This is a question I get asked all of the time when I talk about the development process behind our skincare products here at Yujen.
And, although the more seasoned plant-based beauty champs may have the difference down, from my experience there is still much confusion between the terms, natural and organic. But I believe that ultimately it is the responsibility, not to mention duty of the brands themselves to educate their customers on exactly what they’re offering.
Aside from this, I can certainly see why people are bamboozled. It doesn’t help that the terms are often used interchangeably on packaging and on marketing material, despite their divergences.
So to clear things up a little, here’s a short explanation of how natural and organic beauty products differ from one another, and how vegan differs from cruelty-free.
In Terms of Green
Beauty products labelled as organic or made with organic ingredients are those that contain ingredients grown in environments – or have involved a production process – without the use of chemical fertilisers or other synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, petroleum fertilisers and sewage sludge fertilisers. The ingredient on its own must not be a genetically modified organism (GMO).
In short, when it comes to the cultivation and farming of ingredients, whether destined for food or beauty bottles, organic is the rearing of crops without artificial chemical fertilisers and growth manipulation.
The lower levels of pesticides, manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers makes for a more environmentally sustainable management of the land and the environment. But besides being better for the planet, these organic products are also kinder to skin.
A product is considered natural when it contains ingredients that are sourced from nature rather than created synthetically. Synthetic chemicals are produced through laboratory manipulation, some of which can’t be found in nature, however it is possible to create synthetic versions of natural ingredients (such as Vitamin E.) by mimicking the same chemical structures in lab production.
Natural products generally don’t include ingredients like petrochemicals, parabens, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates, phthalates, synthetic dyes. Conversely, a natural product isn’t necessarily organic just because its origins are the soil itself. Some products that have been produced with natural ingredients could still have involved the use of additives for growth as well as the use of pesticides.
The lure of products labelled as natural is understandable as they indicate the ingredients used in the formulation have been pulled straight from the Earth. Whilst this may be so, as mentioned before, they may still be laden with controversial chemicals.
Cosmetic or beauty products labelled as cruelty-free haven’t been tested on animals. Animal testing is a practice that has thankfully been banned within the EU since the legislation came into complete effect in 2013. Testing a finished cosmetic product and/or cosmetic ingredients on animals is strictly prohibited, although there are many other countries that still do.
Additionally, it is prohibited to market finished cosmetic products within the European Union. This claim doesn’t necessarily make them vegan, organic, or natural: some products are cruelty-free, but their products may be comprised of synthetic ingredients.
Vegan is the term used to describe cosmetics or personal care free of animal products. Vegan cosmetic brands are also cruelty-free, but it is possible a vegan product could be composed of synthetic preservatives such as methyl- and propylparaben, and therefore not be 100% natural.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), animal products used in cosmetics include: Keratin, Shellac and Collagen – the list goes on!
An organic ingredient is by definition natural, and vegan cosmetic products are also cruelty-free. In the end, products may be labelled natural, vegan, or cruelty-free without bearing the qualities of the others.
It is important therefore that we’re aware of the different terms on labels and their meaning. Making more mindful and informed choices, like we’re doing increasingly with our food, means we get to decide which products tally with our own personal values.