Writer: Tamara Kristensen

In today’s climate, more and more of us have been taking steps towards caring for ourselves and our environment in a more natural or organic way. But with the buzz of ‘natural’ beauty, we also hear terms like ‘green’, ‘organic’, along with it. And when we see all these words thrown onto the packages of products…we need to ask ourselves, what do they really mean?

As consumers, we need to stay in the loop, to stay out of market traps. Because words ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘green’ aren’t exactly regulated in the industry, it’s important that we, as consumers, understand what exactly these words mean. So here is something I wish I got at first: a guide to terminology.

What do ‘natural’ products mean?

The first term we see pretty often is the word ‘natural’. It typically refers to products whereby the ‘harmful chemicals’ have been replaced by plant-based ingredients. However, because the term ‘natural’ isn’t regulated by the industry or any other governing body, it’s essentially meaningless. A shampoo product can label itself ‘natural’ because it’s free of parabens, or sulfates, but when you look at the ingredient list, it contains a whole bunch of synthetics that fall under the radar because they’re not controversial enough.

This lack of regulation has been a problem since the growing movement towards natural, green and clean beauty. While there are some certifications such as the Cosmos Standard, enforceable regulations are still lacking. For example, in 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US called out four companies that were marketing their products as ‘natural’, even though they contained synthetic ingredients. So, just because your shampoo has a leafy logo on it, doesn’t mean it’s a friend of the earth.

What do ‘organic’ products mean?

Sometimes, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ seem to be interchangeable, but these words actually mean different things. Organic products have to obtain their raw materials from controlled, organic farming. So it’s similar to ‘natural’ products, but the source of the material matters as well. Yet, the standard for ‘organic’ products remains pretty low, because only a percentage of the materials have to be organic. So, while ‘organic’ labels are a little more legit than ‘natural’ labels, consumers ultimately still face the same problem – they’re not always what they say they are. This was seen in the scandal with Hain Celestial, among many other companies, sued by the non-profit Center for Environmental Health.

Since natural or organic products don’t necessarily mean that they’re free of harsh chemicals, you might want to look out for products that label themselves as chemical-free. But take this with a grain of salt; just because it’s chemical-free, doesn’t mean its substitutes aren’t equally as harmful. It’s still important to look at the list behind the products instead of taking it at face-value.

For example, here at Conscious Living, we are 100% chemical-free. But this is in the colloquial sense, meaning our products are free from harsh and harmful chemicals because even water is a chemical. Instead, we use substitute ingredients such as the laurel leaf and soapnuts. And the best part is: they’re just as effective!

What do ‘green’ products mean?

Finally, many products also label themselves as ‘green’. ‘Green’ beauty products typically focus on looking for more natural or environmentally-friendly ingredients. Green products embrace more than just caring for your hair, but also for the environment. It’s about sustainability in fashion and beauty.

However, the focus also needs to be extended to how these products are packaged. The beauty industry, each year, creates 120 billion units of packaging. That’s a lot of plastic that probably doesn’t get recycled. This is why Conscious Living has the refill initiative – so you can refill your products at any of these stations! If you prefer not to refill your products, you can also just drop the empty bottles off or send it back to us. You can read more about our ‘Rescue the Bottle’ project here.

A final word about shopping consciously

Overall, it’s important that we’re not just dazzled by the wording and images we see on the front of our personal care products. It sucks to use a product you thought was natural or ‘safe’, only to find out it contains the harmful ingredients you tried to avoid. Stay woke, guys