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Consumer Alert: 'Natural' Skin Care Labels Often Mean Little or Nothing

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Coming Clean Campaign page and our The Myth of Natural page.

Despite your good intentions, buying skin care products labeled "organic" or "natural" doesn't always translate to a healthier body or planet.

Many such products still contain the chemicals you're trying to avoid. And even if a product is bursting with nature's bounty, those earthy ingredients may not produce the desired results.

How can you know which earth-friendly products are best for your skin, inside and out?

Understand labels

The first step is to look past the marketing.

Terms like "natural" and "all natural" have no legal definitions and therefore are unreliable indicators of a product's content.

The term "organic" is regulated but can sometimes be misleading.

A product bearing the USDA Organic seal must contain at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients (excluding water and salt). That's difficult to achieve for skin care products, as some ingredients needed in the formulations aren't available in nature.

Products labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70 percent USDA-certified organically produced ingredients.

Anything else isn't supposed to carry the term organic anywhere on the display panel, but that rule is rarely enforced for skin care products as long as they don't carry the USDA seal or "made with" label, said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.

"You could put anything in your product, call it organic, and the USDA won't do anything about it," she said.

Also, a brand can have the word "organic" in its trademark without containing any organic ingredients.