There is a sense of accomplishment in using products advertised as “green,” “natural,” or “environmentally friendly.” People prefer eating organic food, buying eco-friendly technology, and using metal straws instead of plastic in an effort to balance the negative effects our actions have on the environment.
One of the sectors where “going green” is most prevalent is the beauty industry. In every other product advertisement, you’ll see brands label their makeup and skincare products as “organic,” “clean,” or “natural” and people would buy them.
But what do these beauty industry buzzwords actually mean? And how do they differ from each other? We discuss them below.
The term “natural” in the skincare industry refers to products that use ingredients produced in nature. These ingredients could be anything, from water and oils to plants and flowers. There’s no regulation around the term, so brands use it loosely.
As such, just because a product is labeled as natural doesn’t mean it’s made only with natural ingredients. Your moisturizer could have coconut oil in the ingredients and the manufacturer can call label it “natural” as a marketing tactic even if it has other synthetic ingredients.
In addition, just because an ingredient is found in nature doesn’t mean it’s better for your skin or the environment. On the flip side, just because there are chemicals in your skincare products doesn’t mean they’re toxic.
Unlike the term “natural,” “organic” is a label that’s regulated in the U.S. The National Organic Program is the regulatory framework that manufacturers must follow to label their products as “organic,” but this only applies to agricultural ingredients. They don’t have jurisdiction over personal care products.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic products are those that have been produced through “methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
Since skincare products have multiple ingredients, they must adhere to the following regulations to label their products organic:
- Products sold or labeled as organic must have at least 95% certified organic content
- Products sold or labeled as “made with” organic ingredients must have at least 70% certified organic content
- Products with less than 70% organic content may specify that specific ingredients are organic, but not the product in its entirety.
Unlike the first two, the “clean” label on beauty products is one of the easiest to understand and identify. Typically, skincare products are “clean” if they are free from questionable ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients clean beauty products avoid are:
- polyethylene glycols
Another marked difference between clean beauty products and organic or natural is that clean beauty does not shy away from using synthetic ingredients. As long as these synthetic ingredients do not pose risks to your health or the environment, a product can be easily labeled as clean.
Using clean products is suitable for people who have sensitive skin. You can buy herbal soap to treat your pimples, for example, instead of using creams and other topicals that cause more irritation, redness, and sensitivity.
Since clean beauty products don’t use filler materials, they have much more room for higher quality ingredients that offer better results for your skin. Unlike organic, though, there are no regulations for putting the “clean” badge on products.
Green products are those that do not harm the environment. Manufacturers of these products practice ethical sourcing, which uses environmentally sustainable methods to get the ingredients they need from nature.
From harvesting products to shipping and packaging, green beauty manufacturers are committed to leaving as little carbon footprint as possible.
The label “green” may be used interchangeably with “sustainable.” They mean the same thing at their core: getting ingredients from the earth in a way that allows them to do it over a long period by taking care of resources.
Like clean beauty, there aren’t regulations that manufacturers have to follow to label their products as “green.” As long as they source their ingredients sustainably, their products can be considered green.
What’s in a Name?
There’s plenty of other labels for skincare products out there, such as locally sourced, vegan, and cruelty-free. A lot of these can be interpreted in different ways.
Most of the time, though, these labels are marketing tactics more than brands’ actual desire to provide the best skin care solutions.
This is why when choosing products to put onto your skin, it’s important to look past the label and look at the actual ingredients themselves. This is how you can identify what’s good for your skin.