Never mind your hippie aunt’s funky oils. Today’s eco-friendly potions are prettily packaged and powered by science (like hydrating algae and skin-firming grapeseed extract), making them viable options for beauty mavens seeking results and a pampering experience. But as natural and organic cosmetics pop up everywhere, so do the questions: Where to start? How to choose? And what do those labels mean, anyway? Whether you want to use fewer synthetics on your skin or simply try something new, here’s a guide to greener pastures.
2 of 7Samantha Hahn
Products with this seal from the Natural Products Association, a trade group for the beauty and home-care industry, are composed of at least 95 percent natural ingredients, excluding water. “Natural” means coming from a renewable source in nature, like plants and minerals (but not petroleum, which, though it is a by-product of natural crude oil, is nonrenewable and may contain impurities). The remaining 5 percent must have no readily available natural alternatives and cannot be suspected of any health risk, as verified by peer-reviewed third-party scientific papers.
3 of 7Samantha Hahn
This seal, designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ensures that at least 95 percent of ingredients are organic, meaning that they are grown and processed without certain synthetic pesticides. The remaining 5 percent must be nonorganic ingredients on a list of approved substances sanctioned by the National Organic Program (ams.usda.gov/nop), a program within the USDA that enforces organic regulations.
4 of 7Samantha Hahn
There are two labels within this certification devised by an independent European-based group: “organic cosmetic” and “natural cosmetic.” Both require that a minimum of 95 percent of ingredients come from natural origins. Beyond that, the designation “organic cosmetic” requires that 10 percent of all ingredients by weight be produced through organic farming; the “natural cosmetic” label requires 5 percent.
5 of 7Samantha Hahn
This seal, created by the U.S. branch of a global nonprofit, ensures a content of at least 90 percent biodynamically grown organic ingredients—that is, sourced from farms that are both organic and sustainable (for instance, one that produces its fertilizers through composting). The remaining 10 percent must be organic and minimally processed.
6 of 7Samantha Hahn
This seal was developed by the National Sanitation Foundation and the American National Standards Institute, two independent groups that certify a range of industries, monitoring everything from safety issues in cars to purity levels in dietary supplements to, yes, organic standards in cosmetics. The seal means that a product is at least 70 percent organic and 30 percent without synthetics or formaldehyde.
7 of 7Samantha Hahn
This seal created by a band of animal-rights groups does not indicate that a product is green, as many believe. It instead signals that no new animal testing has been conducted at any stage of development.