not being more meticulous about the ingredients in my products.

A 2004 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 97 percent of participants had been exposed to phthalates, a chemical that is very commonly found in skincare products. This is alarming because research has shown reproductive system disruptions in laboratory animals with high levels of phthalates. Additionally, the Environmental Working Group found that tons of American beauty and skincare products contained carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants — many of which are banned in Europe and Asia.

So as we consumers become more aware about the importance of the ingredients found in skincare products, it's not uncommon to see more and more items touting their "all-natural" ingredients. But does "natural" mean the same as "organic" when it comes to beauty? And are there federal regulations monitoring these label claims?

"Calling a beauty product natural legally means nothing . . . anyone can just use one or two natural ingredients in a product and call it natural."
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In order to navigate the confusing world of organic and natural skincare products, we talked to some experts for clarity. Dr. Ebru Karpuzoglu, MSc., PhD, and founder of natural skincare brand AveSeena, spoke with me about the term "natural" on product labels.

"Calling a beauty product natural legally means nothing," she said. "It's an unregulated term because the FDA, USDA, or EU do not have any regulations or standards on the term. Since there is no regulation on the 'natural' term, anyone can just use one or two natural ingredients in a product and call it natural. If you see the natural ingredients only at the end of the product's ingredient list, that means it's hardly natural."

In fact, a product labeled as "natural" can mean that there is at least one natural ingredient but can also be saturated with harmful chemicals.

So what should we look for when trying to buy skincare products that aren't harmful? Well, for starters, don't pay extra for anything that is listed as organic or natural because the FDA does not regulate this. Also, don't hesitate to look up an unfamiliar ingredient before purchasing, especially those that are hard to pronounce.

According to Mariska Nicholson, a natural skincare expert and founder of Olive + M, "The story of a natural skincare line starts with what isn't in the product. As you research the best natural skincare products, it's important to look for these qualifiers:

  • Vegan
  • GMO-free
  • Eco-friendly
  • Cruelty-free
  • Free of harmful chemicals, irritants or preservatives
  • Carefully formulated with all natural, organic ingredients"
Image Source: Pexels / Dana Tentis
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