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What the Heck Does ‘100% Natural’ Mean?

The other day I was in my favorite beauty store shopping, yet again, for products that I really don’t need (that #shelfie game, though).

While I was wandering around, I noticed a regal display spotlighting a collection of skincare products with ‘natural’ ingredients, so I moseyed on over to check out the formulas. I picked up 2 different cleansers, each stating that their formulas were made with 100% ‘natural’ ingredients. Huh. Their labels contained a few ingredients that I personally wouldn’t consider natural, AT ALL.

This led me to the question: what does the word ‘natural’ really mean in relation to skincare products? ‘Natural’ seems to be used as a generic term, and I bet if I asked you what the word means, your definition would be different than mine (I have a Master’s in Biology and Minor in Biochemistry to be fair).

When you see the word ‘natural’ while shopping for beauty products, you probably think one of the following:

  • ‘Natural’ must mean ingredients that are plant or animal based
  • ‘Natural’ must mean that the ingredients are organically sourced (another trivially-used word btw, but we’ll get to that in a bit), sustainable or eco-friendly
  • OR, ‘natural’ must mean that the ingredients are homeopathic or used as an alternative approach to modern medicine

Regardless of your interpretation, you’re probably left with a bunch of questions like:

  • Are products that are deemed ‘all-natural’ still efficacious?
  • Why have beauty products used ‘synthetic’ ingredients in products for so long if they’re so bad for you?
  • Is a ‘natural’ product made without parabens, sulfate, phthalates, preservatives and chemicals (another inappropriate use of the word tbh)? Or do I have to check for those labels, too?
  • Are there similarities between natural foods and natural beauty products? 


Believe it or not, petroleum is technically a ‘natural’ ingredient, often used in skincare products, and can be potentially harmful; but, nonetheless, a “natural ingredient.” You see my point.

It’s difficult to distinguish between what is safe to put on your skin and what is not safe to put on your skin as a consumer. Plus, there are a ton of misleading labels and obnoxious clickbait articles out there with very little scientific explanations and a whole lot of BS. Hopefully, this article will help you to sort through the jargon and come out with a solid understanding of the term ‘natural’ and what it means.


When I got home from shopping, I immediately took a deep-dive into the FDA website as that seemed like a reasonable place to start! To say that my jaw hit my computer is an absolute understatement…

So uuuummmm, the FDA has not yet defined the term “natural” and has no established regulatory definition or guideline for the use of this term in cosmetic (makeup, skincare or haircare) labeling.


The FDA does, however, state that ingredient labeling should be truthful and not misleading, which essentially leaves it up to businesses to use their judgment and moral standing when creating their product labels. Oh, yes. Lovely. There’s more...

The same can be said for the use of the term ‘organic’!  WHAT?! The FDA directed me to an FAQ page and recommended that I visit the USDA’s website for more information. Apparently, the USDA regulates the use of the word ‘organic,’ but not as it relates to the beauty industry, just the food industry. 

In fact, a brand can claim their product is organic if at least one ingredient, which may be the ingredient with the lowest concentration in the formula, fits the USDA’s definition of organic.

A brand can claim that their product is ‘organic’ even if it has one organic ingredient in the formula. What this really means is that almost anything can be deemed ‘organic’ even if it contains other harmful ingredients that can cause skin irritation, breakouts, dryness and other skin conditions.

The ‘organic’ and “100% natural” claims don’t carry the same weight as they did before you started reading this article, do they? Me, either.

At this point, it is imperative to keep in mind that just because a product label states ‘100% organic’ does not mean that the product is good or safe to apply to your skin.

The FDA states, “choosing ingredients from sources you consider ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ is no guarantee that they are safe. You [the manufacturer] are still responsible for making sure your [the manufacturer] ingredients are safe when used according to the labeling, or as they are customarily used, no matter what kinds of ingredients you use.” The FDA’S words, not mine.


The reality is that anyone can claim their product as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’...  So, the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ really don’t mean anything at all. And, just because a product (or a brand for that matter) chooses to use ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ to represent themselves doesn’t mean that they skirted around definitions and guidelines... It simply means that as consumers, we need to stay woke.

First, determine what these words mean to YOU!  Because let’s face it, each of us have our own definition. Once you have defined these, do a bit of research... On the product and the brand.

To dive even deeper into what ingredients you are putting on your face, there are a few apps you can quickly download that give you more clarification on the ingredients in your beauty products. My favorite app is Think Dirty, Shop Clean (I totally love the name as well). The app is easy to navigate! Just scan a product’s barcode and the app will generate a ‘rating’ from 0-10 on how safe the ingredients in the product are (10 meaning there is strong and conclusive evidence that these ingredients produce long-term health effects). The app is so educational and helpful in finding cleaner products that even health enthusiast Kourtney Kardashian uses it!



Higher Education Skincare does NOT use ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ as buzz words to describe their ingredients or products (say “no” to clickbait). That makes this geeky, scientific gal very happy. They’re products are Cruelty-free, Nut free, Sulfate free, Paraben free, Gluten free and Dermatologist Approved!

Higher Education Skincare not only takes pride in their formulations and science behind the products, but also produces real results. Now, that’s my kind of brand.

Seriously smart and effective skincare is something I will always support.


Vitamin Infused Hydrating Lotion