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What Does Organic or Natural on Cosmetics Labels Really Mean?

USDA Organic label on cosmetic product

The terms “organic” and “natural” get thrown around pretty loosely where cosmetics are concerned.  But do you know what constitutes a truly organic or natural beauty product?

In the U.S. cosmetics can be certified organic under the USDA requirements for food products.  A label reading “made with organic ingredients” means the product must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients.  Products labeled “Organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients.  A product which carries the Certified Organic seal follows the 95% rule, has met FDA organic agricultural guidelines and been verified by a third party certifying body.  Products made completely of organically produced ingredients may be labeled “100% Organic” and carry the Certified Organic seal.  The remaining 5-30% is left up to manufacturer discretion and may be synthetic.

USDA Organic Guidelines:

  • No synthetics or GMOs
  • Set terms on animal and environmental treatment
  • “Made with organic ingredients” = at least 70% organic
  • “Organic” or “Certified Organic” = at least 95% organic
  • Both 95% and 100% organic may carry USDA Organic seal

Natural is a different story.  Though there is no legal definition of the term “natural” and no set requirements for a natural product, the general concept is that a natural ingredient is plant, mineral or animal-derived and not synthetic.  Because the term is not clearly defined, “natural” is commonly misused in the cosmetics industry.  While it is used on labels of products that are made without synthetics, you will also find the term on many cosmetic products made almost entirely of synthetic ingredients.  Reading ingredient listings on products labeled natural is your best defense against harmful ingredients.

[Image: oceandesetoiles at, Creative commons license]

Written by Liz Thompson

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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