What You Need To Know: Organic Versus Natural

The organic and natural segment of the personal care market continues to be one of the fastest growing in the cosmetics and toiletries industry, reflected in double-digit annual percentage growth in the US year after year. Consumers are actively seeking out “organic” and “natural” skin care products to use as part of their daily skin care routine.

As the “green” consumer-driven market continues to gain momentum, more and more brands are popping up with the words “organic,” “natural,” and “chemical free” in their names and marketing collateral. In addition, companies are increasingly displaying organic trade or consumer group logos and agricultural certifications to show their professional affiliations and earn the trust and confidence of the discerning consumer.

With thousands of skin care products on the market, there’s a lot of confusion out there about the distinction between “organic” and “natural.” Although often used interchangeably, the differences can be quite significant. As more and more companies embrace the shift toward eco-friendly, green products, it’s imperative to discern quality and authenticity from “green washing,” which is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product.

Szilvia Hickman with Szep Elet, the exclusive North American distributor for ilike organic skin care products, which has been around since the late 1950s, shares with us what we need to know to discern the differences between the terms “natural” and “organic.”

What is the generally accepted definition of “Natural?”

The word "nature" is derived from the Latin word natura, or "nature nurtured; nature doing what nature does.” As it relates to skin care products, the generally accepted definition of the use of the word “Natural,” can be defined as “Any material that is harvested, mined or collected from nature and which may have subsequently been washed, decolorized, distilled, fractionated, ground, milled, separated or concentrated in order to remove a chemical or chemicals that would be available and detectable in the original source material.” Additionally, one could also add that “Natural material may be modified in order to alter or increase the yield of material by this process.”

As stated, this is a generally accepted definition. At this time, there is no government agency in charge of regulating the use of the term natural, allowing skin care companies to use the word “Natural” as they see fit.

What is the definition of “Organic?”

Unlike the unregulated term “Natural,” organic skin care labeled products must meet strict requirements by the certifying body.

Natural ingredients that result from organic farming methods are generally called “Organic.” Organic farming is a form of agriculture, which avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators and livestock feed additives.

In a number of countries, including the US, China and most of Europe, organic farming is defined by law, so that the commercial use of the term “organic” to describe farming and food products is regulated by their respective governments. Where laws exist, it is usually illegal for a non-certified farm to call itself or its products organic. Farms need to have certification for their crops to be certifiable as organic cosmetic ingredients.

Unfortunately, some brands are claiming to be natural and/or organic when only a very small amount of their agriculturally grown ingredients are actually derived from farms with certified organic growing conditions.

Decision Time! What You Can Do When Choosing Skincare Products

According to Hickman, to cut through the clutter and confusion, there are a few things that consumers can do to ensure the products they are choosing are truly organic and/or natural. 

  • Find out how long the brand has been committed to sustainable organic/natural practices
  • Learn where their brand's certified organic/natural ingredients are grown. Are their sources traceable?
  • What preservatives are in the products? Chemical or natural? 
  • What certified organic/natural body do they use to certify their products?
  • Does the third party certifying body specialize in agricultural or cosmetic organic/natural standards?
  • Is the entire product certified organic/natural or only selected ingredients?
  • If only selected ingredients are certified, what % of the entire product is certified organic/natural including emulsifiers, preservatives, and water?
  • How long has the product been certified organic/natural? 

These few questions will help eco-beauty lovers determine the depth, transparency, and authenticity of any brand they may be considering for their skincare needs. Hickman encourages consumers to do a little bit of investigating beyond the label claims to ensure they are choosing products that are true to their claims. 

Do you have any tips or tricks for buying organic products that you trust? Share in the comments below!