How to Spot Truly Clean Beauty and Personal Care Like a Pro


Once upon a time, clean living was for earth-worshipers draped in over-sized natural fabrics. Urban-dwelling millennials and Gen Z-ers normalized clean living replacing the stereotype - living cleaner, healthier lives.

Consumers are consciously living cleaner for the sake of a happier, healthier existence of all living things. Shopping for beauty and personal care brands with claims of clean formulation have consumers surfing for answers defining marketing terms cluttering cosmetic isles - like organic, non-toxic, and vegan.

It’s impossible to shop beauty brands without noticing how far the needle moved toward cleaner, cruelty-free, and earth-friendly standards of formulation consumers expect.

You may be searching for real answers for what so many brands are selling at a premium price point. But how do you know what’s better...natural or organic? Are natural products organic? What does non-toxic mean? If you’re like 68% of beauty and personal care consumers surveyed by the Benchmarking Company’s 2018 PinkReport, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions - and a few more.

Like what does botanical mean? Or synthetic-free? What about non-toxic or hypoallergenic? How are these claims regulated and does it really make products safer for my family and me?

An easy-to-consume breakdown of these widely-used claims can help you make more informed decisions when shopping for cleaner beauty and personal care products.

What Qualifies a beauty product as natural?

Organic products are heavily regulated by the FDA and USDA. A product can't wear the seal “Certified Organic” unless it’s been certified by the US government, meaning it’s formulated with at least 95% organic ingredients.

Products labeled “Made With Organic Ingredients” must be formulated with at least 70% certified organic ingredients, but can't display the Certified Organic seal.

A beauty or personal care product earns its organic wings from the National Organic Program (NOP), regulated by USDA organic standards. Beauty and personal care products must meet NOP regulatory standards in four categories: production, handling, processing, and labeling.

Every worker and every processor that touched an organic product must be certified by the USDA/NOP. When a beauty or personal care product clears all hurdles, it becomes eligible to receive one of 4 organic seals displaying the certifying agency:

  • 100% Organic | product is formulated with only organic ingredients - no chemicals.

  • Certified Organic | product is formulated with at least 95% chemical-free ingredients.

  • Made with certified organic ingredients | product is formulated with at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The certifying label can list up to three organic ingredients or read “made with organic plant extracts”. They don’t receive the USDA-Certified Organic label.

  • Products formulated with less than 70% organic ingredients can't be marketed on product labels as organic. But the ingredient label may display any USDA-certified organic ingredient as being “organically produced”. Products in this category don’t receive the USDA-Certified label.

In the first two categories, the certifying agency’s name and address must be on the product’s label. The 4th category can't display the certifying agency’s name and address.

This is the basic criteria for organic certification. Heavy fines drop on brands marketed as certified in any category if not been properly vetted to receive the seal.

You can read up on more about governing criteria for organic certification here.

Beauty brands leveling up naturally

Understanding ingredient labels is one thing. Finding a beauty brand and personal care meeting your standard of clean and performs well is a whole other head-rubber because there are just so dang many! To get you started, here are three cult favorites in the categories of 100% organic, organic, and made with organic ingredients:

100% Certified Organic Beauty Brand | 100% Pure

This brilliant beauty brand stands strong in the 100% Organic makeup category. 100% Pure is natural and organic makeup, skincare, body care, and hair care on a mission to protect and sustain the well-being of our planet.

The founder and chief creator, Susan Wang's mission is, “to create the absolute healthiest, purest, most nourishing formulas.” And...get this...all cosmetics are colored with fruits, vegetables, and teas. The magic is it’s nine-point purity testing process for purity, synergy (ingredients and packaging), potency, and stability.

Certified Organic | Christina Moss Naturals

Christina Moss Naturals is certified organic because, according to skincareox.com, all products are at least 95% certified organic...98%, actually. Since the brand’s inception in 1999, Christina Moss' mission has been to replace every questionable ingredient in with safe, high-performing ingredients.

She did just that and more, adapting her purity promise for all her skincare and hair care products. Her brand's narrative includes a commitment to sustaining the environment and never testing on animals.

Made with certified organic ingredients | Juice Beauty

Juice Beauty is the brainchild of Karen Behnke. Her mission was to carve out a space for makeup and skincare formulated with botanical-extracted juice (more on "botanical" in a bit). She kicked common-use, water-logged synthetic fillers to the curb and formulated Juice Beauty with certified organic, high-grade ingredients ethically sourced and not tested on animals.

Karen’s patented Green Apple® PEEL is a skincare supernova because of its clinically validated efficacy to correct dark spots, uneven skin tone, and other imperfections on the skin’s surface.

Skincareox.com has a well-researched list of organic skincare brands so you can narrow your choices and save time and money on your quest for the best skincare glow-up.

Goodness in, garbage out...

Beauty products with either of these three organic seals earned it because of what was left out and put in. Organic products must not contain toxic synthetic pesticides or herbicides, chemical NPK fertilizers, GMOs, antibiotics, or growth hormones - just to name a few no-nos.

