How to Buy Organic and Natural Makeup Before Your Head Explodes


When I first started learning about organic makeup, I pictured butterflies alighting on biodynamic fields of lavender and organic rose petals magically ground into lipsticks. And yes, maybe it is like that – somewhere, in someone’s pretty organic fantasyland.

In reality, the world of organic cosmetics is much more like the wild, wild west. Just add uncomfortable corsets digging into our spines! Organic could mean 100 percent organic, or it could just mean made with organic ingredients. Natural is different from organic. Biodyamic means super organic, but is really hard to confirm. Essentially, confusing, unregulated labels abound – some are which bald-faced lies.

So what to do? Almost every expert I speak to about this subject says the same thing – educate yourself. At present, there is very little regulation preventing any company from slapping on organic label on anything with a price tag. So it really is up to us, the consumer, to wade through the misinformation.

First, some easy quick tips to get started on. You can find an organic brand you really like and stick with it. You can also look at the packaging of a product – if they invest time and money into eco-friendly packaging, that’s a good indication you should spend your money on it. Third, you can check out our list of some common labels you may see on your cosmetics.

NATURAL: The USDA regulates that food can only be labeled natural if it contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed. The term is applicable to cosmetics that are made with natural, food-like ingredients. Although this label is an important step in the right direction, there isn’t a lot of regulation for enforcing it. The standards for labeling something organic are much stricter.

ORGANIC: During the Clinton administration, there was enormous debate with the USDA as to what organic exactly meant. And it meant it could include things like sewage sludge and genetically-modified ingredients. Luckily, that has all changed.

Now there are three tiers of organic labeling. If something is 100 percent organic, this means that the products were made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods and therefore can be labeled “100 percent organic”. “Organic” also applies to products with at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Both of these categories may also display the USDA Organic seal.

If something is “certified organic,” this means that certification is about regulating and facilitating the sale of organic products to consumers. Products may also display the logo of the certification body that approved them.

If something is “made with organic ingredients,” this means that products made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can only mention this fact in the product’s ingredient statement.

BIODYNAMIC: Common in many overseas products, this means the product has been organically farmed in a rather interesting way. The farms are cultivated as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing the development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs. There is very limited ability to establish and verify this ingredient. You just can’t claim something is biodynamic – it must be certified by an outside source. But these standards can sometimes exceed organic standards.

Hopefully these tips help you in your organic cosmetic shopping adventures!


Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.