PSA: There’s Is No Official Definition Of “Natural Makeup.” What To Know

August 22, 2018

Natural Makeup

I’m a bit of a makeup aficionado. I buy more than I probably should (help me), I watch YouTube tutorial for hours on end, and I’m always on the lookout for the next big thing. I even run a makeup blog with my friends! I throw my heart and soul into the beauty game — and this means I’ve been burned more than once.

You see, the cosmetic industry throws buzzwords around like they’re going out of style. Anti-aging, hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, natural — they all sound nice, but there are no federal restrictions to ensure these products do (or are) what they claim. Essentially, there’s no legal recourse for consumers.

I’m not going to lie: This information stings a little. I depend on labels when searching out cruelty-free makeup. The thought that I may have a vanity full of cosmetics that were tested on animals makes my stomach churn. But this article isn’t about cruelty-free makeup, it’s about natural makeup. And what even is natural makeup? Like really?

Natural is one of those buzzwords that seems to pop up everywhere. Natural skincare, natural foods, natural clothing. But what does natural actually mean?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

What Natural Means to Consumers

Asking the average cosmetics consumer what natural means is like asking someone to describe the color blue. It’s going to vary from person to person. Many people feel something is natural if it comes from nature — but that’s pretty damn vague right there. Others would describe natural as being “not man-made.” Still, others would interpret the term natural to mean something derived from plants.

All of these descriptions open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Petroleum is natural, but when it comes to makeup, there are few consumers who would characterize it as such. If you stick to plant-based products, you’ll avoid petroleum, but you’ll also eliminate many minerals, such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica, and iron oxides — all of which are huge in the cosmetics industry. Finally, just because something “comes from nature” or isn’t man-made doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral — and yes, it has been found in makeup.

On top of all this, there’s the question of natural identical. Many ingredients found in nature can also be produced synthetically. Would consumers consent to a synthetic version of a natural material in their “natural” makeup? Most of the mineral pigments found in cosmetics are manufactured in labs to avoid naturally occurring impurities, such as lead and mercury. It’s ultimately a question of safety.

Finally, there are hundreds of safe, synthetic ingredients that have no connections to health issues and play a critical role in our beauty products — things like emulsifiers, emollients, and preservatives.

It’s all a bit of a jumble, really. The interpretation of what natural makeup really is fluctuates wildly from consumer to consumer. However, for the sake of clarification, I’ll define “natural” as meaning the ingredients are comprised of naturally occurring plants, botanical extracts, and minerals. Now that we have that down, let’s take a closer look at how the cosmetics industry defines “natural.”

What Natural Means in the Cosmetics Industry

Spoiler alert: It means whatever they want it to mean.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates cosmetics to ensure they don’t contain dangerous ingredients (like mercury and methylene chloride). This is obviously a good thing. However, the FDA has never legally defined the term “natural,” and therefore there are no regulations or restrictions on its use.

With no organization or code to determine what makes a product “natural,” cosmetics labeled as such may indeed contain synthetic ingredients. Sometimes, companies will claim their products to be “natural” when they contain as little as 20 percent naturally derived ingredients. That means that when you see the word “natural” on beauty products, it could be complete and utter BS.

What Can Consumers Do?

If you’re on the hunt for completely natural products — that is, whatever you define “natural” to be — you’ll need to become a label-reading master.

Ingredients are listed in order of predominance. Those used in the greatest amounts will appear first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts. If the majority of a cosmetic’s ingredients are synthetic, and the only naturally occurring ones are buried at the bottom of the list, this probably isn’t the product for you. If the ingredients listed are the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) Latin names for materials you recognize — like Butyrospermum Parkii, which is shea butter — you’re good to go!

As a consumer, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself. Ignore the buzzwords — most of which make no scientific sense and have no research to back them up — and start reading labels. You don’t have to be just another victim of marketing hype. Decide what natural means to you, and look for companies and products that epitomize those ideals.

Oh, and if you’re looking for truly cruelty-free products, check out Leaping Bunny’s comprehensive list.

PSA: There’s Is No Official Definition Of “Natural Makeup.” What To Know

Do you wear natural makeup? How do you define natural makeup?

Also by Liz: No Makeup Isn’t The Only Path To Self-Love. Why Full Makeup Makes Me Happy

Related: Natural Beauty: Shelf Life of Makeup

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Liz Greene is a makeup enthusiast, rabid feminist, and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Three Broke Bunnies


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