Krystal Blue Intl.

Natural, Organic, Cosmeceuticals – Oh My!!

You can’t pick up a skincare product without seeing one of these words on the label but what do they really mean?  Is one better than the other?  I get confused too so here’s the skinny….

The truth is that in cosmetics and skincare, these terms can mean many different things.  So my advice – Buyer Beware!

The closest you get to regulation is “Organic”.  The US Department of Agriculture’s “National Organic Program” certifies food grade ingredients (honey, avocados, etc.) which may be used in cosmetics.  If the ingredients are farm-raised, the USDA has jurisdiction and can certify the crop as organic, allowing the use of the “USDA ORGANIC” seal.  The caveat though is “farm raised” – essential oils and plant materials are not USDA regulated.   

To make matters worse, the term Organic has four flavors when it comes to skincare labeling:

  1. Organic Ingredients– this is the broadest category, containing less than 70% organic food grade ingredients.  You cannot display the USDA Organic seal.  However, even if the products contain 1% certified organically grown ingredients, manufacturers can use this claim.
  1. Made with Organic Ingredients – If the product contains more than 70% but less than 95% organically grown food ingredients, the manufacturer can use this phrase.  You cannot display the USDA Organic seal.
  1. Organic – How much harder can the labeling laws make this???  Who can ever keep this straight?  This category contains at least 95% organically grown food ingredients and can display the USDA Organic seal.  Most skincare companies seeking the Organic certification will fall into this category because let’s face it, you need some preservatives in your products so we all don’t get “flesh eating disease” from using old cosmetics!
  1. 100% Organic – this category can display the seal.  It is difficult for cosmetic companies to create a product from just food grade ingredients with any type of shelf life.

Besides the US, Australia has the “Australian Certified Organic” or ACO seal and Europe now has “COSMOS” or “Cosmetic Organic Standard”.  These agencies will certify your products as long as you meet the guidelines and standards put forth by the association.

Now let’s talk about “Natural”….this can mean just about anything as long as it comes from a “natural source” (botanical, mineral or animal, according to most agencies).  Fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, beeswax, honey, essential oils, herbs, spices, etc.  All parts are included too, like seeds, nuts, stems, bark, roots.  What isn’t natural?  Synthetic or artificial ingredients (fragrances, colorings, additives).

But again, just like “Organic” the term “Natural” can be misleading.  Many “natural ingredients” need to be extracted or synthesized before being added to the cosmetic or skincare preparation, thus altering the original state of the natural ingredient.  So is the ingredient still “natural”?

From the American Academy of Dermatology, “Most compounds as they exist in their natural state cannot be formulated into skin care products. They first must be chemically altered before they can be incorporated into cosmetics, thereby negating the claim of being natural. Enhanced natural ingredients, which have been chemically altered, tend to be more stable, penetrate better and have more long-lasting effects on the skin than unaltered plant extracts.“

“Cosmeceutical” is another term with an ambiguous meaning that tries to blur the line between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (drugs).  Cosmetics are meant to “beautify” the skin and can alter its appearance, but not its structure or function.  Pharmaceuticals on the other hand, are meant to cure and treat disease and they can alter the structure and function of any biological system within the body, including skin.  

Cosmeceuticals are not regulated by the FDA because even though their chemical components alter skin, they do so for appearance enhancement purposes only, not medical purposes.  Included in this group are peptides, antioxidants, and growth factors.  If you’re looking for performance cosmetics and the elusive fountain of youth, this is the group you need to look towards.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of skincare labels and their meanings.  After all, it’s jungle out there…..lions and tigers and bears, oh my!    


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Check out my webcast “What is Organic?”

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