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Making Sense of Labels: Organic, Natural and Cruelty-Free
Label ConfusionAs our country becomes more environmentally conscious, many of us aren′t just recycling, conserving energy and shopping with reusable bags, we′re also investing in organic and natural skin care products. But what do these labels mean, exactly? We all know that we can′t always believe what we hear or read, so it′s important to become a savvy consumer. Get the lowdown on the terms "organic," "natural" and "cruelty-free" to do just that.

The facts on organic
If you think "organic" and "natural" mean the same thing, think again. Prior to September 2005, many companies got away with featuring the terms on their products to gain an edge over their competition. But then the Agriculture Department stepped in and applied its strict organic food standards to personal care products, classifying them in three categories: "100% Organic," "Organic" and "Made with Organic Ingredients."

When you see a product labeled "100% organic," the USDA′s National Organic Program requires that all of the product′s ingredients are organically produced, with the exception of water or salt, and government-licensed certifiers must examine each product to verify it. On a 100% organic product, look for the manufacturer or distributor′s contact information and a statement along the lines of "Certified organic by" with the certifying agent′s name. Also, if the product contains more than one ingredient, look for an ingredient statement on the label. Typically, these products will include the USDA Organic Seal. MOOM products, for example, are 100% certified organic.

If the skin care product you′re evaluating says "organic," you can rest assured that at least 95% of its ingredients are organically produced (with the exception of water or salt) with no added sulfites. "Organic" labels must include the ingredient statement and explicitly specify which products are organic. And again, you must be able to identify who certified it.

The last classification is "Made with Organic Ingredients" or a comparable claim, which promises at least 70% organic ingredients. The product can′t contain sulfites, must include an ingredient statement, indicate which products are organic and name the certifying agent. Juice Beauty products are made with certified organic ingredients.

While reviewing the product information on your favorite lavender and aloe body lotion or olive tree-leaf soap, you might see some ingredients listed as "organic," but this simply indicates that the specific ingredient is organic — not the overall product.

Not necessarily natural
As for natural products, it′s basically a toss-up. That′s because the term, "natural" isn′t federally regulated. It′s generally safe to assume that the manufacturer created the product using a botanical source and that it doesn′t contain additives or preservatives, but there′s no guarantee that it′s free of synthetic material. It′s always wise to read labels and check for specific ingredients you want to avoid. For more information, you can always contact the manufacturer. To see a number of brands that offer a selection of natural products, go to Natural Beauty at

Cruelty-free considerations
Just like the term "natural," there′s no legal definition for "cruelty-free," so even though skin care manufacturers often state that they don′t test on animals, this isn′t always completely accurate. Perhaps they don′t test their finished products on animals, but how about the laboratories that test their ingredients? Or the raw materials they use in their products? Did the collagen come from a bovine source?

Some cosmetic companies do steer completely clear of all animal testing and comprehensively produce cruelty-free products. Just keep this in mind the next time you go skin care shopping: do your research and study the labels. To see a number of brands that do not test their products on animals, go to Natural Beauty at


Merrill, Jessica. (20 Oct. 2005).
Skin Deep: Is It Organic? Well, Maybe.

Disney/SheKnows, LLC. (2003-2007).
Beauty Buzzwords: Understanding Product Labels.

Golf for Women. (Sept./Oct. 2006).
Organic vs. Natural: Understand the differences and benefits.

USDA. (2008).
Labeling Packaged Products.

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