Experts Reveal How to Tell If a Product Is Truly Natural

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There has been much debate over the years about which beauty products can call themselves “natural,” and also how they should label themselves as such. Unfortunately for consumers, the outcomes haven’t made it any easier to determine what is what on store shelves. For some much-needed clarification, we turned to two “natural beauty” pros to find out what to look for when searching for your next product. Here are their top tips:

Study the ingredient list.
Kiera Nachman, founder of Sundara Holistic, a New York–based Ayurvedic skin care brand, says that determining whether or not a beauty product is natural is as easy as looking at the ingredient list. “If you see names of plants from nature (names you recognize), that is an easy way to tell. But, make sure there aren’t synthetic or manmade ingredients hiding in between the botanical names.” 

Tata Harper, founder of the eponymous natural/nontoxic skin care line, says, “Look for ingredient claims like ‘paraben-free,’ ‘SLS-free’ or ‘mineral oil–free’ that are often found on the packaging. This is usually a red flag because that just means that it’s free of those few buzzword ingredients, but you can be sure that if you look at the label, you’ll still find plenty of ingredients you can’t pronounce.” 

Aside from parabens, keep an eye out for phthalates, propylene glycol and triclosan, as well as any word beginning with “petro.” Nachman explains that these ingredients are proven endocrine disruptors and have been linked to a myriad of other health issues, such as allergies and asthma. “If a product is truly all-natural, it would not contain any of these red flags,” she adds.  

Don’t rely solely on the word “natural” in the product name.
There has been much debate on the word “natural,” which Nachman says has become confusing in many industries, especially beauty. “The word ‘natural’ is not regulated in the beauty industry and there is no official definition of what it means. At the same time, ‘natural skin care‘ has become an umbrella term for the new crop of ethical, conscious, nontoxic skin care brands.” 

It really comes down to doing your research of ingredients and the brands themselves. Does the brand’s website explain the manufacturing processes of its products? Or the ingredients they use? It could be easier than you think to find the information you’re looking for.

Look for a “natural seal” on the packaging, but know that just because a product doesn’t have one, doesn’t mean it’s not natural.
Many experts agree that the only way to be totally sure that a product is 100-percent natural is if there’s a third-party certification or seal on the product that verifies that there are no synthetic chemicals in the formula, but whether or not a brand chooses to put this seal on its products is optional. 

“Many companies claim that their product is ‘natural’ when the formula is a blend of natural and synthetic, so in my opinion, you really need to look for that 100-percent certification,” says Nachman. Harper adds, “There’s no requirement for seals in the industry, but we [Tata Harper Skincare] chose to have our products certified 100-percent natural by EcoCert because we felt that it was important for our customers to know that we take these ‘natural’ claims seriously. This means that a third-party group has done an extensive audit on our entire production and ingredient list to verify that everything is absolutely free of synthetic chemicals.”

Avoid products containing the word “fragrance.”
“Another red flag is if the word ‘fragrance’ is in the ingredient list, as that word can hide a trade-secret blend of sometimes up to hundreds of separate synthetic perfume ingredients,” says Harper. Nachman adds, “The term falls under a federal loophole that allows manufacturers to disguise potentially dozens of manmade chemicals.”

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