Defining Natural in Skincare

From a legal standpoint, the use of the word natural can be used for anything.  It has no legal definition. Booths at the farmer’s market can advertise their products as natural, and so can corporate, personal care product companies.  The term “natural” has a wide-spectrum definition in the marketplace.

The dictionary definition of natural is:  Existing in or caused by nature, assuming there is no human intervention.  But let’s be real, people have had a hand in creating or modifying the ingredients. This creates a very confusing marketplace and consternation among consumers who are concerned and looking for clean skin care.

Natural Formulating Tiers

Tier 1 – Actual Natural 

Tier 1 is a 100% totally natural product.  For example, selling a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, a jar of coconut oil, or a block of pure shea or cocoa butter.  So there is nothing else in the product except the primary ingredient itself. The Ingredient is taken directly from nature and sold as a product.

Tier 2 – Pursuing Organic

Tier 2 allows for a very small amount of ingredient modification. This is the strictest standard and has specific government requirements to follow. Ingredients must qualify under the USDA Organic standard.   The USDA Organic label was designed for food, but some skincare can qualify if certain criteria are met.  The challenge in cosmetics/skin care is that there are very, very few preservatives that will qualify under the organic standard.  Yet the prevention of mold, mildew, and bacteria is required by the FDA.

There are three levels in the organic standard – 100% organic, 95% organic, and 70% organic. The 70% version can be labeled as “contains organic ingredients,” but it cannot use the USDA Certified Seal.

Tier 3 – Formulating to a Standard 

Tier 3 is where a company has committed its formulations to a natural standard.  There are multiple natural standards for ingredients; some are put forth by the retailer such as Whole Foods.  They have their own standard that companies must meet to sell products in their stores. There is also Fair Trade, EWG, Cruelty-Free, Cosmos, EcoCert, Non-GMO, NSF, NPO, and NaTrue in the European Union. A product manufacturer must decide which standard they want to meet or can achieve.  Meeting any one standard by itself means paperwork, traceability of ingredients, certificates of analysis, material safety data sheets, and in some cases, custom laboratory tests and results.

Few companies meet all standards; they must choose what appeals to their customer base. But the willingness to pursue a standard allows for transparency customers want.

Honey Sweetie Acres is in Tier 3.  We meet the Whole Foods Standard, EWG for natural soap ingredients, and Certified Humane for cruelty-free.   Following a “Standard” gives us independent validation of our product claims.

However, following standards means that the ingredients used are often more expensive.  In staying “clean,” it is more difficult to make products and keep them stable since we choose to avoid certain classes of commercial preservatives.  But our ingredients have a natural origin and are free of egregious ingredients such as paraben, phthalates, acrylates, formaldehyde formers, DEA, foamers, stabilizers, and more.

Tier 4 – Greenwashing

The fourth tier is called “Greenwashing.”  Greenwashing is quite common in the personal care space and is misleading.  An example of a greenwashed product is one where a tiny amount of a natural extract is added to the product (.005 grams) so that a “green” claim can be made.  The extract may not be sustainable or even effective, but the product packaging is changed to show green leaves & plants and tout the power of that extract.  Marketing such a product to consumers concerned with their skin and/or the environment is ethically wrong.

Companies can take advantage of consumers’ ignorance regarding ingredients and their performance. This happens daily. A current, well-known “natural” brand touts the colloidal oatmeal, soy, and seaweed in their formulation. But the product also contains Dimethicone, Isopropyl Palmitate, and Petrolatum, which are not acceptable by any natural standard. A greenwashed product is easy to formulate, has the least expensive ingredients with packaging designed to attract customers, such as the green color and floral or plant images, and calls out the natural extracts specifically on the label. Many big-name companies have been using Tier 4 Natural in Skincare for years.  Why?  Because it works as consumers are very trusting.

The good news is consumers are becoming wise to this method and are rejecting it more and more.  To help you avoid purchasing Tier 4 products, the following list of commonly prohibited ingredients that are banned by the majority of natural standards and will give you a leg up when you read the ingredient listing:

  • Parabens (Methylparaben, Polybaraben,
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Petrolatum / Mineral Oil
  • Avobenzone / Oxybenzone (sunscreens)
  • Synthetic silicones – Dimethicone/Cyclomethicone
  • EDTA
  • Propylene Glycol
  • DMDM Hydantoin (formaldehyde donor)
  • Ethanolamines – DEA, TEA, MEA – Boost viscosity and foam
  • Irradiated ingredients
  • Genetically modified ingredients

Questions on what is natural in skincare?   Email us, and we are happy to tell you what is or if it should be avoided.  We are happy to help empower you to select better natural skin care products!