Last updated: Jul 08, 2008
Q: Whats the difference between natural and organic on beauty-product labels?
This is an excellent but tricky question. Neither term, as it applies to beauty, has an official definition. But natural typically refers to ingredients derived from plants, minerals, or algae. Organic describes substances grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and processed without man-made chemicals.

For a beauty product to bear the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDAs) certified-organic seal, 95 to 100 percent of its ingredients must meet the agencys organic standards for food; there are no separate rules for cosmetics. Products with at least 70 percent organic content can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients”—but not the seal.

Change is afoot, though. The National Standards Foundation (NSF) is working with outside groups, including organic-cosmetics manufacturers (like Burts Bees) to create an organic standard specifically for personal-care products, which should take effect in the next year or two.