Believe it or not, even products that are supposed to be cruelty-free and good for our world might not be as natural and good for your health as you thought! This post is a beginner’s guide to clean, natural, vegan and organic beauty products. It explains these terms and also covers “green-washing” in beauty product advertising. This article covers important true facts about natural beauty products, so you can make the right choices about your health and skin care.
Makeup is always popular, but beauty products can cause skin and other health problems. When you realize that regular makeup, even expensive makeup, contains toxic ingredients, you know you have to do something! (If you didn’t know about that, this article will explain it all clearly.) Once you know the facts about toxic ingredients in makeup and skin care products, it’s time to figure out which ones are not toxic and how to choose beauty products that are good for you.
With the many types of beauty and skin care products available, the differences between them are confusing. We first began hearing that every beauty product might not be good for our skin in the 1970’s, so we’ll touch briefly on the earliest terms and work forward. Here are some of the terms we often hear:
Now we’ll go into each term to see what kind of makeup is best for your skin, health and beauty.
Noncomedogenic Beauty Products
Noncomedogenic is just a fancy word that means “doesn’t cause clogged pores.” Clogged pores, or “comedones” on your skin are caused by blockage of the pores. Blockage sometimes happens when oil collects on your skin. That means, either the sebum (oily wax) produced by your own sebaceous glands, or oil that you apply to your skin. Therefore, a product that is noncomedogenic is something that claims not to cause clogged pores.
This subject became a big deal in the 1970’s -1980’s. All of the sudden, people realized that acne is sometimes caused by the use of cosmetic products. So, the term “acne cosmetica” became a “thing” and then noncomedogenic products emerged to combat the issue.
There’s a problem with noncomedogenic makeup and skin care products, though. They may not contain oil clogging ingredients, but they are not guaranteed to be any more healthy for your skin. Noncomedogenic products often contain many chemical ingredients that will cause acne cosmetica in those people with sensitive skin. Or, in those people who have developed sensitivity due to overuse of products that contain high amounts of offending substances.
Unfortunately, the whole science of comedonicity is widely variable and disputed. So, it is not easy to determine exactly why a beauty product causes clogged pores.
Offending chemicals that often find their way into noncomedogenic beauty products include, but are not limited to:
- Ethylhexyl palmitate
- Acetylated lanolin
- Isopropyl palmitate
- Sopropyl myristate
Natural Oils That Clog Pores Vs. Natural Oils That Don’t Clog Pores
Not to lay all the blame on chemicals, it is clear that even some natural plant-based oils rate higher on the comedogenic scale. This is simply due to their percentage ratio of (naturally occurring) linoleic and oleoic acids. Some natural oils could, indeed, cause a skin reaction. It all depends on your body chemistry, hormonal balance, skin type… so many factors!
Some noncomedogenic (good for you) natural oils would be: sunflower, grape seed and safflower oil.
Oils that have a higher comedogenic ratio of naturally occurring ingredients should be mixed with other oils in lower percentages. Those could include: argan, jojoba, avocado and coconut oil, among many others. Understanding about comedonicity helps you to choose makeup that’s good for you.
Hypo-allergenic Beauty Products
The term “hypo-allergenic” is generally used by cosmetic and skin care companies to indicate that their products contain allergen-free ingredients. However, some products stating “hypo-allergenic” or “dermatologist recommended” on their packaging and advertising have been shown to actually contain allergens.
There is no regulatory agency (at least in the USA) that oversees and controls the use of terms on cosmetic packaging. So the term “hypo-allergenic” is more of a marketing gimmick than something that will guide you to a safe product. Just because makeup claims to be “hypo-allergenic” does not mean it’s good for you!
The advice in this case would be to ignore the claims and stick to reading the ingredient list of a makeup and skin care products. That way, you can know if it contains substances that are known allergens. Many chemicals and preservatives commonly used beauty products are known allergens.
Natural Beauty Products
Now we get into the really sticky stuff, because there are so many interpretations for the word “natural.” This is especially true when we consider makeup and skin care products. Between manufacturers, governmental bodies, industry organizations, retailers, and consumers there is absolutely no gold-standard for what defines natural.
Is a natural ingredient something that has not been modified from its original state? Or something that has not been overly processed or processed with chemicals? Is it natural if it is considered “nature identical?” That is, a synthetic ingredient that has been produced in a lab but has the identical chemical components of the original natural item? A product that contains no synthetic chemicals or preservatives? No synthetic chemical fragrances?
See, so many questions! And there is not one right or wrong answer.
