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What Does 'Natural Ingredients' Really Mean?

There are no legal guidelines that define the word 'natural' when it comes to beauty products. The best thing we can do is read ingredient labels. Which is possible, as the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients) brought out legislation that requires all ingredients to be listed. The first problem is that lots are noted under their Latin name. Secondly, a lip balm, for example, may market its natural 'shea butter' content, but on closer inspection, the ingredients list includes a synthetic preservative.

A definition of organic is cosmetics produced or involving production without the use of artificial chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides. In the UK, look out for the COSMOS Organic or Soil Association logos. The first is an EU standard, formed when the Soil Association, BDIH, Cosmebio, Ecocert and ICEA clubbed together. Ecocert was the first certification body to develop standards for eco-friendly and organic cosmetics. Simply put, organic skin products must contain at least 95% natural ingredients, of which 95% must be of organic origin. With at least 10% certified organic ingredients in the product.

Beauty treatments often contain water - creams, lotions, milks - and, therefore, need to be protected from air, bacteria and pollution. There are loads of synthetic preservatives that prevent cosmetics from going off, but not everyone's a fan. Organic skin products don't contain synthetic preservatives and must use natural equivalents. This means they may contain perfumed substances or essential oils that can cause allergic flare-ups. A small dose of alcohol is a chemical-free alternative, particularly if it's of plant origin - fermented wheat, for example. A skin-friendly option, seeing as repeated or long-term exposure to chemical preservatives can pose a risk to our health. On the downside, lots of manufacturers try to convince us that their products are completely 'natural' through clever labels that evoke the natural world. Deceptive product names and canny advertising are also well-known marketing tools. Words like 'green' and 'pure' are thrown about, but more and more of us are learning to weed out the culprits.

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