If you’re confused by all lingo surrounding eco-conscious beauty, you’re not alone. The terms clean, natural, and organic are everywhere these days, but lately there’s been some backlash that, because these claims are not regulated by the FDA, they’re not trustworthy. While it’s true that there are almost no set standards for defining these terms, that doesn’t mean all the products with these claims are frauds. In fact, brands know how savvy consumers are now at reading ingredient labels and calling out greenwashing, so they’re careful to make accurate product claims. But what exactly is the difference between clean, natural, and organic? We break it down here.
“Clean” beauty products are considered safe for people and the planet. It means the ingredients, at the levels found in product formulas and when used as intended, are believed not to pose any potential health risk to humans or potential harm to the environment. (Clean beauty is often called “non-toxic,” a controversial term that doesn’t always take into account that ingredient dosage matters—think how one tequila cocktail won’t kill you, but 10 tequila shots could.) Unlike natural or organic products, clean formulas often contain synthetic (i.e. lab-made) ingredients, so long as the synthetics are considered safe.
Here’s where it gets tricky: because “clean” is not a regulated claim, the list of so-called questionable ingredients varies greatly from brand to brand. While there’s a handful of industry agreed-upon baddies like parabens, sulfates, and formaldehyde (none of which are in our Wonderskin products), every brand is free to determine which ingredients they feel are safe and which are not based on their own criteria and research.
You’ve probably heard that the EU banned over 1400 cosmetic ingredients, while the U. S. has banned fewer than 20. But keep in mind, the EU’s banned list includes substances that no U.S. beauty brand ever has or ever would put into cosmetics, such as jet fuel, cyanide, rat poison, arsenic, and carbon monoxide. So, it’s not about how many ingredients a brand doesn’t use but rather which ones they do use, and whether they’re upfront about everything that’s in their formulas.
At Wonderskin, we have our own in-house lab and chemists who carefully analyze every ingredient for absolute safety and efficacy, and we’re completely transparent about what’s in our formulas so there’s no confusion.
In theory, natural beauty products use ingredients sourced directly from natural substances—plants, fruits, vegetables, trees, you get the gist—and not created in a lab, i.e. synthetics. But there are no regulations around the term “natural,” so it’s very broadly used and does not mean that all or even most of the ingredients in a formula are natural. In fact, any product that contains water could claim it contains at least some naturals.
Adding to the confusion are nuanced terms like “naturally derived” or “plant sourced,” which mean an ingredient originated from a natural source but has been through chemical processing and may not be that natural anymore. For example, French fries are naturally derived from potatoes, but fries certainly aren’t a whole food. On the flip side, chemical processing can remove allergens and irritants from a natural substance, making it safer to use on people.
Remember, not all natural substances are good for you (hello, poison ivy), and synthetic versions of ingredients previously sourced from animals or from environmentally disruptive harvesting are usually much kinder to the planet.
Most our Wonderskin products are vegan, which means none of the ingredients are derived from animals (we also never test on animals), and we use a mix of safe synthetics and skin-nourishing natural ingredients to create the most responsibly formulated, sustainable formulas possible.
Organic refers to natural ingredients grown without the use of chemicals such as GMOs, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. While the FDA does not regulate the term “organic” in cosmetics, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does. It stipulates that a beauty formula must contain at least 70% organic ingredients to be labeled “made with organic ingredients.”
Beauty products with the USDA-organic seal on the label are certified by an accredited agent to contain at least 95% organic ingredients, and there’s a strict list of which non-organic ingredients are allowed to be in the other 5% of the formula.
For products labeled organic without this seal, check the ingredient label—ingredients are listed in order of highest percentage in the formula to lowest, so if the majority of the ingredient names contain the word “organic” and anything non-organic is toward the end of the label, you can assume the formula is mainly organic ingredients.
In general, when shopping for beauty, keep in mind that both synthetics and natural ingredients can be safe, and a brand shouldn’t have to use scare tactics to convince you to buy their products. Ultimately, the best products for you are the ones you feel good about using.