Plus, we have to consider that an ingredient may be “natural,” for example, a product contains strawberry juice. That strawberry juice may be “natural” but the strawberry plant it came from may have been sprayed with pesticides. Strawberries, if they are not grown organically, are known to be highly sprayed with chemicals due to their pesky predators. Those chemicals can make their way into your body through your skin, via skin care products.
So, merely having “natural” ingredients does not mean that it is makeup that’s good for you, due to the quality of its original ingredients. Marketers that are pro-chemicals will tell us that any pesticides that were originally in an ingredient have long since been purified out of the final product. Again, no regulation is in place to demand verification of that claim, either.
Another problem with beauty products in general, is that it is nearly impossible to get results that we want with 100% natural ingredients. We want skin smoothers, plumpers, age-defying creams, elixirs, serums, brilliant colors that last a long time, shimmery shiny powders, product that stays in place no matter how much we sweat… the list goes on. It’s a lot to ask for…
But back to natural cosmetics… still another issue is that natural ingredients need to be preserved in some manner, or they will spoil. Therefore, a product may be labeled as natural and the law does not require the label to disclose preservatives.
So, basically, the (USA and EU) regulatory agencies pretty much throw up their hands and say, “Ok, ya’ll just go at it!” – leaving a lot of wiggle room when it comes to defining natural cosmetics.
Vegan Beauty Products
The main idea behind vegan beauty products is the same as what defines a vegan diet. Namely, no animal ingredients or by-products are used and no animal cruelty committed in the manufacturing of the product.
That said, it is important to be aware that some vegan beauty products may contain synthetic ingredients that mimic animal products. This is because the main focus is on avoiding animal products. An example of this would be synthetic beeswax. That synthetic ingredient isn’t animal-derived, so it fits the vegan standard, but … it could be harmful to your health.
I understand this, because when someone embraces a non-animal diet, the emphasis is on non-animal first, not necessarily on natural.
Which leads one to look further down that road to, perhaps, products labeled “Natural Vegan” or “Organic Vegan.” Look for companies like Pacifica Beauty ✓ that use a maximum amount of good quality ingredients that are organic and vegan.
Mini-Glimpse Down Memory Lane
I remember when I first became vegetarian. In addition to leaving off meat, I wanted to avoid eggs. It wasn’t that hard for me because I didn’t really like eggs all that much. I did, however, love ice cream. And at that time, the only egg-less ice cream available (we’ve come a long way since then!) happened to contain a ton of unnatural chemical additives. But that was just not on my radar.
It was only later that I thought, “huh… natural ingredients will be better for my health, so I really need to be eating ice cream that’s good for me!” Life is an ongoing learning process, isn’t it? This was at the beginning of my journey toward a natural diet, which evolved over time into a natural lifestyle.
So, back to vegan beauty products…
It is important for you to read the labels and/or look into the philosophy of the company behind the products.
It is also worth mentioning, again, that even natural plant-based ingredients, even vegan ingredients, might make your face break out. Or cause a skin reaction. Or clog your pores… just because it is natural does not mean it is noncomedogenic or even hypo-allergenic or… even all good for you!
Vegan products primarily include natural ingredients. However, as with all cosmetic and skin care products, there are no regulating bodies for vegan products. There is no legal definition of “vegan,” so here, also, is a lot of wiggle room for product companies.
There are regulating bodies that certify for cruelty free, such as the PETA certification and the Leaping Bunny certification programs. So, you can look also for those lab.
With all the issues that come up when trying to define natural beauty products, you can just heap on more issues when you try to define organic. But before continuing, I’ll just say that there are some incredible organic cosmetics that are truly beautiful and work well. And the same can be said for organic skin care companies, such as Andalou Naturals ✓ that has a beautiful line of skin care products containing 97-99% organic ingredients. Plus, they are 100% cruelty-free and non-GMO. Their product line is plant-based, with a large range of vegan and vegetarian products.
Unlike natural beauty products, those that claim to be organic do have to answer to regulatory agencies. The organic industry demands certain certifications before granting the right to display an organic certification label.
That means, again, that you have to read the labels to see what exactly is being guaranteed. A product ingredient can only be designated as organic if it has been grown organically… according to regulating agencies.
That said, there are some ingredients that will never qualify as organic, as they are not “grown.” These items include water, minerals, salts, and clay.
So, if your product contains a majority of naturally mined clay? No chance that it can be certified organic because it was mined, not grown. That falls outside of the organic regulations. A product might indicate “clean” mining of clays and salts, but they are not considered “organic.”
