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Quick Tips: How important is organic face wash?

Picking out beauty products can be tricky, especially with plenty of confusing claims on every bottle.
Picking out beauty products can be tricky, especially with plenty of confusing claims on every bottle.

You're on a quest for the perfect new face wash, and a new contender catches your eye. You review the product's label, mentally comparing it to your list of requirements. Soap-free -- check. Formulated for sensitive skin -- check. Not tested on animals -- check. Organic -- wait, does that matter?

According to some skin-care and health professionals, it's wise to go organic when you choose a facial cleanser. "The benefit of using a cosmetic product that is truly 100 percent organic is that there would be no pesticide residues in the product and the product would contain no synthetic ingredients," explains Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "Many synthetic ingredients have been linked to a range of health effects ranging from cancer to allergies."

Green beauty expert Paige Padgett puts it this way: "Everyone should choose organic or chemically safe products to limit their exposure to toxic chemicals. It's especially important for pregnant women and teens to consider what they are putting on their bodies. If you don't want it in your body, don't put it on your body."

Proponents of organic beauty products also note that organic agriculture is generally more sustainable than conventional farming. For that reason, opting for an organic face wash can be part of your effort to protect the environment and reduce your carbon footprint [source: Rastogi].

You've heard of organic eggs and tomatoes, but what does the term mean when applied to skin care and cosmetics? In the food world, American producers and manufacturers can achieve organic certification by meeting government regulations that limit the use of pesticides, promote animal welfare and preserve biodiversity, among other things. If a body care or beauty product is made up of agricultural ingredients, it may be eligible for certification under the National Organic Program (NOP) [source: USDA].

To determine whether a face wash meets the NOP's standards, look for the USDA Organic seal. Products labeled "100% organic" contain only organically produced ingredients, while products labeled simply "organic" must contain a minimum of 95 percent organically produced ingredients [source: Agricultural Marketing Service].

If you're allergy-prone or concerned about the safety of your skin-care products, remember that "organic" doesn't always give you the all-clear. "Even natural, organic ingredients can still be associated with adverse health effects," Leiba cautions. "So despite claims on the product label, it is still important for consumers to read the ingredient panel and use resources like EWG's Skin Deep database to find safer products." For example, some natural ingredients, such as rosemary and lemon oil, can be irritating to sensitive skin [source: Galuzzo]. To ensure a product is safe for your skin, try a patch test, which involves putting a small amount of the product on the underside of your arm. If you don't notice a reaction after 24 hours, it is generally safe to use.

For more information about natural skin care, check out the links on the next page.