Natural, Green, Non-toxic, Oh My! What do they all really mean?
I’m sure we’ve all seen products tout that they are made with natural or organic ingredients. Or maybe you have seen them referred to as “green”, “clean” or “non-toxic”. While they all sound nice...what do they all really mean? And to top that off, is there anyone regulating the use of these words? First, let’s tackle the associations with each one:
- Natural: A natural product or brand will source its ingredients from nature. Typically, the product will be filled with ingredients like oils, butters or plant extracts, and it should be free of anything synthetic. While plant-based ingredients are a great place to start, I see this term overused and abused the most. Brands often use “natural” on labels to mislead consumers, so for me, it doesn’t hold much weight when assessing a product. For one, sometimes a “natural” ingredient can be processed in ways that are anything but natural. A common example I see on labels is SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) that is derived from Coconut (or Sodium Coco Sulfate). Brands will list it as “naturally derived”- so you would assume the Coconut option is better for you than the alternative which is derived from Petroleum. However, this ingredient is still highly processed in a lab and comes into contact with potentially toxic chemicals. The end result is not “natural” or anything like the Coconut it starts with. Bottom line, it’s always good to take a “natural” claim on a product with a grain of salt and dig a little deeper.
- Green: Green has a similar connotation to “natural”. It’s typically associated with being plant-based and free of synthetic ingredients. “Green” also touches on the product’s environmental impact. That can mean being made with sustainable ingredients or recyclable packaging. However, just like with “natural”, legally this term is not regulated. “Green” also tends to be used inaccurately to describe products and is often utilized to mislead customers.
- Organic: Unlike the rest of these terms, Organic is legally defined by the USDA. It’s always great to see that a product has an organic ingredient because it means that it has not been treated with harmful pesticides or is genetically modified. However, Organic personal care products can be a little more complex than seeing an Organic seal on food. Typically, you won’t see a lot of personal care products that are certified Organic (meaning 95% of the formula is Organic). You will more commonly see some of the ingredients in the formula being certified or referred to as Organic. I can’t tell you how many products I’ve seen that are “Made with Organic (insert plant name here)” but the rest of the formula is filled with harmful, synthetic ingredients. That’s what makes “Organic” a bit tricky- just because one ingredient is organic, doesn’t mean the rest of the formula is.
- Non-toxic: Non-toxic typically means that a product is free from ingredients that are known to be harmful to your health and the environment. If something is “non-toxic” it should be free of ingredients linked to a toxic response in humans like carcinogens, hormone disruptors or neurotoxins. Unlike, “natural” or “green”, “non-toxic” products can be made with a mix of plant-based as well as synthetic ingredients. Ultimately, not all plants are safe and not all chemicals are harmful, so a non-toxic product is associated with overall safety of the ingredients. While there are some non-toxic certifications that brands can receive, this term is unregulated and brands can use it in their marketing claims at their own discretion.
- Clean: Clean is an industry term that is used similarly to non-toxic. It implies that the product is not going to harm you and might be made of a mix of natural and/or safe synthetic ingredients. I feel like this term is now used more commonly to describe beauty and makeup, but like non-toxic, it is unregulated (sensing a pattern here?!).
Okay - so now that you have had a crash course in word associations, what about the regulations?
The short of it is, there are virtually no regulations for any of these words. All of these words sound great, but without any regulation they are used at a brand’s will and without any oversight. The only exception to this is Organic. Organic ingredients need to be certified and are regulated by the government. However, as mentioned above, a product can be made up of mostly organic ingredients but can still sneak toxic ones in the formula.
Ultimately, these are all just “buzzwords” and are often used interchangeably. There is no one word or label that means a product is actually safe to use. So that's why at The Bath Well we don't rely on marketing terms to determine if a product is safe. We dive into each ingredient and focus on carrying products that are truly non-toxic and have no connection with causing harm to your body. We won't budge on our standards and only partner with brands that share our values. It's crucial for us to have a place where you can shop for products that are high-quality, effective and good for your body.
We can't rely on regulations changing (because they haven't since the 1930's!) or take marketing claims at face value. It is up to us to look at all the ingredients and use resources available like EWG, Think Dirty or Made Safe to help navigate if a product lives up to its "Green", "Clean", "Non-Toxic" or "Organic" claim.