What You Need to Know When Shopping for Organic Skincare

More and more of us are turning to natural and organic skincare products, but this segment of the beauty industry can be compared to the Wild West. There’s little regulation and oversight when it comes to this labeling, so it’s important to be educated when opting for these types of products. Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous companies out there who are just trying to capture a piece of this burgeoning market, so here’s what you need to know.

You can find so-called “organic” skincare products just about everywhere these days, including drugstores, department stores and natural markets like Whole Foods. But don’t just take their word for it, look for these labels.

USDA: Among the strictest of organic certifications, when a product has a USDA Organic seal, that means at least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic (and there are strict guidelines for what the remaining 5% can be). The ingredients in these products meet the same standards that foods must meet to be considered organic, which means they meet the same guidelines for how they are grown, raised, processed and sold.

COSMOS (Cosmetics Organic Standard): This European-based oversight will be in full effect by December 2014, but its certification is slowly being attached to personal care products. Although this is a for-profit association formed by six of the first E.U. organic certifiers, this label indicates a product is free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), irradiation, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, animal testing and other controversial ingredients. COSMOS also requires that 95% of the agricultural ingredients be certified organic, and 20% of the total product by weight must be organic (including water).

NaTrue: This relatively new non-profit out of Europe has created a 3-star system that rates products as “natural,” “natural with organic content” and “organic.” To receive 3 stars, 95% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, while products with 70% certified organic ingredients receive 2 stars.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because a product is labeled as “natural” or “organic,” that doesn’t mean it’s better for your skin. Sometimes a product with naturally derived ingredients that have been tweaked in a lab can have more benefits for the skin than a truly organic product. Anyone with sensitive skin needs to read ingredient lists carefully, since essential oils—which can be a major cause of skin reactions—are often used as preservatives. There are also common plant-based ingredients that can be irritants, whether they are organically grown or not.

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