Organic Beauty 101
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Organic Beauty 101

Organic skincare and cosmetics lines are cropping up on the beauty market, but are they really better for you?

What Does Organic Mean?

When it comes to the beauty industry, the term "organic" has been lobbed about so casually that most consumers equate organic with natural products. However, this is a common misconception.

The main difference between natural and organic is that there are no official guidelines as to what constitutes natural beauty products, whereas organic products must abide by stringent regulations. According to the USDA's National Organic Program, the term "organic" may only be used on labels for raw or processed agricultural products or ingredients that have been produced according to the regulations put forth by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Among other things, these standards require 100 percent organic feed for organic livestock, and prohibit the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetic engineering in organic production.

Breakdown of Organic Labels

So how can you tell if a product is really organic, or only partially organic? Here's what the terms on those labels really mean.

  • 100% Organic: Must contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). This is the only label that guarantees a completely organic product. These products can carry the USDA Organic Seal.
  • Organic or Certified Organic: At least 95 percent of content is organic by weight (excluding water and salt). These products can carry the USDA Organic Seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 70 percent of content is organic. Front panel can say "Made with Organic" and list up to three specific ingredients. These products cannot carry the USDA Organic Seal.
  • Less Than 70% Organic: Can list only organic ingredients on ingredient panel, but not on front panel. These products cannot carry the USDA Organic Seal.

Is Organic Really Better?

With so much hype behind the organic beauty movement, one assumes there must be huge benefits to using organic products, right? The jury's still out, but some research suggest that there are certain benefits to going green.

"There is strong evidence to support that true organic personal-care products can be healthier for people and the environment," says Diana Kaye, cofounder of the organic care line Terressentials. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that methyl and butyl parabens and certain preservatives -- all ingredients commonly used in personal-care products -- have been linked to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers. "True organic personal-care products would not contain preservatives," says Kaye.

But do organic products lend any aesthetic advantages? "Is there a noticeable difference? I think no," says Barbara Close, author of Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics and founder of Naturopathica, a holistic health spa in the East Hamptons. However, "Some nonorganic products use petrochemical ingredients such as mineral oil which can irritate sensitive skin. Also, skin recognizes and identifies with natural products better." So while organic products may be noticeably beneficial for people with sensitive skin, their main allure lies in the environmental and social implications of choosing organic. "Using petrochemicals depletes earth's natural resources," says Close. "Purchasing from independent farms sustains a livelihood of people who really care about artisanal ingredients and the wellness of their purchasers."

Organic Beauty Lines to Try

Since the USDA's decision to keep organic certification for personal products is relatively recent, many manufacturers have not revamped their product labeling to reflect the change. Thus, it is important to read the ingredients listed on the product, regardless of whether the manufacturer claims to be organic. Here, some of our favorite beauty lines that claim to be organic.

Juice Beauty

Unlike most skincare lines, Juice Beauty uses freshly squeezed organic juice concentrate -- including orange, carrot, pomegranate, and aloe leaf -- instead of water as a product base. All of their products -- a full skincare line from cleansers to exfoliants to moisturizers -- range from 70 to 95 percent USDA certified organic. Try their SPF 15 Green Apple Moisturizer, $38, an anti-aging lotion that has full-spectrum sun protection and a brightening hydroxyl-acid complex of certified organic apple and lemon juices.

Nature Girl

Free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals, Nature Girl uses organically grown and wild-crafted ingredients, meaning that the plant was picked by hand. Their Nature Love Shea Butter Body Balm in tangerine, $48, is an extra-rich nourishing and protective botanical cream made with wild-crafted African shea butter, and smells so similar to sherbet that's we're almost tempted to take a lick.

Dr. Hauschka Skin Care

A unique line of body and facial care products, Dr. Hauschka's holistic personal care line uses plant ingredients that have been grown biodynamically, organically, or ethically wild-harvested. Dr. Hauschka's Cleansing Cream, $22.50, works as a deep cleanser and exfoliant, and their Cleansing Milk, $31, is a super-gentle formula that doubles as an effective makeup remover. Dr. Hauschka also has a full cosmetic line, which contains no synthetic dyes, artificial fragrances, or petrochemicals. Their lipsticks are especially notable: natural plant extracts and mineral pigments produce natural colors (no hot pink here), and its mineral base acts as a natural sun filter.

Terressentials

100% USDA certified organic, Terressentials face, body and haircare lines are the closest thing we've found to pure personal care on the market. Their cool mint organic Body Wash, $11.75, cleans your body and clears your head with a wake-you-up minty scent, and their chemical-free Flower Therapy Daily Renewal Facial Lotion, $19.95, contains organic green tea, which helps eliminate free radicals and safeguard healthy skin cells.

Jurlique

Made from organic and biodynamic herbs grown on South Australian farms, Jurlique's hypoallergenic and pH-balanced skincare line is especially beneficial for those with sensitive skin. Jurlique's Foaming Facial Cleanser, $35, rinses off easily and leaves skin feeling clean and hydrated, and their Ultra-Sensitive Day Moisturising Lotion, $75, is a fragrance-free, exceptionally light formula based on plant-derived ingredients.

Farmaesthetics

Free of artificial preservatives, parabens, dyes, and chemicals, the Farmaesthetics skincare line includes herbs and flowers that are organically grown on small American farms and are compliant with NOSB standards. Their products, which come in classic glass apothecary bottles, are also hypoallergenic, making it ideal for sensitive skin. Their Nourishing Lavender Milk, $25, combines lavender essential oil with calendula, an herb known for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, which helps speed the healing of cuts and scrapes and soothe sunburns.

Avalon Organics

Operating under the motto "consciousness in cosmetics," Avalon Organics hair, bath, and skincare lines includes everything from shaving cream to deodorant and are free of all toxic synthetic preservatives, petroleum-based ingredients, and parabens. Their Vitamin C Rejuvenating Oil-Free Moisturizer, $19.95, contains antioxidants that protect against visible aging due to sun exposure, and their Ylang Ylang Glistening Shampoo and Conditioner, $7.95 each, have a delicate floral aroma and mica minerals that add shine to your mane.

Originally published on LHJ.com, March 2006.

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