What Do Those Beauty Labels Really Mean?
In a world where new beauty terms are born almost everyday, here’s the lowdown on what they really mean.
It seems like only yesterday we were able to stroll down our favorite beauty aisle and throw products into our cart without a care in the world. But for many of us, things are no longer that simple. With words like ‘organic,’ ‘green beauty,’ and ‘100% natural’ now plastered on almost every other beauty product, a routine trip to the drugstore to pick up a lipstick or moisturizer can feel like a chore. So to make things a little bit easier for you–and less confusing–we’re defining some of today’s buzziest beauty words so you know exactly what you’re getting when you buy that all-natural, vegan, green face wash.
Green beauty products are nothing new. Companies like Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bonner’s have been around for ages (the 1980’s and the mid-1800’s to be exact) but until very recently, the last five years or so, they were really only marketed to and used by the earthy crunchy type. Fast forward to today, the first things that come to mind when we hear the word green beauty is sleek packaging, this typeface, luxe products and high price tags. The public’s recently changed perception and attitude towards health and wellness (they’re now seen as very important) has helped to lay the groundwork for the current green beauty movement–if we can even call it that–we now find ourselves in.
Consumers have become more discerning about the things they put into their bodies. A $10 juice or acai bowl doesn’t get the same “OMG” response it did a few years ago, so it seems only logical that people are now paying closer attention to what they put onto their body – considering 60% of what we put onto our skin is absorbed by our body.
The rise in consumer demand for healthier beauty productshas given birth to countless new brands that promise to give glowing skin sans harmful ingredients and chemicals. And while the beauty community is still trying to sort out just how harmful these harmful ingredients are (this article tells us to relax while this one thinks we need to be concerned), it’s dizzying trying to keep track of it all.
Even Sephora, the mothership of all things beauty, has jumped aboard the green beauty train. They now have a dedicated Natural Beauty beauty section on their website that tells consumers to “get real about natural ingredients that work.”
Follain, a health beauty store whose name literally means healthy, wholesome, and sound in Gaelic, acknowledges the hard place many consumers find themselves in. ”Green beauty as a whole often gets accused of fear mongering, which is absolutely something we not condone. We understand how frustrating it is to spend any amount of money on a product and bring it home only to find out it doesn’t meet any of the marketing claims.”
For them, “products need to be healthy. Beyond just free-of certain toxins, we want products that use ingredients that are actually beneficial to our skin, ingredients that our skin knows how to use.”
Right now some of the most commonly (and overused) labels/terms in the beauty industry are organic, all-natural, and toxin-free. While they may sound like distinct categories the line separating them is often thin and extremely blurry.
This label is by far the most comprehensible; whether in Whole Foods or Juice Pressed, it’s safe to say that most of us have come across it. Food is certified as organic by the USDA when it has been grown “without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation.” However, the water gets a bit murky when it comes to beauty products.
Unlike the food industry, there is no definitive industry meaning for the term ‘organic.’ A beauty product only needs to contain a certain percentage of organic ingredients to call itself organic, and this percentage can vary from state to state. However, if a product has the USDA’s seal of approval (the label will be on the outside of the package) then you can be rest assured that it contains at least 95% organic ingredients.
Unfortunately, the word all-natural doesn’t really mean anything. A product can be marketed as all-natural if all or just one of its ingredients are of natural origin. That means many of the products labeled all-natural actually contain synthetic ingredients that are potentially harmful. So basically, this label is the beauty equivalent of low-calorie and sugar-free; it makes you feel better about what you’re eating but tells you nothing about how bad it really is.
Of course, not all products that claim to be all-natural are trying to mislead you. In fact many, just as they claim to be, use mainly ingredients sourced from land or sea. The easiest way to spot the difference between a product that’s telling you the whole truth and nothing but the truth is by checking labels and familiarizing yourself with commonly used ingredients. Some good ones to know are sodium chloride, more commonly known as sea salt and citric acid, which is a compound found in lemons and other citrus fruits.
As one of the newer terms to the category, non-toxic is used quite a bit. The most basic meaning of non-toxic is that the product in question doesn’t include ingredients that have been linked to toxic responses in humans (i.e. hormone disruption, cancer, or even death). But as you’ve probably guessed, determining at what point ingredients go from helpful to harmful is tricky.
For example, rose essential oil, a naturally occurring ingredient that we know is great for our skin, can become toxic at high levels. Even the FDA states that “many plants, whether or not they are organically grown, contain substances that may be toxic or allergenic,” which means this label is oftentimes misleading and doesn’t really tells us much about the product’s ingredients or formulation.
So again, learning how to read and understand labels is #majorkey.
The most important thing to remember when shopping for green beauty products–regardless of how they’re labeled–is that this part of the industry is not regulated by the government, which leaves us to rely heavily on a brand’s honesty. Luckily this part of the industry is rapidly expanding, which hopefully means tighter regulations and new industry standards are right around the corner.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to do beauty – there have been no reported deaths from someone using a terrible face way, and it’s up to each of us to decide what kind of products we buy and use. However, I can’t help but think about Jeannie’s (a current Follain employee) words, “As awareness spreads the public will demand safer products, and hopefully eventually we won’t even have the option to buy something that could be potentially harmful,” and get really excited.