Natural M Beauty Buzzwords

Natural beauty is all about simple, clean ingredients—how complicated can it be? Turns out, shopping for these products isn’t always that easy. Deciphering the difference between terms like “natural” and “organic” can make a well-intentioned and seemingly uncomplicated process overwhelming. 

Knowing and understanding common designations found on natural beauty products can give you more confidence while you shop. Below are a few of the most-used natural beauty product buzzwords and details on exactly what they mean.

Vegan and Cruelty-Free

The terms “vegan” and “cruelty-free” are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings and implications for a product. Vegan beauty products don’t contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients, like honey, animal-based collagen, or beeswax. However, this definition doesn’t inherently mean that the product isn’t tested on animals.

Cruelty-free means that the product and its ingredients aren’t tested on animals at any point. Some companies use ingredients or components that have been tested on animals in the supply-chain process, even before the product is packaged. The Leaping Bunny and PETA labels are two surefire ways to identify cruelty-free products.

Rest assured, there are many products that are both vegan and cruelty-free—the best of both worlds.

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Certified Organic and Organic

Products with the green USDA “certified organic” seal have gone through an official government certification process and must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The remaining 5 percent don’t have to be specifically organic, but must not be treated with toxic chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers in production.

On the other hand, if a product label reads “made with organic ingredients” but doesn’t have a USDA certifying seal, it contains a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients. Though the remaining 30 percent may not be strictly organic, they still adhere to the approved USDA production process and contain no toxins, pesticides, fertilization, etc.

Though various levels of certification exist, the USDA maintains the most comprehensive and widely followed set of standards for any level of organic product designation.

Natural and All Natural

Unlike organic food claims, there’s no code or organization that determines what makes a product “natural” or “all natural.” Typically, both indicate that the product contains some natural ingredients and little to zero synthetic ones.

However, sometimes companies claim a product is “natural” or “all natural” to separate their brand from the conventional pack. To avoid falling victim to vague marketing, your best bet is to always carefully review the ingredient list. Look for those you recognize, like shea butter or lavender oil.

Keep in mind, the FDA requires brands to use standardized International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) language on their product labels—the uniform scientific, often Latin, names for ingredients. INCI helps enforce transparency so identification and understanding of the product's content is more consistent for consumers. For example, "Cocos Nucifera" is the INCI term for coconut oil. Resources like Ecocert and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) are good places to cross-check any ingredient names you don’t recognize.