What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body; although there’s much debate over whether our beauty products can actually be absorbed into our bloodstream (there’s a great article here which debunks a lot of the myths and explains why products are actually designed to stay in the upper most layers of the skin,) there’s no doubt that we’re collectively becoming more concerned with the beauty treats we buy and the impact they can have on both ourselves and the world around us. Many brands like to jump on trends and use clever marketing tactics to sneakily trick you into thinking you’re making better choices, but there are also many more doing great things and proving you can still get a great result without the potential downsides. I’m a firm believer that you should arm yourself with as much information as possible and make choices that are right for you, rather than feeling pressured to adopt a strict regime or restrict yourself from using your fave products. But some of the phrases and terms being flung around the beauty industry right now are causing more confusion than an episode of Sherlock; it’s no surprise, in the style of Justin Beiber, we’re all asking ‘what do you mean?’
In the interests of clarity and helping you make the best decisions possible, I’ve broken down for of the most common terms and attempted to provide a comprehensive breakdown of what they mean and the implications for your beauty regime. You may choose to embrace one, two or none of these, but if we’re all armed with a little bit more info then we can collectively make decisions that are right for us and support the brands that are worthy of our efforts.
WHAT DOES ‘NATURAL’ MEAN?
Natural ingredients are usually sourced from the earth or sea; however, this is an extremely ambiguous
statement that could mean anything from collecting seaweed to harvesting
crops that are soaked in pesticides. In all honesty it doesn’t mean a huge amount, as it could still mean those ‘natural’ ingredients are manipulated in an artificial scientific environment, or even mixed with all kinds of chemicals to produce the end product. It’s a marketing term that’s often used to give the impression of
organic or ‘good for you’ ingredients, just like adding a few green leaves to a pack or use nuances
that subconsciously make us believe the formula will be better for us
than the alternative. Shopping ‘natural’ won’t have any real impact on your beauty regime versus shopping ‘non-natural’ from a scientific point of view, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some cracking products out there – chemicals aren’t the devil and science provides some incredible ways to look after our bodies.
WHAT DOES ‘ORGANIC’ MEAN?
Unlike ‘natural’, organic means that the
same natural ingredients are grown according to organic standards, i.e.
no pesticides or chemicals are used at all. Technically these are ‘cleaner’ and usually include a very high percentage of organically grown or sourced ingredients, but unlike organic food there’s currently no legal standard in place to
protect shoppers against fake or misleading organic beauty claims. As a result, a number of
private standards have been developed (including ECOCert and The Social Association) which all have
different levels for organic and natural certification. Organic can provide a better option if your skin is sensitive or prone to irritation, or you’re increasingly concerned about the chemicals you’re putting on your body; however, it’s worth noting that organic products often include essential oils which can be potentially irritating too. Personally I only make the switch to organic if the product is just as good as the non-organic alternative, as it’s all very well and good avoiding chemicals but not getting the results you want – it’s about choices that work for you and your needs.
WHAT DOES ‘CRUELTY-FREE’ MEAN?
This terminology is used to describe the absence of animal testing during the development of a product, however it’s often not as straight-forward as that sounds. From 2013 no product or ingredient that has been tested on
animals is able to be sold in the UK, but crucially those developed
before 2013 could still have been tested on animals at some point during the process. Further confusion erupts around the fact that although companies can’t sell
animal-tested cosmetics in Europe, they can continue to test cosmetics
on animals outside Europe and sell them in other markets. Many large
emerging territories (including the hugely controversial Chinese market)
are still demanding that cosmetics be tested on animals in the
‘interests of safety’ and there’s a long way to go until this is outlawed completely. Brands often use ‘cruelty-free’ as an ambiguous label to state they don’t test their products on animals, but their ingredients or finished product may have been in other countries in order for it to abide by local legislation. Just because they say they’re ‘cruelty free’, it doesn’t always mean they 100% are – do your own research, ask questions and don’t be afraid to make a switch.
WHAT DOES ‘VEGAN’ MEAN?
A product that claims to be vegan doesn’t contain any animal ingredients or animal derived ingredients (including honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, cholesterol and gelatin among others,) but again this is an unregulated and widely used term so doesn’t necessarily provide 100% confidence for those following a vegan lifestyle. In some instances ‘vegan’ is also used to express the absence of animal testing or presence in markets that insist on animal testing by law. As veganism is such a growing movement in the UK right now, I’ve no doubt this will become even more prominent within the beauty industry in the next ten years – but again, it doesn’t always mean a better product. Animal derivatives can provide a great results (for example beeswax in lipbalm, horse hair in makeup brushes, collagen in face creams) but for some this is not an acceptable addition into their regime, as it still involves some level of cruelty or harvesting in the development process.
SO HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU?
In my opinion it’s important to do your research, understand the terms and arm yourself with as much information as possible – but also be prepared to question and not take these claims at face value. There’s no legislation in place to protect consumers from any of these terms, and with the law currently so fluid and changing almost every month it’s impossible for every single beauty customer to stay on top of everything. If you can make the switch to cruelty-free, vegan or organic then do it! But equally don’t feel the pressure if that may not be right for you.
In the picture: the Deliciously Ella and Neal’s Yard Remedies collaboration, which features NEW Rose, Lime & Cucumber Body Lotion and Wash (a range extension from the existing Rose, Lime & Cucumber Facial Wash & Cream.) Neal’s Yard as a brand are certified by Cruelty-Free International, approved by PETA and have the Soil Association’s stamp of approval to assure customers their formulations are organic. More info here.
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