The different regulating agencies also vary in their requirements to gain the organic certification seal. The USDA, for example, allows organic certification of a product containing 95% organic ingredients. This means that a product with the USDA organic seal does not have to be 100% organic. (More below on that…)
Also, some excellent beauty products contain a variety of ingredients that are wild-crafted. Wild-crafted is defined as being collected from wilderness areas that are unspoiled and not contaminated by farming or industry.
So, if a product contains over 5% wild-crafted ingredients, that product will never qualify as organic – even if its wild-crafted ingredients are pure and uncontaminated.
The concept of “earth friendly” or “recyclable” packaging is often included by those producing organic products, so throw that in for good measure!
It is important to note that, in practice, world oversight of organics – that is, worldwide standardized fundamentals are not possible or even desirable.
After the last century of worldwide industry growth and trade in all commercial sectors, the takeaway is simple:
It is impossible to to ensure that worldwide standards either suit everyone or can be guaranteed. After everything that we have witnessed, on the ground, in many countries, we believe the best approach would be to “go local.” That would bring together people in their own communities to decide on standards and locally agree to adhere to those standards.
At present, there are organizations around the world that regulate organics in their own regions. Dive into the world of organics and you will see that the standards vary and there is no single definition that the world agrees upon to date. The main two certifying bodies are:
1. USDA – United States Organic Certifying Association
This agency has several certifications guaranteeing varying percentages of organic ingredients per product. As mentioned above, even foods labeled “organic” by the USDA allow a certain percentage of non-organically grown matter per item (up to 5%). That means that even the strictest certification level of organics by the USDA is not 100% organic; the certification means that the product complies 100% with the USDA’s standard for organic.
The USDA also has a certification that allows a product to say that it “contains organic ingredients” if it has at least 70% organically grown (approved by the USDA) ingredients.
There are also regional organic certification agencies within the USA that have their own certification processes and standards.
2. EcoCert – France
This governing body also includes the COSMOS certification, specifically for cosmetics regulation. With a 95% organic ingredient minimum for organic ingredients per product, these regulations are similar to the USDA’s with a few distinctions.
Regardless of the agency, it is a long, complicated and expensive process to get organic certification and products can be more expensive due to this factor. You should be aware that there are many excellent natural products that use a majority of organic ingredients but the smaller companies that produce them simply cannot afford organic certification. However, those products are good for you and should not be overlooked.
All in all, it is a very positive step that there are certification bodies for organic beauty products. There is still a way to go for these regulations to be all that they could be, but at least there is much more oversight with organic cosmetics than with regular cosmetics worldwide.
Clean Beauty Products
Nowadays, there is yet another catch-all phrase that some cosmetics companies are using and that is “clean beauty products.” For some, it means avoiding toxic ingredients, but not necessarily focusing on whether or not all ingredients are natural. They believe that some synthetic ingredients are not harmful to the health and (rightly so) even some natural ingredients can be harmful.
The key word here that is often used regarding “clean beauty, is “bio-compatibility,” meaning that a particular substance is deemed “bio-compatible” because it does not cause injury or a toxic or immunologic response in living tissue (that’s us!).
So, in fact, the concept of clean beauty is more science based, in that it relies on scientific evidence to indicate whether any substance, natural or synthetic, is safe for human use.
The final point to mention is that in all industries, there are companies who “green-wash” or “clean-wash” their advertising. That means that they over-inflate the percentage of natural, green, eco or organic that their product contains, for the sake of marketing.
It is even said that there is “clean-washing” or “green-washing” going on within the clean cosmetics sector.
As with any purchase, the concept of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) puts the responsibility back on us to read, educate ourselves and choose what we know to be best for our own health and the health of the earth.
Whew! Ok, there you have it! All about the various types of beauty products and the options for products that are safe and should work well for you. To get you started, you can also check out products that you are using on EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) website. They have a nifty product analyzer that tells you if a particular product is deemed safe according to their protocols. Products that make the grade are given the EWG Verified seal of approval. So, by looking at the beauty products that you already use, you should be able to eliminate the baddies and keep the ones that are good for you. Then you can move on to adding new and healthier products to your skin care and makeup regimen.
If you are interested in making your own facial scrubs, you can check out my article on ubtans (natural facial scrubs using plant based ingredients).
And for easy beauty hacks using inexpensive natural ingredients from your kitchen cabinet, my article on that will give you some fun ideas.
Thank you for reading! If this post has piqued your interest and you find it useful, inspiring or otherwise magical, please pin it and follow us on Pinterest and/or share it on Facebook via the icons to the left… And we’re always happy to hear from you via the Contact page.*This Article First Written: March 15, 2021