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Natural Cosmetics 101

        Health | Skin & Makeup

Cosmetic Labels: Is"Natural" Natural?

Cosmetics labeling isn't as tightly regulated as food labeling. It's perfectly legal for a company to label its shampoo "botanical" if it has synthetic aloe fragrance added. The smell of aloe, after all, is "botanical." Other labels like "nature-inspired" and "natural" don't actually mean anything concrete, either. Some "natural" products do contain natural ingredients; others don't. "Natural" isn't a legally binding designation.

The more reliable designation is "organic," and particularly "USDA Organic." There are several different organic certification organizations in the United States, but they apply different standards, and it's often unclear how reliable some of them are. For instance, the organization behind the Ecocert label will grant certification to some products containing petrochemicals; and several so-called "organic" products have been found to contain 1,4-dioxane, the controversial chemical discovered in those baby products [source: OCA].

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a strict organic standard, and the "USDA Organic" label is well-enforced. If a cosmetic says "USDA Organic," you can be reasonably sure its ingredients were not grown with chemical pesticides, that it was made sustainably, and that it contains no chemical preservatives. The word "organic," however -- minus the "USDA" -- is not enforced as stringently in cosmetics as it is in food. A synthetically preserved deodorant can call itself "organic" and get nothing more than a slap on the wrist by the USDA. So be sure to look for the organic seal, not just the word.

There are plenty of cosmetics brands that are truly natural. You just have to do some research to find out who is reliable and who isn't. For instance, if you go to the LUSH Web site (a popular "natural cosmetics" brand) and look at the ingredients for Banana Moon Soap, you'll notice that more than half the ingredients are "Safe Synthetic." At Best Bath Store, on the other hand, the ingredients for the Cocoa Butter Body Bar are only natural oils and cocoa butter.

If you want all-natural and you don't want to do your research, though, there is another way: You could always make your own cosmetics at home. Here are a few simple recipes to get you started:

Oily skin facial scrub: Mix together plain yogurt and table salt to a slightly rough consistency. Apply to wet skin, massage gently, rinse well.
Skin cleanser: Combine 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 teaspoon honey, and 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar. Apply to face, leave on 15 minutes. Rinse well.
Body scrub: In a jar, combine 1 cup cane sugar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 10 drops essential oil. Use to scrub wet skin in the shower.

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