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What Is the Difference between Natural and Organic Cosmetics?

Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The difference between natural and organic cosmetics is complex because the term “natural” can have many different meanings while “organic” is far more standardized. When a cosmetic or personal care product is identified as natural, it is impossible for a consumer to determine what actually makes the cosmetic different from other commercially available products without a definition provided by its manufacturer. On the other hand, in many jurisdictions, if a product claims to be organic, its ingredients must have been grown on a farm or plantation that has been certified by a recognized organic standards organization. While there may be some overlap between natural and organic products, many commercially available cosmetics are likely to contain a mix of ingredients from synthetic, organic, and non-organic sources. Consumers should also be aware that natural and organic cosmetics may not necessarily be safer to use than other products.

Many consumer advocates regularly point out that, in the United States as well as in other countries, product manufacturers can claim that their products were made from natural ingredients without having to provide evidence for this claim. There are, however, some companies that do take steps to explain that their products may be free of artificial preservatives or that they may include essential oils; herbal extracts; or fats from vegetable, seed, or even animal sources.

Organic cosmetics, on the other hand, typically contain ingredients that have been grown under organic conditions. The standards for organic certification can vary between certifying agencies, but organic ingredients are typically grown using sustainable methods and minimal, if any, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In some cases, a cosmetic or personal care product may contain a combination of both organic and non-organic ingredients. Many people choose to purchase organic products because they're concerned about the impact of some farming methods on the environment.

The choice to purchase natural and organic cosmetics is largely an individual one. Many people feel more comfortable using products that are organically grown or that contain plant-based ingredients. Some cosmetic industry critics warn, however, that it is quite possible to experience an allergic reaction from using products that contain herbs, flowers, and other similar ingredients. Consumers should also consider the formulation of any natural and organic cosmetics that they purchase, as these designations do not ensure that the product is of high quality or will work well. Instead, the consumer should apply whatever standards he or she uses for choosing other types of cosmetics to those bearing the organic or natural label.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By andee — On Sep 20, 2011

I make some skin care products that I know are natural and organic. I buy organic oils and butters and use beeswax and honey from my beehives.

The two products I make most often are beeswax solid lotion bars and lip balm.

It costs a little bit more to buy the organic ingredients, but this way I feel confident in what I am selling and offering to my customers.

The quality of the products are very good and many people have had good results treating troubled skin with these products.

I feel good knowing that I am producing a product that is safe, healthy and effective.

By myharley — On Sep 20, 2011

Most of the cosmetics I purchase are from a nutrition company where I also buy my supplements. This is a company I trust to use quality ingredients and have never been disappointed in the results.

Since whatever I put on my skin is easily absorbed I try to use products that I know are safe and natural. As far as I know, this company doesn't make organic cosmetics.

Since I feel comfortable with the history of the company who manufactures the cosmetics I use, I don't worry about them being organic or not.

I have often wondered if the extra price you pay for organic products is worth the cost?

By KaBoom — On Sep 20, 2011

@JaneAir - I think I've actually heard that before.

I really think the only way to really know you're getting a completely natural or organic cosmetic is to make it yourself. If you get locally made raw materials that you know are organic or natural, you'll be able to know for sure your cosmetics are too.

I know there are a lot of regulations about the label organic and everything. But I still feel safer making my own stuff. It's cheaper that way too!

By JaneAir — On Sep 19, 2011

One thing to keep in mind about natural and organic cosmetics is that it costs money to have your product certified organic. There are a few small companies near me that sell products that are made organically, but they haven't been able to get the money together to get their farm certified.

I think the best thing to do when comparing products is to learn a little bit about the companies and the ingredients. You may be able to find some cosmetics that are a little bit cheaper and labeled "natural" but are really the same thing as organic!

By Sara007 — On Sep 19, 2011

@manykitties2 - A good way to get high quality organic cosmetics cheaply is to visit your local farmers market and see what they have for sale. I know I found some really fantastic lip gloss at my local farmers market that was made of of organic beeswax, and it does wonders for my lips.

Another thing to consider is trying out some natural cleaners on your face. I started washing my face with a homemade oatmeal scrub and my acne actually cleared up to the point where I didn't even need foundation anymore. I think there are so many chemicals in so-called natural products that sometimes it is better just to do without.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 19, 2011

I always have trouble figuring out which is better for my skin, natural or organic cosmetics, but I suppose since organic cosmetics have more regulations in place I should try and use them more. I have really sensitive skin, so I have been trying to find things that don't irritate my face and cause me to break out.

The only problem I have with organic cosmetics as that they can get really expensive. There is a line for sale at my drugstore and everything is almost twice the price of the regular cosmetics. I guess you really do pay a price for quality makeup.

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