What Do Natural and Organic Mean? Understanding Labels

by | Aug 19, 2017


14 March 2017

What Do Natural And Organic Mean?

Understanding labels can be challenging. Especially when trying to understand what natural and organic mean on beauty and personal care products where there is very little regulation.  If you have been reaching for products with labels that say “natural” or “organic”, thinking to avoid any risky ingredients, the FDA has no legal definition for these words, and many consumers don’t make a distinction between the two.  

These are my definitions: “Natural” refers to ingredients that come from the source relatively unchanged or unprocessed, like plant-based ingredients, salt or clay.  “Organic” refers to plant-based ingredients grown without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation or any genetically modified organisms.

Unfortunately, when you see these words on a label you can’t be sure of their meaning. This is because the FDA has no regulations to ensure that the label matches the product inside the package. A product that says natural may also include synthetic ingredients and the only way of knowing if something is organic is if it has been certified.

If you want to buy organic products, the USDA has the best standard for organic certification.

A product can be certified by the USDA as being entirely organic or for using some percentage of organic ingredients. Here are the four levels of organic certification, and what the label is allowed to say:

  • “100% Organic” – means just what it says. These products can carry the USDA seal.
  • “Organic” – must have at least 95% certified organic ingredients, and they have strict rules about the remaining 5%.  These can also carry the USDA seal
  • “Made with Organic” – must have at least 70% certified organic ingredients. Three ingredients can also be listed on the front label (i.e. made with organic blueberries, organic sugar, and organic oats), but it cannot carry the USDA seal.
  • If the item has less than 70% organic ingredients it can have organic before the name of those things on the ingredients list which are organic but can’t carry the USDA seal on the front.


You may also see products certified with the NSF/ANSI 305 label. NSF International is an organization that does certification for personal care products (and other things) that may have production processes that don’t meet the USDA’s food oriented requirements. This certification lets you know it’s made with at least 70% organic ingredients. For example, bar soap might be certified this way since lye isn’t organic and you can’t make soap without it.

Because of the lack of regulation, the terms “natural” and “organic” will always invite a certain amount of misuse. There are many ethical companies making great products, so do your research and read those labels carefully!


Love to hear what you think!

If you are interested in natural skin care using organic ingredients, visit the Pure Homespun Shop.

You will find items made from the highest quality and simplest ingredients, as close as possible to their raw and unfiltered state. All ingredients are non-GMO, free trade, and cruelty-free.

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