Understanding the Difference: Organic, natural and clean beauty explained

The terms organic, natural and clean have been buzzwords in the beauty industry for a while and seem to dominate the conversation around beauty.

Organic, natural and clean beauty explained
Organic, natural and clean beauty explained


What’s the buzz about organic, natural and clean beauty products?

The terms organic, natural and clean have been buzzwords for a while and seem to dominate the conversation around beauty.

It reflects a growing awareness among consumers, like you, who want to know what they’re putting on their skin and a broader movement towards health and environmental awareness and ingredient transparency.

Why is there so much interest in organic, natural and clean beauty?

  • Awareness: As more and more information becomes available, shoppers like you become more educated about ingredients and the potential impact on their health and the environment, leading to more focus on transparency in product labelling and a move away from potentially harmful, synthetic ingredients.
  • Ethical and environmental considerations: Many beauty shoppers are drawn to organic, natural and clean products out of concern for animal welfare and a desire to use cruelty-free products, or in the interests of the environment and an attempt to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. 
  • Skin sensitivities: The increased prevalence of skin sensitivities has driven demand for gentler, more natural ingredients.

Why is there confusion between the terms?

These terms often get interchanged or confused for several reasons:

  • Lack of clear definitions: Only organic has a relatively precise and regulated definition. Natural and clean are more hazy, and the definitions used can vary significantly depending on the company, country or individual using them.
  • Marketing and branding: Marketers often adopt these terms to tap into the consumer trend of seeking healthier, more environmentally friendly products.
  • Consumer perception: Many consumers believe all three terms mean healthier or safer. This general positive connotation can lead to the three terms being used interchangeably.
  • Overlapping philosophies: Often, brands that emphasise one of these qualities will also prioritise the others too, and this overlap can blur the lines between the terms for shoppers.
  • Education gap: The abundance of beauty products and their respective claims can be overwhelming. Not everyone has the time, resources or interest to fully understand the nuances between these terms, often leading to simplifications and misconceptions.

Why is understanding the differences between the terms so important?

  • Making informed decisions: Knowledge empowers you to make choices aligned with your values, health needs and preferences. For example, you might want to prioritise avoiding certain synthetic ingredients due to allergies or sensitivities and would therefore look for clean products that explicitly omit those compounds.
  • Avoiding misleading claims: Without understanding the terms, you could easily fall prey to marketing ploys or misrepresentations. Unethical brands can use these buzzwords without fully adhering to their implied promises.
  • Health implications: Misunderstanding can lead to false security. Believing that natural always means safe might expose you to potential allergens or irritants. Conversely, shunning effective and safe synthetic ingredients due to a perception that organic or natural is always better may deprive you of beneficial products.
  • Environmental considerations: If you are concerned about sustainability and the environment, differentiating between these terms is vital. For instance, organic farming methods prioritise reducing synthetic pesticides and promoting soil health, which can have environmental benefits.
  • Economic factors: Organic, natural or clean products often carry a premium price tag. Understanding these terms helps ensure you get what you pay for and aren’t spending extra on empty marketing promises.
  • Supporting ethical practices: For many, purchasing decisions go beyond personal benefit to support broader values. Understanding these terms can help you support companies and practices that align with your ethical and environmental principles.
  • Product efficacy: Misinterpreting these terms might lead you to choose products that won’t deliver the desired results. Not all clean or natural products will necessarily be effective for your needs.
  • Promoting transparency and accountability: Being informed can help to drive change in the industry. Brands often respond to market demands, and knowledgeable consumers can push the industry towards more ethical practices, clearer labelling, better standards and greater transparency.
Farming without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or GMOs
Farming without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or GMOs

What does the term organic beauty mean?

When you come across a beauty product labelled organic, it signifies that the ingredients within that product are grown without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In essence, organic beauty is a return to nature, where farming techniques align with traditional methods, embracing a holistic and chemical-free approach.

However, it’s crucial to recognise that not all products labelled organic are necessarily 100% organic. For example, to achieve USDA Organic Certification, a product only needs to contain 95% organic ingredients.

How are organic beauty products regulated and certified?

Organic beauty products are regulated and certified in the UK, with products needing to meet stringent criteria before earning that coveted organic label. However, the UK doesn’t have one unified national standard for organic beauty as it does for organic food, and several organisations offer certification services with variations in the standards required.

Who are the UK certification bodies?

Multiple bodies certify organic products in the UK. If a product claims to be organic, look for a certification logo on the packaging.

The Soil Association is the UK’s leading organic certification body. Established in 1946, they promote sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. 

The Organic Food Federation is another of the UK’s foremost organic certification bodies. Their certification scheme extends beyond food to include beauty and personal care.

What other certifying bodies are there?

