DISCOVER WHAT THESE SKINCARE TERMS ACTUALLY MEAN—AND WHAT TO AVOID.
In the skincare world, the words “natural” and “clean” are becoming as widespread as the term “organic.” But every buyer should beware, because there are no universally accepted and agreed-upon definitions for any of these terms. The FDA, which oversees cosmetics and skincare products, does not regulate their usage. That means pretty much any brand can use the adjectives “natural”, “clean” or “organic”—and whether or not they actually are is anyone’s guess. If you think that’s pretty frustrating, we’re right there with you. To learn more about cosmetic labeling (including skincare) requirements, click here and here.
The term “organic”, however, IS regulated by the USDA (Department of Agriculture)—that’s why you can easily search for that little green USDA ORGANIC label on meat or veggies at the grocery store. Some cosmetic companies with agricultural ingredients have gone to the trouble of getting some or all of their ingredients certified by the USDA, and in that case they will also have that USDA ORGANIC label. The label means that the ingredients are managed and grown using agricultural methods without any use of pesticides and toxins. Many products are 100% organic, but a product can still be considered organic as long as 95% of its ingredients are organically produced, excluding salt and water. The remaining 5% of the ingredients must be non-organically produced agricultural products with an organic form that is not commercially available.
So how can you sift through the misleading marketing jargon to buy the right skincare products? Maybe you don’t care whether or not a certain product is organic, as long as it works, or maybe there are certain ingredients you’d rather avoid, but you’re okay with other stuff. Maybe having the cleanest possible product, from ingredient list through to 100% recycled packaging, is vitally important to you. No matter where you fall on the “clean beauty” preference spectrum, our guide below should help you peruse labels with confidence and select what works best—for your skin and your values.
WHAT THEY SAY: “CLEAN”
What they mean: nothing, unless the product explicitly states that it’s “free of” most of the following (e.g., “sulfate-free” or “free of sulfates”). Any product claiming to be clean should NOT contain:
- SLS and SLES
- formaldehydes and formaldehyde-releasing agents—chemicals that release formaldehyde when added to water: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, quaternium-15.
- mineral oil
- coal tar
- triclosan and triclocarban
WHAT THEY SAY: “NATURAL”
What they mean: nothing at all. Any product can claim to be natural! And also: even if the product does contain natural ingredients, there’s no guarantee that they will work for you. Some natural ingredients are good for your skin, while others should be avoided. We break down which natural ingredients work best for dry skin here, oily skin here, and mature skin here,
WHAT THEY SAY: “FRAGRANCE”, “PERFUME”, “PARFUM“, “FLAVOR”, “AND OTHER INGREDIENTS”
What they mean: As mentioned above, the FDA has little power over the personal care industry. Cosmetic companies are not required to disclose ingredients that are considered trade secrets, namely fragrance. This loophole means that any skincare, makeup, or bath product can contain multiple toxic ingredients with no mention of them so long as they are considered part of the fragrance formula. So—products labeled with “fragrance” may contain ingredients that are synthetic and toxic to humans, such as parabens and phthalates. Ever wonder why some brands make such a big deal out of saying “fragrance-free”? This is why.
Another way cosmetic companies may choose not to disclose ingredients covered in the trade secrets clause is by using the phrase “and other ingredients.” If you want to know what’s in your skincare or cosmetics, choose brands that are transparent and list out every single ingredient.
It’s a jungle out there—but with a little knowledge and savvy sleuthing, you can pretty easily find out which brands are true to their “organic”, “natural”, or “clean” claims. At PROVEN, we’ve done this homework for you. All our products are free of phthalates, parabens, SLS and formaldehyde, and are never tested on animals.
Click here to start your journey toward totally personalized skincare that you can feel good about—and that’s guaranteed to work.