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How to Shop and Understand The Natural Beauty Market

Decoding the natural beauty space has become vital to our health. There is a reason natural beauty is having a moment. As consumers, younger generations with income to spare can be seen checking for ingredients and cruelty-free marks. While the emphasis on healthier beauty has been in the spotlight for some time now, millennials can be credited with moving the agenda of toxic-free products and sustainability into the future.

Unfortunately, when it comes to regulating what words and ingredients brands use, the personal care industry has a long way to go. United States continues to be behind Europe, with an ingredients blacklist that is in no way comparable to the number of ingredients the European Union warns us about. The EU has banned over 1,300 chemicals in personal care products, while United States has only banned 11. Image this! The burden of monitoring ingredients still falls on brands and consumers. This means that brands are left to their own devices. We can thank the people behind good brands, such as, Beautycounter. They have been pushing for tighter regulations that are in everyone’s interest. Still, it is a hard battle to fight. The most recent bill proposing a ban on harmful chemicals and brands who sell them in California just did not get enough votes.

As a young editor, working alongside green beauty pioneers since 2006, I was fortunate to get a front row seat to healthy beauty. The pool of clean beauty with non-toxic ingredients and transparency was much smaller then. Over the years I have been able to witness the timeline of change in the way we view and handle standards in the personal care industry. In the last few years we have seen an avalanche of clean beauty that is luxurious, has a wider reach and range, as well improved ethics. Unfortunately because there are no laws to prevent it, we also see a lot of greenwashing. There are some who muddy the waters, but the real truth is that education is key to protecting yourself and your family. The good news is that some chemicals are not harmful to us when the exposure is short lived (so do not go worrying about that cream you tested), however consistent use over a long period of time will add up. Some of the most concerning chemicals are those linked to health problems, such as: cancer, reproductive difficulties, birth defects and allergies. These carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors have no business being in our personal care products. Always remember, whatever you put on your skin, gets absorbed into the body and potentially into your bloodstream. So what are the top toxic chemicals to avoid and how do we read labels with confidence?


  • Parabens
  • Formaldehyde
  • Fragrance
  • BHT or BHA
  • Formaldehyde
  • Petrolatum
  • Phthalates
  • Triclosan
  • Toluene
  • Oxybenzone
  • Aluminum
  • Talc

When it comes to reading labels you might like to know that some popular terms used in the beauty market are interchangeable but not all are synonymous. Confused yet? That is why it is important to double check ingredients and certifications. Currently there are no government mandates on terms, such as “natural”. These are the terms that are supposed to make us feel safe, but the only term that requires testing is “organic”. A product labeled as “organic” (consisting of 95% organic ingredients) must comply with USDA rules.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that some toxic ingredients are not even required to be on the label. The best way to choose a brand is by checking how straight forward the labels are. One of the most confusing and mysterious terms is fragrance, also known as parfum. Brands are not required to list any more details about what the fragrance ingredients are because it is considered a “trade secret”. The safest way to shop and check on ingredients is by using the Environmental Working Group‘s Database. Their notoriety and rating system, along with verification, allows us to be aware of brands and their safety standards. The EWG does so much more than skincare and makeup. They are a non-profit organization that protects our health and our environment. Another smart way to shop for a new product is to find a shop whose philosophy on standards and values matches up with your own. To give you further guidance on labels, you must remember that some truly healthy and organic products might not have a long shelf life. That makes it hard for them to get certified, but it does not mean that they are not legitimate.

Here are some simple explanations of popular terms, certifications and some marketing buzz words.

Clean Beauty typically indicates that the product has been formulated without any of the “dirty dozen” ingredients. The clean beauty market’s banned ingredients are the same ones I listed, such as parabens, fragrance and formaldehyde. Many times clean beauty products use ingredients that are ethically sourced and sustainable. Although clean beauty should be made without animal-by product, not all clean beauty is vegan or cruelty-free.

Natural Beauty should be made with materials that can be found in nature but again this is not regulated by the USDA. The term natural can be used freely by anyone. This is when a certification of 100% natural comes into play.

Vegan is thankfully a term that means your product goes through strict testing by certifying organizations, such as Leaping Bunny and PETA. A brand has to prove that their products do not contain any animal-based ingredients.

Cruelty-free products are guaranteed to not have been tested on animals, however this does not mean that they do not contain animal-based ingredients.

NATRUE Certification by Verified by an independent certifier, the certification means that the product or brand has met strict criteria for natural and organic ingredients.

EWG Verified means that the product has passed strict criteria for transparency, good manufacturing practices and most importantly for avoiding ingredients that harm our health.

The Certified Vegan Trademark guarantees that that product is 100% free of animal ingredients or animal by-product.

Cruelty-Free Mark by the Leaping Bunny Program ensures that no animal testing has been used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or ingredient suppliers.


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