Everything You Need to Know About ‘Natural’ Skin Care and Makeup

The next beauty revolution is natural — it’s only natural that, given society’s current preoccupation with wellness, that the same health-and-wellness-oriented approach we’ve taken to our workouts, clothes, juice, spices, and even real estate, be extended to our skin care and makeup. We’re buying into it — according to the NPD Group, 55 percent of the gains in the prestige skin-care market in 2016 came from natural brands. Natural beauty is even doing well in the most difficult retail environment — stores, with 85 percent of the gains in brick-and-mortar coming from natural beauty brands. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba have created lifestyle empires founded on “natural beauty” products. Luxurious natural beauty stores like Credo, CAP Beauty, and Follain, which display green products beautifully among marble countertops, have all opened in the past two years.

But despite the strength of sales, there’s still a lot of consumer confusion over what natural beauty is and why people care about it. Here’s a primer that explains how natural beauty differs from organic, and the results of talking with several dermatologists and green-beauty experts to answer the questions: Is “natural” beauty something worth trying and is it really “better” for you?

What does natural mean? Well, really nothing — and whatever brands want it to mean. Natural has no “regulatory” meaning, as “natural,” “vegan,” and “green” are not regulated terms. When you see them on packaging, know that any brand can use those terms, even if their product contains straight-up lead (but rest easy — lead is regulated by the FDA, there can’t be more than 10 parts per million in your beauty products). The word organic is somewhat regulated — not by the FDA, but by the USDA, which uses it to confirm that ingredients in beauty products are free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and other nonorganic substances.

Broken down even further, there are levels of organic. 100 percent organic means what it says. A general designation of “organic” means it contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients. “Made with” organic ingredients means that it has at least 70 percent. If it has less than 70 percent, a brand isn’t allowed to use the organic designation.

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