Have you ever chosen a particular product simply because it’s labeled as being “natural” or “organic?” People are becoming more and more comforted by the idea of minimally processed foods or products with fewer strangely named chemical compounds. Based upon this new trend which consists of going greener and seeking out more organic substances, companies have begun putting out more “earth friendly” cleaning products, more “natural” beauty products, and more “minimally processed food” products. Are corporations simply giving the people what they want, or, are they just trying to capitalize on this popular trend to increase profits? The only way to know for sure is to become educated about what all of these labels actually mean.

The Real Meaning of “Organic” Labeling

In order for a food or beauty product to be labeled organic, it must be at least 95% organically produced and processed. For food, this covers everything from the way it was grown, to the way it was harvested, what it was fed, and what was added to it. For beauty and skincare products, this refers to its ingredients. If a product isn’t totally organic, it can be labeled with a percentage of how many ingredients, or how much of the processing was organic. According to the USDA, however, if a product is less than 70% organic, it cannot use the organic label. Some food and skincare companies get around this rule by stating that their product is “made with organic ingredients.” While this may seem appealing because it is at least partly organic, you should read the label carefully. Although the product has organic components, it may also have harmful chemical ingredients which can destroy any benefit you may reap from the organic ones. Lastly, in order to be truly organic, products must also indicate who certified them as organic displayed directly on the label.

When the Label Says “Natural”….

The word “natural” should be treated with even more caution when it comes to evaluating products. This label has very few government regulations, in fact the only one documented is the term “natural” in regards to meat and poultry. Meat and poultry that are labeled natural cannot have artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and must have minimum processing. While these are all valid concerns, this does not regulate how the animal was raised or fed, which can be equally important. For example, grass-fed beef is clearly labeled as such, therefore proving the cows were fed a healthy, natural diet. If beef is simply labeled “natural,” the cow could have been fed anything. On skin care products, ideally, natural would mean no artificial ingredients, but this isn’t always the case. Often times the main active ingredient will be plant based, and the rest of the ingredients contain harmful preservatives or parabens. Always read the entire ingredient label just to be safe.

“Vegan” Labeling Can Be Misleading

Another label that is becoming more popular on skin care products is “Vegan.” While this does mean no animal products were used in the making of the product, which may appeal to vegans or earth loving people, the same product could still contain hazardous preservatives and chemicals. Never confuse “vegan” with natural or organic.

So what should you look for when cruising the supermarket? If you want to eat organically and buy mainly organic skin care and household products without paying for false advertisement, it is best to go with the 100% certified organic option. If there is no 100% organic option, you can still go with a product labeled “natural” or that has organic ingredients as long as you read the ingredient list yourself. Familiarize yourself with the ingredients you don’t want to be exposed to and simply search for products without them. A good indicator of a naturally derived food product, for example, is a short, readable ingredient list (no hard to pronounce chemical compounds.) It can involve a little homework, but knowing what is in your food and skin care products is key to making informed consumer decisions.