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How to tell if a product is really organic

Kori Ellis is an editor and writer based in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and four children. At SheKnows, she writes about parenting, fashion, beauty and other lifestyle topics. Additionally, Kori has been published i...

Are your cosmetics actually organic?

We see the labels "natural" and "organic" on beauty products all the time, but before you grab something thinking it's going to be truly organic, take time to really read the ingredient list.

Woman reading lotion label

When you use organic skin care products, makeup and other beauty products, you want them to be completely organic and free of toxins. Unfortunately, the product labels can be confusing sometimes.

What's really organic?

"Organic," when it comes beauty products, should mean that the ingredients are grown and managed using earth-friendly agricultural methods without the use of toxins and pesticides. Unfortunately the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) regulates the term "organic" as it applies to the food industry, not beauty products. So much of the time, the cosmetics industry has free rein to label their products however they would like.

If a beauty product contains agricultural ingredients and meets their standards of organic production, handling and processing, however, it can be eligible for organic certification. Once beauty products are certified, they are eligible for the following four organic labeling categories -- the same ones that are used on agricultural products. The labels are based on their organic content and some other factors.

"100 percent organic"

Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent's name and address.

"Organic"

Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances on the National List or nonorganically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent's name and address.

"Made with organic ingredients"

Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or "food" groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either "body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary and chamomile," or "body lotion made with organic herbs." Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent's name and address.

Less than 70 percent organic ingredients

Products cannot use the term "organic" anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are USDA-certified as being organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel. Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and may not display a certifying agent's name and address. (Water and salt are also excluded here.)

One thing to keep in mind is that the USDA has no authority over the production and labeling of beauty products that are not made up of agricultural ingredients.

Is it natural?

The word "natural" on labels doesn't mean much. The FDA and USDA don't regulate the natural label. So a manufacturer can slap the words "all natural" on anything. Buyer beware!

Read the back of the bottle

Don't fall for the hype on the front of your makeup and skin care products! Read the ingredients list. Truly natural products will be made up of ingredients you know and can pronounce.

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