Many non-UK certifying bodies regulate and certify organic beauty products too. Some of the most prominent international organisations include:

  • Ecocert (France): One of the world’s largest organic certification organisations, Ecocert offers COSMOS certification for organic and natural cosmetics.
  • USDA Organic (USA): Managed by the US Department of Agriculture, USDA is recognised primarily for certifying organic food. However, they award their seal to beauty products that meet their organic criteria too.
  • BDIH (Germany): Certifies natural cosmetics, and whilst they don’t focus solely on organic certification, their standards are stringent and encompass sustainability, ethical treatment of animals and more.
  • ICEA (Italy): ICEA certifies eco-friendly products, including organic cosmetics.
  • Natrue (International): A non-profit association, Natrue offers a strict natural and organic cosmetics certification standard. Recognised in various countries, they emphasise natural ingredients, environmentally friendly processes and transparent labelling.

What does certification entail?

  • Rigorous testing: Before receiving certification, products undergo meticulous testing to ensure they contain a minimum percentage of organic ingredients.
  • Transparent labelling: Brands must clearly label the percentage of organic ingredients in their products.
  • Renewal: Certification must be updated annually to ensure that brands and products continue to meet the strict standards of organic certification.
organic beauty and skin health
Choosing organic beauty can benefit your skin and overall wellbeing

What are the benefits of choosing organic beauty products for your skin and health?

Opting for organic beauty products can bring a wealth of benefits to your skin and overall wellbeing.

  • Less irritation: Without harmful chemicals and synthetics, organic products are often gentler and more suited to sensitive skin.
  • Rich in nutrients: Natural, organic ingredients are typically richer in essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
  • Eco-friendly: Organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from pesticide and fertiliser sprays, and produces less carbon dioxide and less dangerous waste.

Are there any drawbacks or misconceptions about organic beauty products?

Just like anything, you should consider both sides of the coin. Here are some points to contemplate:

  • Shelf life: The lack of preservatives means some organic products might have a shorter shelf life. Many beauty products display a PAO (Period after opening) symbol to identify how long a product is safe to use after its package has been opened for the first time, whilst organic beauty products may display an expiry date similar to food.
  • Cost: Organic ingredients can be more expensive to source, meaning the end product might carry a higher price tag. But think of it as an investment in your skin and health!
  • Not always hypoallergenic: Just because a product is organic doesn’t mean it won’t cause allergies. Always do a patch test, especially if you’re trying out new brands.

Choosing to incorporate organic products into your beauty regime is a personal decision. Trusted brands make this choice easier with transparent practices and commitment to organic integrity. As always, do your homework and ensure you’re picking the best products for your unique needs. Transitioning to organic beauty is about taking those initial steps and seeing how your skin and body respond. Remember, it’s all about finding the right balance that works for you.

Natural beauty: What exactly does it mean?

The term natural appears on countless beauty products. But what does it actually signify and how does it differ from organic beauty?

While both might sound environmentally friendly and good for you, they come with distinct meanings:

As we’ve already established, organic refers to products that contain ingredients grown without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms. For a beauty product to be labelled organic, a certain percentage of ingredients must be certified organic.

Natural signifies that the product contains ingredients from natural sources, such as plants or minerals. However, just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it’s organic or free from processing.

Many beauty products boast of natural ingredients, and many of those ingredients are, in fact, also organic. But that doesn’t automatically make the products entirely organic.

Natural beauty explained
Natural beauty uses ingredients from nature, such as plants or minerals

What ingredients might you find in a product labelled as natural?

With the term natural, you’d typically expect ingredients that you can find in nature:

  • Essential oils: These are often used for their aromatic qualities and therapeutic properties. Think of the soothing lavender scent in some products from Neal’s Yard Remedies.
  • Botanical extracts: Plants, fruits and flowers are common natural ingredients, like the rose extract in Alteya Organics products.
  • Natural butters and oils: Shea butter, coconut and argan oil are popular choices.

However, here’s the catch: a product labelled as natural might also contain synthetic ingredients. Always scan the ingredient list to know what you’re applying to your skin.

Are natural beauty products always safer or better for you?

This is a commonly asked question. The word natural often comes with the allure of being gentler and safer. But is this always the case?

Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. You can be allergic to natural ingredients and if a product contains a natural ingredient that doesn’t agree with your skin, you’ll need to avoid it.

On the flip side, many natural products, like those from Urtekram, can indeed be beneficial, offering nourishment without the potential irritants found in some synthetic ingredients.

What is meant by the term clean beauty and how does it fit with organic and natural beauty?

In the ever-evolving landscape of beauty and skincare, the term clean beauty has recently made waves. But what does it mean, and how does it compare to organic and natural beauty?

Unfortunately, the beauty industry in the UK doesn’t have a set-in-stone definition for clean beauty, but at its core, clean beauty refers to products made without ingredients considered harmful or potentially harmful to human health. It’s about transparent labelling and ensuring that what you’re applying to your skin is as safe as it is effective

Clean beauty emphasises safety over source. Whether organic, natural, synthetic, or a blend, the primary concern is how safe the ingredients are for human use.

