The natural beauty market has been steadily growing in recent years. A market analysis report by Grand View Research found that in 2018, the global natural cosmetics market size was estimated at USD 34.12 billion. By 2025, the same report projects that figure to be USD 48.04 billion. Clearly, there is a high and steadily growing demand for these products. However, as more people are switching out their old products for ones that claim to be natural or organic, there really isn’t a clear universal understanding of what these marketing buzzwords actually mean, and if you are a newbie to the natural beauty market, it can be quite confusing.
So, what does “natural” and “organic” really mean?
The first thing you need to know when starting out with natural and organic skincare is that the word “natural” on a label means nothing at all. In most countries, there are no regulations on whether a company can claim their products are natural or made with natural ingredients or not. Seeing “natural” on a label also doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is free from the more well-known nasties such as sulfates, parabens, phthalates, etc.
The use of the word “organic” on products, however, is somewhat regulated. In the USA, this done by the USDA through the National Organic Program while in the UK, there are a few certification bodies such as Soil Association and Cosmos, NaTrue, and Ecocert. In Australia, there are a few certifying organizations approved by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment: AUS-QUAL, Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI), National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), Organic Food Chain (OFC), and Southern Cross Certified Australia (SXC). Looking for these certification logos on labels and websites can help you verify if the products you are looking to buy really are organic. It’s best to ignore the fancy marketing - go straight to the ingredients list and look for certifications.
A word of caution though, we still recommend that you do not rely on these certifications entirely. Doing your own research is best because, despite all these certifications, natural beauty expert May Lindstrom tells Elle UK that lax labeling laws mean a company can prominently market their products as organic even if only a percentage of their formula is organic. If you are really keen on buying organic, then it’s best to do some digging online before you head to the store or add to your cart.
So, if you need to go through the trouble of researching all this before you buy a product, is it actually worth it?
Well, it depends - on your skin type, allergies and sensitivities, your stance on sourcing ingredients, and many other things. The main thing to remember is that natural and organic, while good for you in many ways, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for everyone. Weighing up the pros and cons of switching to natural and organic skincare and makeup is essential to finding out whether it’s right for you.
THE PROS AND CONS
Organic ingredients often have higher nutrient levels
This is great, especially with skincare products, because this means you get the most out of the active ingredients in your products. In an interview with sheknows.com, Makiko Braxton, beauty expert and spa director at The MODERN Honolulu, says that organic products are “generally more nutrient-rich and tends to contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.”
Additionally, because organic ingredients are grown free from pesticides, it follows that there is zero chance of your product having residue from these substances, which in turn means you have zero risks of absorbing said residue into your skin. Products that are 100% organic also do not have synthetics, so if you are looking to go 100% natural with your skincare, this is definitely the way forward for you.
100% organic usually means no preservatives
If a product is 100% organic, this usually means no synthetics, and that typically includes preservatives. This is good if you are trying to avoid those ingredients, however, as Dr. Jessica Krant, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Art of Dermatology, tells byrdie.com, preservatives in skincare and makeup are used to make sure that your product mixes smoothly and keeps for longer. And while there are some natural preservatives, they don’t generally work as well as the synthetic ones that have been developed over decades. So while the absence of certain ingredients like preservatives can seem like a good thing, it comes with disadvantages.
Natural and organic ingredients are quite potent
Makiko Braxton says that “natural and organic ingredients are some of the strongest on the market” and that could be good or bad. It’s great if you’re really looking to get the most out of the active ingredients in your products. However, you have to be careful if you have allergies or sensitive skin. Speaking to byrdie.com, Chase Polan, founder of sustainable skincare brand Kypris, warns that natural doesn’t necessarily mean good for everyone. Polan cites the use of essential oils as an example and notes that when used incorrectly, these can cause allergic reactions or burns. So, please be careful when using these products for the first time, even if you don’t have sensitive skin or allergies. Always patch test and take it slow. Better safe than sorry.
Natural and organic formulations don’t necessarily work for all skin types
A lot of natural and organic skincare, haircare, and makeup uses things like natural butters, extracts, and oils which is great for many reasons. However, these may not work for all skin types. Popular ingredients like tea tree oil can be quite drying and, despite its benefits, should be avoided if you have dry skin. On the other hand, if you have oily skin and are on the hunt for 100% natural and organic makeup, it might be quite tough to find something that can work for you. A lot of natural and organic makeup products rely on ingredients like coconut oil or different seed oils in lieu of silicones for that bendable texture that allows you to apply it well. As you can imagine, these ingredients aren’t going to be very helpful in keeping your makeup looking fresh and oil-free if you have oily skin. The point is that just because something is natural or organic, doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Just as you would if you were buying something that wasn’t natural or organic, do your research on whether the ingredients will work on your skin type.
Natural and organic doesn’t automatically mean a product is sustainable
Chase Polan, speaking to byrdie.com, also raises an interesting point about the manufacturing of natural and organic products that is often not talked about: how much plant material it actually takes to make them. To produce the amount needed for these products, land, water, and a workforce is needed and in some cases, “this can have a myriad of implications for the resources, environment, and geopolitics of a region.” She also points out that some ingredients are dangerous to harvest, either because of the nature of the ingredient itself (e.g. prickly pear), or human threats because of how precious of a resource it is (e.g. vanilla in Madagascar, frankincense in Somalia). If you feel strongly about this then it’s worth taking the time to find out if and how brands support the people and communities behind their products.
It also pays to look at packaging and see if the brand has made efforts to make this aspect of their products sustainable as well. As the consumer, it falls to you to take care of disposal, and more often than not, that just means the bin. However, many brands are now making an effort to make some, if not all, parts of their packaging easy to recycle. Some even take part in recycling programs like Terracycle to give consumers the option to completely recycle their products’ packaging.
Hopefully, this has helped you go into your transition to natural and organic products with a wider perspective. If you’re interested in doing a bit more research, we encourage you to read the resources linked above. They are full of more detailed explanations for things mentioned in this blog, as well as different perspectives on natural and organic skincare and beauty.
At the end of the day, just know that having the right information, doing this slowly, and listening to your skin will do you a world of good. We wish you good luck in finding the right natural and organic products for you!