Being aware of the different levels of organic beauty and personal care formulation helps you look for the best and weed out the rest as you search out the perfect-for-you beauty brand.

So what is a natural beauty product?

Natural (or all natural) is marketing jargon as ambiguous as the difference between $30 and $300 jeans (I'm guessing...I've never worn $300 jeans). Are we paying for quality or the label? Use of this term on any part of an ingredient label is unregulated, so you must become ingredient label-savvy to avoid potentially harmful chemicals.

Natural products could contain pesticides and have up to 30% of its ingredients created in a lab, with ingredients less than 70% chemical-free. That said, natural doesn’t always mean healthy anyway because plant-derived ingredients can be highly-processed and potentially harmful to your body and the environment.

Here’s a take away to help guide you through the labyrinth of safe and unsafe formulas. Synthetic ingredients appear toward the bottom of ingredient labels, so the fewer hard-to-pronounce ingredients, the more natural the product is. It also may be helpful to know the volume of ingredients are in descending order.

Some natural ingredients may sound unnatural because of their Latin description, but a little research can help clear up confusion.

More fancy beauty and personal care labeling explained

Botanicals sound like something used on you at the spa - cucumbers on your eyelids and in your ice water, and your body cozied up in a fluffy white robe. You’re relaxed, renewed and refreshed, but you’re still not sure what part of the experience involved botanicals.

These Mother Earth juices are extracted from parts of a plant including roots, flowers, fruit, leaves and seeds. Extracts are used to add scent and color to beauty and personal care products and intended to help improve our insides and outsides in some way.

Botanicals are referred to as a botanical product, herbal product - extracted from green-rooted, small plants - or phytomedicines. Some widely used botanicals are St. John’s Wart, black cohosh, ginger, and Saw Palmetto.

Active Botanicals are used to benefit the immune system. A commonly used botanical in this category is echinacea - super popular during cold and flu season.

Antioxidant Botanicals are used as a natural approach to help prevent cancer, slow aging, and aid in cardiovascular function.

Synthetic-Free. If you see this listed anywhere on a product label or ingredient label, it means no man-made ingredients are in the formula - all elements are naturally-occurring. But this term is unregulated, so it's a good idea to research descriptions on the ingredient list.

Cruelty-Free. Beauty and personal care brands with Leaping Bunny Certification is regulated by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). This organization was formed by eight national protection agencies on a mission to police companies designing their own cruelty-free labels and making false claims.

When you see the Leaping Bunny seal on a label, you can feel good knowing no animals were used to test the safety and efficacy of the product. You can feel just as good you’re supporting a brand that has a heart for all living things. The number of consumers who insist on purchasing cruelty-free products has skyrocketed, and the beauty world is riding the wave.

Vegan. When you see this claim, the Vegan Awareness Foundation verified no animal products or by-products

were used in the formulation. This includes but not limited to fish, fowl, eggs, milk, honey, and honey bees. You may notice some synthetics on the ingredient label, but the vegan seal is a promise no animals are in any way involved in the brand’s production process.

A beauty or personal care brand must provide supplier verification that no animal testing or animal GMOs were used to manufacture the ingredients or the finished products. The list is extensive, so the vegan seal ensures truth in advertising.

Non-toxic. This is an unregulated marketing term in the beauty world. Again, getting familiar with what to look for on ingredient lists will help you make informed purchasing decisions for you and your family’s well-being.

Generally, brands claiming to be non-toxic market what’s left out of their formulation, like ingredients linked to neuro and hormone disruption, cancer, and death. Here are some toxic ingredients to be on the lookout for:

Phthalates

Found in: household products, shampoos, conditioners,

Use: delivers product consistency for easy pouring

Formaldehyde

Found in: nail polish, hair gel, color cosmetics

Intended use: prevent bacteria growth

Petroleum

Found in: moisturizers, lip balm

Intended use: moisturize and protect the skin barrier

Lead Acetate

Found in: hair dye, lipstick

Intended use: color additive

Coal Tar

Found in: dandruff and lice treatment shampoos

Intended use: medicinal for treating hair and scalp concerns

Hypoallergenic is a marketing claim beauty and personal care brand formulators use to position a brand as safer than its competitors. A product labeled hypoallergenic means it’s non-reactive compared to other brands not making this unregulated claim. Checking the label and doing a patch test on any new product is ideal to prevent a major reaction.

A great resource for interpreting ingredients in beauty and personal care products is cosmeticsinfo.org.

Knowledge is still power

Being informed about clean beauty helps you make more confident buying decisions for the people you love - and that includes you, Boo. Increasingly, the beauty world is pulling back the curtain. Ingredient and formulation transparency is now the rule and not the exception.

Your guiding light is understanding what’s on ingredient labels. You have the power of the web as close as your smart device to help you interpret descriptions and claims. No more mystery ingredients or ambiguous marketing jargon to influence your decisions!

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