ORGANIC & NATURAL: what does it mean in beauty?

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Recently I wrote an article for the Telegraph Magazine on the true meaning behind the word "organic" in beauty. If you missed that, the point of the piece was to highlight how, while there is no legal definition of the word in beauty (unlike in food), "organic" is meaningless unless you know how to look for it. Trouble is, most of us don't. And why would we? You see a beauty product with an organic label on it and expect to be buying exactly that, don't you? Same with natural. And what's the position on nut allergies, a question many Stylists have asked us about on behalf of their customers?



The truth is that none of these hot potatoes can be addressed with a single statement that covers the beauty business as a whole. So if you want natural, organic or nut-free, you need to bone-up on the position of individual brands to make an educated choice. Each of the brands MyShowcase carries has clarified their individual position on these topics, so Stylists can log in their accounts for this info.

And below is an overview on how the beauty business shapes up on natural and organic.


The term natural is very wide, making it hard to know exactly what it means in beauty. To highlight how difficult it is to clarify the term, here is what being natural does not necessarily mean:

  • That a product contains entirely natural ingredients
  • That it is organic
  • That it has not been tested on animals (every single ingredient, including water, has at some point been tested on an animal, although many companies do not now test the final product as a whole on an animal)
  • That natural ingredients can also be ingredients which have been chemically adapted
  • That natural ingredients are not always good for you
  • The bottom line is that for a product to be totally natural it would need to be kept in a fridge. How many beauty products do you know of that require this kind of management? Exactly. Despite this, the market for "natural" beauty products is expanding fast and there is a quasi-religious belief that products which aren't "natural" are somehow bad for us toxic even. The word "chemical" is a dirty word, having been misappropriated and maligned as synonymous with poison. Nothing illustrates this better than the controversy over parabens, a family of preservatives in cosmetics, used with great success for the past 50 years, but which have become the bogeymen of the beauty business despite there being no conclusive evidence of them being harmful. Besides, chemicals are essential to life as we know it -- everything we eat, drink, drive, play with and live in is made of them. Often too, when you press someone on why they want a product to be natural what they actually mean is that they want a gentle product, something that isn't harsh or makes their skin feel sensitive (although again, there is no actual definition of "sensitive" in skincare). And that is a very different thing to natural. Indeed, many natural ingredients are as harsh, if not more so, than chemicals on the skin and can even be damaging in just the same way as some chemicals. So, if you want natural in beauty, the best way to get it is to study each and every product individually and make an educated decision based on the information you are given. If a brand claims to be natural it will gladly and openly give its position.


    How do you know if an organic labelled beauty product is what it says it is? The reality on this is this:

  • It only needs 0.01% organic ingredients to be classed as such
  • It does not have to be "natural", "green", or "animal-friendly"
  • It's likely to be expensive: organic products can cost up to 25% more than regular products
  • No product which contains water is organic: it's not possible to source organic water
  • So as a rule of thumb, organic beauty products are usually nothing of the sort because unlike rigorous food labelling, there is no legal definition for "organic" in beauty. The word is therefore open to wide interpretation and this has been exploited by those who rightly see this as a fruitful market: the organic sector of beauty is worth 37.2 million in this country. So how do you make sense of this if you want an unadulterated skincare regime? You take the same approach as with natural, making your decisions based on the stand taken by individual brands (visit Balm Balm's site to discover how founder Glenda has managed to make her brand truly organic), and what it means to be organic as outlined on The Soil Association's website.


    This can be interpreted in different ways in beauty. For most products which carry this label, it means that the final product, in its complete state (ie as you buy it in the jar) has not been tested on animals. It's worth remembering though that all beauty companies are legally and morally obliged to produce safe products, and that most of the safety testing for products requires ingredients to be separately tested on animals or, occasionally, via alternative animal tests. What this means is that every single ingredient, including water, has at some stage been tested on an animal or in an alternative animal test. So each of the ingredients in the product you are using will at some point have been tested on animal, if not by the company that made the product, by an independent lab.

    For more information: Visit The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association's (CTPA) consumer site The Facts About for more information on animal testing in cosmetics. Or visit our brand's websites for their individual approaches on animal testing.