Is your body lotion natural? Is that new lipstick you’re thinking about buying vegan and should you switch to an organic night cream?
Attempting to figure out if your favorite product or brand fits any of these labels can be confusing. To help you make more informed and considered beauty choices, we've compiled an easy guide, breaking down the details so you know what’s what.
It is important to understand that there is no legal requirement or definition for brands to label a beauty product natural, vegan or organic. The only specific legal requirement is for the ingredients to be listed according to the global standard of INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients). Ingredients on labels should be listed from the highest percentage to the lowest. Anything under 1% can be in any order. It's also important to note that names are often not listed in their most common form, i.e. you will probably find water listed by its scientific name, aqua.
So, what does natural mean?
In all honesty, whatever a brand wants it to mean. Because it is not regulated, it is the most overused label in the beauty industry. A product with as little as 1% plant or mineral sourced ingredients can be labeled 'natural' and is often perceived as 'better' or a 'healthier' option. Let us be clear, this is not always the truth. Just because it is labeled 'natural' does not mean it can't be harmful, cause sensitivity or have side effects.
How then do you find a natural product worth your time? Start by knowing what is in the formula and checking the label.
When it comes to a natural product you would want the botanicals listed first (highest concentration) and any synthetic products nearer the bottom.
Almost all products require a preservative to make it last and these are mostly synthetic. If a product is a 100% natural the shelf life will be significantly shorter and spoil quickly – something to keep in mind.
Two natural brands worth the hype:
How about Vegan?
The easiest way to make sure that a product is vegan is to look for the Vegan Society logo and check Peta’s website for product listings. Again, there is no legal regulation on a product labeled vegan so it is important that you know exactly what you are buying. I.e. it does contain any animal extracts or animal by-products in the ingredients or manufacturing process? Have the product and ingredients ever been tested on animals? Look out for the Leaping Bunny logo; an internationally recognized symbol guaranteeing no animal testing was carried out. Interestingly and handy to know is that EU laws have very strict regulations around animal testing, whereas China requires it by law, meaning any product available in China has automatically been tested on animals.
To help you fish out the ingredient list (see what we did there?...), here are some common ingredients derived from animal sources: carmine, glycerin, keratin, collagen, retinol, squalene, guanine, pearl, silk, milk proteins, snail gel and lanolin. It is also worth noting that an item labeled 'vegan' does not automatically mean that a botanical replacement has been used, as it can include synthesized ingredients made in a lab.
Two vegan brands worth the hype:
According to the Soil Association: “Organic beauty is the formulation of cosmetics products using organically farmed ingredients. These ingredients are grown without the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) herbicides and synthetic fertilizers." Furthermore, it should also not be tested on animals, contain any harsh chemicals, parabens, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances.
Unfortunately, even a product with the tiniest trace of an organic ingredient can proclaim itself organic – making it difficult to understand what organic, certified organic, natural or 100% organic actually means.
Unfortunately, being aware of the different certifications is not really going to help because the term organic is still being defined when it comes to cosmetics. So how do you know when a product is truly organic or when is it simply used as a marketing tool for brands? Carefully read the labels, educate yourself regarding ingredients and the brand you are choosing to buy. Look out for recommendations and certifications from the likes of The Good Trade and the Soil Association as a guide. Most will have an extensive list of brands that they support on their websites.
Two organic brands worth the hype:
If you need some help figuring out ingredients, try an online cosmetics dictionary like Paula’s Choice. It is a treasure trove of information and truths. You can also download an app like Think Dirty that allows you to search for and scan the cosmetic ingredients telling you exactly what is inside. We love that it grades ingredients according to its ‘Dirt Meter’ in red (= dirty), yellow (= half ‘n half) and green (= clean).