What about sustainable production and ethical considerations?

When shopping for beauty products, it’s easy to be enticed by the colourful packaging, delicious scents, and the promise of radiant skin. But behind each product lies a story of production – a story that, more often than not, involves decisions about sustainability and ethics.

Sustainable production in the beauty industry often means creating products with minimal environmental impact, from sourcing ingredients to the manufacturing process and packaging. Ethical considerations include fair trade practices, ensuring no animal testing and providing fair wages to workers.

Sustainable production:

  • Ingredients: Brands like Alteya Organics and Evolve Organic Beauty prioritise sourcing renewable ingredients. These resources either regrow naturally or are managed to prevent depletion.
  • Packaging: Neal’s Yard Remedies stands out for its efforts in using recyclable packaging, minimising plastic use and promoting refill schemes.
  • Manufacturing process: Dr Bronner’s focuses on using methods that produce less waste and consume less energy and water.

Ethical considerations:

  • No animal testing: Brands such as Dr Hauschka and Avalon Organics have taken a strong stand against animal testing, ensuring their products are cruelty-free.
  • Fair trade: Dr Bronner’s is not just about making your skin feel good but also about ensuring fair practices. They support farmers by paying fair prices for ingredients.
  • Worker welfare: Urtekram ensures that workers in their supply chain receive fair wages, safe working conditions and development opportunities.

How can you make eco-friendly and ethical beauty choices?

Making eco-friendly and ethical choices might seem daunting, but with a little awareness, it becomes second nature. Here’s how you can do your part:

  • Read the label: Packaging lists ingredients in descending order by volume. If you find natural and organic ingredients at the top of the list, you’re on the right track. However, it’s equally crucial to be aware of what’s listed at the end, as this is often where you’ll find preservatives or additives. If something seems unnatural or if you can’t pronounce it, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Ingredient checkers like Skin Deep by the EWG and Think Dirty can help to take the guesswork and the legwork out of evaluating your skin care.
  • Research the brand: Brands often build their reputation on organic ingredients and their sustainable and ethical practices. A quick look at their website or social media platforms can offer an insight into their ethos and practices.
  • Know your certifications: Understanding the meaning of various certifications is a good starting point. For instance, if you’re leaning towards organic beauty, the Soil Association certification assures you that a product meets strict organic guidelines in the UK.
  • Opt for recyclable packaging: Brands like Neal’s Yard Remedies prioritise sustainable packaging. Supporting them is a step towards a greener planet.
  • Ask questions: If there’s something you’re uncertain about, don’t hesitate to ask. Brands that value sustainability and ethics will welcome the opportunity to address your concerns.
  • Support local: Often, local brands follow more sustainable and ethical practices simply because of the scale at which they operate.

What questions should you ask when choosing organic, natural, or clean beauty products?

By asking yourself a few critical questions, you can make decisions that align with your needs and values:

  • What are my skin’s needs? Before making a choice, consider what your skin truly requires. A product from Dr Hauschka might be better suited for sensitive skin types due to its holistic approach to skincare.
  • How important is sustainability to me? If reducing your carbon footprint is vital, brands like Evolve Organic Beauty, with a strong focus on sustainable practices, might be more appealing.
  • Am I looking for ethical practices? Brands that focus on fair trade, like Dr Bronner’s, ensure both a high-quality product and that workers are treated with fairness and respect.
  • Is price a determining factor? While organic and natural products can sometimes be pricier, there are brands, like Urtekram and Dr Bronner’s that offer excellent value for money without compromising on quality.
Urtekram offer great value without compromising on quality
Urtekram offer great value without compromising on quality

Your beauty routine is deeply personal, and what works for someone else might not work for you. However, by equipping yourself with the right knowledge and asking the right questions, you can make choices that benefit your skin and the world around you. Every purchase you make sends a message about what you value. Choose wisely!

What’s the future for organic, natural and clean beauty?

With growing awareness, it seems that the beauty industry is on the cusp of a revolution:

  • Transparency: Expect to see brands being more transparent about their sourcing, manufacturing, and ingredient lists.
  • Eco-conscious movements: As organic, natural and clean beauty brands gain traction, we’ll likely witness a surge in eco-conscious initiatives, from sustainable sourcing to biodegradable packaging.
  • Consumer-driven change: Your choices matter. As consumers gravitate towards high-quality, ethical brands, it sends a strong message to the entire industry to elevate standards.

The beauty landscape is shifting, placing you, the consumer, in a pivotal role. By staying educated, not only do you benefit directly, but you also become a key player in shaping a more ethical and sustainable beauty industry.

The demand for organic, natural and clean beauty is undeniably a trend that’s here to stay. With a little knowledge and vigilance, you can confidently select products that align with your skincare goals and values.

Remember, a product can be organic, natural and clean, but being one is not a guarantee of the others!

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