Organic vs. Natural: which is better?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Written by Ariana Palmieri.
 
There are loads of products out there that claim to be natural and organic.
But what's the difference between organic and natural products?
Is there a difference? If so, which is better, and why?
Knowing this will help you make better, more informed decisions on the products you purchase in the future.
 

What does the 'natural' label mean?


The natural label is often assumed to mean there are no artificial flavors or colors, no artificial preservatives, no irradiated ingredients, and no GMOs. However, the FDA and the USDA do not regulate products which possess the 'natural' label. This means companies can easily greenwash their costumers by labeling their products as 'natural'. This greenwashing not only applies to food, but cosmetics, body products, hair products, skincare products, cleaning supplies, etc.

What does the 'organic' label mean? 

 
 

Many companies that claim to be natural also claim to be organic. However, simply saying they are organic isn't enough. If they have the USDA organic seal, they're legit. This is because all products that have the USDA organic label must follow a strict set of government standards and regulations. Products that want to receive certification must be accessed and pay a fee.

 Companies must continue to meet USDA organic standards and are subject to annual inspections, which can mean announced or unannounced visits. If the USDA doesn't feel like a product measures up to their standards anymore, they can remove their seal from the product.

When you buy organic produce and products that bare the USDA organic seal, you are guaranteed no toxic and persistent pesticides, no synthetic growth hormones, no petroleum-based fertilizers, no cloning, no artificial preservatives, no irradiated products/ingredients, and no GMOs. Also, organic farming lowers levels of environmental pollution while 'natural' farming doesn't necessarily do the same.

However, it is important to note that even with this seal, a product is not guaranteed to be 100% organic. Unless the product clearly says it's 100% organic and displays the USDA seal, then only 95% or more of the product contains organic ingredients. This isn't a bad thing, but it can get confusing when you are looking for completely pure products.

What about products containing
only some certified organic ingredients?

Usually, if it says "made with organic ingredients", that means at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. Your best bet is to look up the other, non-organic ingredients on the label to see if they're safe. I specifically recommend everyone does this for cosmetics, considering cosmetics are rarely regulated unless certified by the USDA. Be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group's website. The EWG covers several important topics to look into, such as EWG's skin deep cosmetics database,  EWG's guide to healthy cleaning, farming and the environment, EWG's dirty dozen guide to food additives, and many others.

The EWG is dedicated to telling people the truth. I personally love their cosmetics database which boasts over 63,000 searchable products. The EWG not only rates a product, but the brand/company they come from on a scale from 1-9. If the cosmetic/brand has 1-2, it's a low hazard, but if it's rated 7-10, it's a high hazard. I recommend searching any product you're considering using here, or simply searching an ingredient you're unsure about. If a product isn't USDA organic, but has some certified organic ingredients, this can help you decide how safe it really is. Remember: just because one ingredient is good, doesn't mean the rest are.

What are some trustworthy, certified organic companies?

 
 
 
Two beauty brands I know to be certified USDA organic are Honey Girl Organics and Poofy Organics. I've raved about Honey Girl Organics before, but for good reason. Honey Girl Organics is a Hawaii based organic beauty brand known for their skincare and body products. On EWG the company overall received a 1-2 low hazard score, which is great. Their products contain organic honey, beeswax, and pollen, so they might not be ideal for people who prefer vegan products.

However, Poofy Organics is not only organic, but cruelty free, meaning there's no need to worry about animal testing. On EWG, their company received a 1-3 low-moderate hazard rating. This is very good considering most companies I've seen range from 1-6 on the hazard scale. Most of  Poofy Organics' products also appear to be vegan, or in other words, not containing animal byproducts, such as honey.

There are several other beauty brands that sell certified organic products, but I've found very few brands that sell certified organic makeup. I'm not sure why that is, but it is disappointing. Most makeup brands that claim to be organic, only use some organic ingredients. Hopefully that changes in the future.

As far as food and drinks, there are several brands that are USDA organic, such as Organic Valley, Horizon DairyHealthy Valley, Honest Tea, Purity.Organic and Cascadian Farms, to name just a few. Since there are so many organic food options, I also suggest using EWG's food scores database to determine which products and brands you're most comfortable using. Please note that not every brand or product is guaranteed to be on here. If you can't find a specific product you're looking for, your best bet is to read the label. If an ingredient looks suspicious to you, research it so you can make an informed decision on what you feel is safe to put in or on your body.
 

Conclusion: Choose USDA Organic

After taking everything into consideration, it's the best option. Unlike products with 'natural' labeling, the USDA strictly regulates every product their seal is on. With this seal, you can be sure at least 95% of the product will contain organic ingredients, if not 100%. With 'natural' products, you're taking the risk of being greenwashed and wasting money on something that isn't as safe for you, or the environment, as you think. To avoid this, look for the USDA organic seal, check your products on EWG.org, and make sure to read the ingredients  label!
 

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