With the natural beauty boom in progress, it seems less necessary to convince shoppers of the importance of using these products as it was a decade or so ago. Consumers are aware of what they do and don’t want in their beauty and personal care, for the most part. Shopping for safe products and supporting the brands who make them is a different story.
Here’s the deal: Natural is up to interpretation. At this point, there is no legal definition of the term “natural”. Organic isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be either. While there are strict and specific regulations covering organic standards, simply using the term “organic” on a product label does not equal toxin-free.
So, how are you supposed to know if the products you purchase live up to your standards? How do you know who to trust in the rapidly expanding beauty marketplace?
Anyone can slap fancy terminology and natural looking labeling on a product. As May Lindstrom, Founder of May Lindstrom Skin, says, “It's not about being an 'organic' brand as much as it is upholding my promise to create the highest possible quality skin treats that I am capable of.”
Those brands that have a strict commitment to using the highest quality healthy ingredients and never use toxins in their creations. The ones that started out in this business when natural beauty was seen as hippy dippy or granola. Those who painstakingly researched which ingredients they want to use in their products, how to source them so they are not only the safest but benefit communities and are gentlest on the environment. Those are the brands we should follow, put stock in, and purchase from.
Look for those brands that align with your values and walk the talk. As Victoria Fantauzzi Cofounder of La Bella Figura Beauty put it, “[Authentic natural beauty brands] have stories to tell that connect artisanal, highly effective products with the customer coveting quality over marketing, hype and old-school PR.”
You’ve seen it before. A conventional beauty brand starts making a splash with “natural” beauty products. They’ve been around forever, have a solid reputation, and have sold kajillions of products. And now they are adding a natural ingredient or two, maybe even some organic ingredients, to their formulations. Do you trust that these products are healthy and safe?
The best way to know … read those ingredient listings. It may seem old school, time consuming, and (let’s face it) sort of boring, but it is still the only way to truly know what ingredients are used to make a product.
Natural Beauty Label Reading Made Easy
Label reading isn’t so bad once you get the hang of it. Here’s a little cheat sheet for label reading made easy.
- Forget the front label and go straight to the ingredient listing. Cosmetic product listings are the same as food, listed in descending order of predominance. So, if a product is made mainly of water, water will be the first ingredient listed, and so on.
- While getting familiar with all nasty ingredients in cosmetics is a good idea, it’s a lot to remember. Here’s a handy list of ingredients to avoid and healthy alternatives to have nearby as you shop.
- Check the first five and the last five. The first five ingredients make up the majority of the product. This is where you will find synthetic emollients and harsh foaming agents. The last five ingredients are often preservatives and fragrance ingredients.
- Fragrance ingredients do not need to be listed so that brands can protect their trade secret recipe. If “fragrance” is on the list, check for a notation to see if those ingredients are naturally sourced.
- Many brands follow the European INCI ingredient listings, using Latin names for ingredients, and you can check those here.
- Get to know your organics. “100% Organic” means the product contains only organically produced ingredients, “Certified Organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients, and “Made with Organic Ingredients” means the product contains at least 70% organically produced ingredients.
You Get What You Pay For
You know how your expectations for a cheap makeup or skincare product is lower than when you spend good cash on an item? Yes, natural and organic products are often, but not always, pricier than conventional drug store brands.
Serums and facial oils, for instance, tend to run on the higher end of the price spectrum. That’s because the ingredients used in these types of products are more concentrated and usually more expensive. This may drive the cost up, but it should also mean a higher quality product.
Most often, authentic brands like to share the reason they choose the ingredients they use. And that’s because they’ve put the time and effort into knowing those ingredients and have created their own product formulations. “I’m amused by brand founders who clearly have little knowledge of their product formulas,” says Heather Hamilton, Founder of Zoe Organics. “Who default entirely to outside labs to tweak stock formulas and develop their line.”
Most authentic brands have a select few that are their star ingredients and will share why they like those ingredients and what they will do for skin. “Our story begins with creativity and a passion for the ingredient and then we study,” said Fantauzzi. “At the end of the day, no matter how pretty the product looks in its packaging if it isn’t effective then what’s the point?”
You can find very affordable natural products but it is important to put your bucks where it counts. “Maybe you can't afford a really expensive, 100% natural brand so you make compromises,” says Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics. “That's fine. What's not fine is being in the dark about your choices because a brand is desperately trying to market to you, and they have to lie to do that.”
Check out brand websites and look for their ingredient commitment and information on the ingredients they source. If they are simply putting up flashy terms or using the latest “it” ingredient with nothing to back it up, be cautious.
Who's In Charge, Anyway?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees cosmetics regulation in the U.S. Unfortunately, cosmetics are under-regulated, ingredient research is significantly overdue, and standards are in need of modernization. In short, you can’t rely on the FDA to identify a natural beauty product that is free from synthetic garbage.
Since the terms “natural” and “organic” are little help in determining a toxin-free product, some natural beauty brands have sought other means of safety identification. “We earned the license to manufacture under the rigorous global ECOCERT ® standards to ensure that our products meet the highest quality, certified natural and organic, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly standards,” President of One Love Organics Suzanne LeRoux said. “It is a big commitment but was important to us to have an industry “definition” of natural and organic and so customers don’t have the added worry and guesswork about our ingredients, manufacturing practices or environmental practices.”
This doesn’t mean that products that aren’t ECOCERT ® certified are not safe, but it is one example of how authentic brands are taking natural beauty labeling into their own hands. Until more stringent standards are set by the government, consumers need to educate themselves and know what to look for in beauty and personal care, especially with the surge in natural beauty products hitting the market.
As Founder of Soapwalla Rachel Winard said, “…the more popular a concept becomes, the more saturated the market becomes - with brands that have all sorts of goals. It's still up to us as passionate trailblazers to continue to educate ourselves and the public, and to continue to push ourselves to make the best possible products.”
And that’s another thing that is different about authentic natural beauty brands. Their support of each other. As Hamilton notes, “I have a deep respect for the circle of brands Zoe Organics has 'grown up' with. [Founders] who were here before 'green beauty' was a thing. Hustling, evangelizing, and walking the talk. THAT is authentic organic beauty.”
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