Let’s face it, standing for what feels like forever in the skincare aisle can be very overwhelming. You’re aware of the terms Organic, Natural, Nontoxic, and Clean Beauty, and yet most of those products claim at least one or more of these descriptors. You begin to ask yourself, what is the difference and is it legitimate? Crushed for time, you skim through the ingredients and pick up your refill of natural face wash or cream in time to beat traffic back home. You don’t know what’s so natural about that popular face cream in your hands, but you do know one thing, your skin deserves better.
You’re not alone, according to the 2017 Label Insight Ingredient Confusion Study, only 1/3 of Americans understand package claims meant to help inform shoppers, i.e. natural, healthy, and clean. Almost half of the respondents reported less trust towards a brand when they felt confused about product ingredients. Of course, when ingredient confusion becomes a problem, manufacturers start noticing a decline in product sales. As a way to avoid labeling confusion and stay competitive in the skincare industry, manufacturers go to great lengths to provide transparency by using the terms Organic, Natural, and Clean Beauty as a way to gain the potential consumer’s trust.
Unfortunately, such claims aren’t always as simple as they sound. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit that is dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, when it comes to skincare or general personal care products there is no federal oversight for ingredients and labeling in the U.S. As a result, this places the responsibility solely on manufacturers to determine the legitimacy of their claims.
Understanding Organic Skincare Better
Let’s start by dissecting the term Organic, sounds comforting? Would it still comfort you if you knew the FDA does not actually regulate the term organic for personal care products? In fact, the regulatory body that governs standards for organic products, and provides “USDA Organic” certification labels is called the National Organic Program (NOP). To obtain the certified label, a product or agricultural ingredient must meet the following strict criteria:
The USDA Organic seal is the gold standard to ensure the legitimacy of a product versus a product which claims to be Organic without a visible certification. Not having the official USDA Organic seal however does not necessarily mean dishonest manufacturing, having the label likewise does not mean toxic ingredients or synthetics haven’t been included in the product. Next comes the National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF or NSFI), yet another organization which provides certifications on Organic labeling claims.
Just like the NOP, the NSF requires all products to be thoroughly evaluated by an accredited Organic organization that verifies the manufacturer’s ingredients to be at least 70 percent Organic. The NSF seal issued by third-party certifiers that are part of NSF International, such as Oregon Tilth and QAI, provide a level of assurance. They ensure that manufacturers follow material processes and production specifications per their strict standards. If none of these seals are on the label but the word Organic is, then most likely either the manufacturer does not meet the USDA or NSF Organic standards of quality, or they didn’t bother obtaining the seal. And even though Organic claims vary, having the official seal may help narrow down your search next time you find yourself rushed while shopping the skincare aisles.
Understanding Natural Skincare Better
I wish that was all the information you had to worry about when it comes to skincare products, but Natural is another term we desperately need to discuss. While we like to assume that when a face cream claims “all natural,” it’s exactly that. Now is it really? And are we really doing better for our skin if we use skincare products that claim to be? Turns out, that most women do believe natural is better, and according to results from a 2017 survey conducted by Green Beauty Barometer, going green is the new norm. Adopting a natural skincare regimen is trendy but that term holds a guarded weight to its claim despite how valued it is by consumers.
Manufacturers have their own interpretation of Natural, depending on the ingredients used, where having only one plant extract makes the cut. At times, it’s as clever as the sound of the name, like Aveeno Naturals, or as frivolous as the ubiquitous green packaging to denote the color of leaves found in nature. I know! At this point, you’re probably beginning to question that face cream you thought so highly of. Well, let’s try to put some hope into that terminology too. Fortunately, there are ways you can determine the legitimacy of Natural claims, thanks to the Natural Products Association (NPA).
The Natural Personal Care Standard is how the NPA regulates the term Natural while also informing consumers. Receipt of this seal means that a product has a minimum of 95% natural ingredients. Thanks to NPA standards, you’ll be able to know if ingredients are made from natural sources and manufactured by outlined ecological processes. This company favors substances that are listed and recognized as safe by the FDA and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), it prohibits substances such as parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin, including others also listed on their website.
Again, even if a product contains naturally derived ingredients, it may also carry a handful of harmful toxic and synthetic ingredients. Finally, as head of EWG’s Healthy Living Science Program Nneka Leiba points out, not all products derived from nature are necessarily safe for your skin. Take poison ivy, lead or arsenic. You wouldn’t want to rub that on your face, right? Alternatively, not all synthetics, especially those with long standing track record of neutrality, are unsafe. Although very tedious, finding an “all-natural” product gets easier with an approved seal. This says a lot about how much the manufacturer views the importance of transparency and conscientious skincare.
A Better Understanding of Conscientious Skincare
Finally, we must pause to take in a few important highlights about the actual wording and branding of natural products. Plant derived compounds such as polyphenols may have a scientific name that sounds intimidating, but are actually antioxidants with potential to heal the skin. Next, out of the rippling tide of confusion surrounding the Natural Product Industrial Complex, has emerged a new generation of skincare labeling with concepts such as Clean Beauty, Conscious Skincare, and Nontoxic Cosmetics. Given the perplexity of their past usage, the emphasis is no longer on just the words Natural or Organic.
Today, companies aim for broader issues stemming from humane research, forbiddance of animal cruelty, to green packaging and low carbon footprint, all relative to conscientious skincare. Well, what is conscientious skincare? Dr. Yazdani founder of Seaside Medical Technologies describes it as, “Being a more informed consumer of cosmetics, by paying closer attention to the labeling claims and seals of approval, and choosing from brands with more transparency, and less toxic list of ingredients. This ultimately will help guide your decision on which products you choose to apply to your and your children’s hair, skin and nails on a regular basis.” The EWG, NPA and FDA are all good sources with lists of safe and unsafe ingredients and products posted on their websites to ensure consumer safety.
Despite all the inconsistencies and overwhelming information, by practicing these basic principles, you’ll be surprised at how conscientious you will soon become about skincare, and hopefully not fall victim to marketing ploys with illegitimate claims. When in doubt, the best route is to put your trust in manufacturers that have done the homework for you. Perhaps a Vegan Symbol, Cruelty Free Certification, or a USDA Organic seal that acknowledges your doubts as a skincare consumer and gives you confidence as to its safety. If those companies are bringing conscientious skincare to our regimen, it’s only sensible we start understanding why this is important for both our skin and our environment. And with these tools in mind, the next time you navigate that skincare aisle, you’ll be that much more an expert on Natural skin products.
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