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Natural vs. Organic Skincare

Natural and organic are two terms that have misled skincare consumers for years. Brands love to show these claims even when their products are full of harsh chemicals. With confusing labels and a lack of rules, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s just marketing. Let’s break it down and learn the difference between organic, natural, chemical-free, and synthetic-free.

What is organic skincare?

In skincare, “organic” means ingredients grown without harmful pesticides, fertilizers, or chemicals. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regulate how beauty products use the term “organic”. This puts the responsibility on you, the consumer, to figure out what’s genuinely organic.

Here’s how to spot truly organic products: Look for the USDA seal. To be labeled “organic,” a skincare product must contain at least 95% organically grown ingredients. The remaining 5% can include chemicals like preservatives and fragrances. Products with 70%-95% organic ingredients qualify for the “made with organic ingredients” label. Anything less than 70% organic can’t use the “organic” label or the USDA seal.

What is natural skincare?

The term “natural” in skincare is even more misleading than “organic”. There’s no official definition or regulation for what makes a product truly “natural”. Often, it simply means the product avoids synthetic ingredients like preservatives, fragrances, and dyes. Unlike “organic” (which the USDA oversees), there’s no minimum percentage of natural ingredients required for a product to use the “natural” label.[1] This leaves brands free to make claims that might not be entirely accurate.

But there’s hope! In 2019, the Natural Cosmetics Act was introduced to bring clarity to “natural” labeling. It would define “natural” as containing at least 70% unprocessed natural ingredients.[2] Until this bill becomes law (and that’s a long process), it’s up to us to be savvy consumers. Don’t trust the “natural” label blindly – always check the ingredient list to be sure it’s free of the artificial ingredients you want to avoid.

Natural vs. organic

The terms “natural” and “organic” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. “Natural” typically refers to products made with ingredients derived from nature or that lack synthetic ingredients. “Organic” refers to products made with ingredients grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. In other words, “natural” focuses on the source of ingredients, while “organic” focuses on the farming process. So a product can be organic but not natural or natural but not organic.

Additionally, certifications from organizations like the Natural Products Association or USDA Organic can be a helpful indicator of a product’s natural and organic standards.

Are natural and organic products safer and better for your skin?

Just bear in mind that “natural” and “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer or better for your skin. Yes, most natural ingredients are gentler and generally well tolerated. However, they can still cause irritation, clog your pores, and trigger allergic reactions—think of tea tree oil or coconut oil. So, it’s essential to know your alergies and skin type to ensure you get the best outcomes from your natural or organic skincare routine.

Who wrote this?
Picture of Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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