Organic Consumers Association

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What Are You Putting On Your Skin? What the Advertising Hype Really Means

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Coming Clean Campaign page.

By now, you've probably seen buzzwords like "all natural," "hypoallergenic" and "patented" hundreds of times. But have you ever stopped to ask what they mean?

Beauty companies love terms like these because they suggest concrete benefits that don't have to be backed up by science. In fact, as long as they don't claim to change the body's structure or function, companies don't need FDA approval to market new products to the public and are not required to provide any research to prove their claims.

These days, one almost needs a degree in chemistry to understand some of the catch phrases on skin care products. Gone are the days when simple statements such as "oil free" would suffice.

Perhaps the most common phrase is clinical formula.  But this has no real meaning.  It does not necessarily indicate that the formula was produced in a medical clinic, as the manufacturers would have people believe. Clinically tested could very well indicate that the product was tested, but what was it tested for?  What were the results?  Essentially, this marketing claim is meaningless.

Here are seven more commonly misunderstood terms to watch for.

Patented or Patent Pending. Patents can be granted to companies that manufacture or combine materials in new ways.  But just because something is patented doesn't mean it works.

All Natural. This one really bugs me! It doesn't mean the product is organic or chemical-free. After all, chemicals are "natural," too.

Organic. The US Department of Agriculture certifies organic food ingredients found in cosmetics, but not essential oils or plants used for cosmetic purposes.  To carry the USDA Organic seal, a product must contain at least 95% organic food ingredients. Other countries have their own organic certification labels, such as COSMOS and NaTrue in the European Union and NASAA in Australia.

Hypoallergenic. Think this guarantees you won't have a reaction? Think again. These products can still contain ingredients some people are allergic to, including preservatives and fragrance.   
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