If you've become curious about organic skin products because of the push toward going green in recent years, it might be time to take a closer look. With ingredients such as blueberry seeds and green tea, organic skin cleansers take you back to the basics.
The green movement has taken the 21st century by storm, and the words "organic" and "natural" can apply to everything from food and clothing to household cleaners and beauty products. In 2006, manufacturers produced 2,000 new personal care products that were marketed in stores as organic or natural [source: Birnbaum]. With so many products out there, if you're thinking of switching to an organic skin cleanser, it pays to do your homework first.
First, you should know that terms such as "green," "herbal," "natural," "botanical" and "eco-friendly" are thrown around in many different contexts. These words all might sound similar to the word "organic," but they have important differences. For example, if a product is labeled as eco-friendly, its manufacturer is claiming that the product and its production aren't harming the environment. Botanical products use plant-based ingredients, while herbal ingredients contain herbs. Natural products might include plant ingredients or minerals and be free of preservatives [source: Singer].
However, just because a product does not contain manufactured chemicals or is made with all-natural ingredients doesn't mean the product is organic. For a product to be labeled by the U.S. government as organic, it must mostly contain organic ingredients produced through some form of farming [source: USDA]. Other labels do not carry this same meaning.
When it comes to organic skin products, it's also important to know how they are made. Even though products may get federal approval as being organic, they may still be labeled as different variants of organic, depending on what their ingredients are. Read on to learn how to tell the difference.
Chemistry of Organic Skin Cleansing Products
The standards for creating an organic product are pretty rigid. An authentically organic skin cleanser must be made from agricultural ingredients (grown through farming) that must remain intact throughout the production process, even as chemicals are added to them. Most plant ingredients have to receive some chemical additions during mixing and manufacturing, because they aren't safe to add in as their natural version [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates many types of personal care products, currently does not have standards for labeling items as natural or organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created such standards for agricultural products, but they may be used on personal care products also. For the USDA to recognize a product as "100 percent organic," it obviously must contain only organic ingredients. Products that have the USDA seal of simply "organic" must consist of at least 95 percent organic ingredients. That means 5 percent can be chemicals or other ingredients that aren't available organically. And products with the seal that claim to be "made with organic ingredients" must be at least 70 percent organic.
If your skin cleanser meets these requirements and has gone through the certification process, its label will contain a USDA certification seal. This is the only sure-fire way to tell whether your product is truly organic. If it does contain that seal, that means its ingredients, mixing, manufacturing and labeling meet the standards of the United States Department of Agriculture [source: USDA.].
The USDA only began certifying personal care products, such as skin cleansers, in 2005 [source: USDA]. So far, not very many skin cleansers exist that meet USDA certification requirements. However, any company can still market its product as organic without using the USDA seal or applying for certification [source: Singer]. That's why you want to be sure to look for the USDA seal if you want to buy products that are made from organic ingredients.
If you'd rather bathe your face in lemongrass and eucalyptus than in chemicals, there might just be an organic skin cleanser for you. Take a look at the next page to find out about different types of organic cleansers.
Types of Organic Skin Cleansing Products
If you've wandered down the skin care products aisle at the store lately, you've seen just how many items are available, from gels to foams to peels. Organic skin cleansers also come in a variety of forms. You can choose from bars of soap, soap-free liquid cleansers, cleansing gels and even cleansing milks. If you need to slough off dead skin cells, you can try an organic peel, face mask or exfoliating scrub.
The choices don't stop there -- you need to consider ingredients, too. Some ingredients might be more helpful or better suited to your skin type than others.
Organic skin cleansers may contain ingredients such as sugars, tree bark, plant oils, honey, leaf extracts, fruit juices, vitamins and minerals. If you want your skin to retain its moisture after cleansing, look for a product that contains honey [source: Organic Agriculture and Products Education Institute]. Or maybe you want to soothe sensitive skin while cleansing; if so, you could go for a cleansing milk made with rose or lavender. Any number of ingredients might be available to you, from lemongrass and green tea to eucalyptus, aloe vera and blueberry seeds [source: Scirrotto].
If you haven't found a formula you like, or if you enjoy do-it-yourself projects, you might try making your own skin cleanser at home. A simple Internet search will return a large number of homemade recipes for organic skin cleansers. But be careful when testing such recipes at home, since they could cause irritation or an allergic reaction.
Now that you know what options are available, it's time to decide whether an organic skin cleanser might be right for you. Up next, find out what makes organic products appealing and what might make organic skin cleansers just another scam.
Pros and Cons of Organic Skin Cleansing Products
Certainly organic skin cleansers may sound as though they're healthy. But will they really work? If your organic skin cleanser comes with the USDA certification seal, you can rest assured that most of its ingredients came from organically-produced agricultural resources. If you're looking for products that don't include chemical ingredients, organic products may be a good alternative. Since organic cleansers are made from agricultural products such as plants, they may also include vitamins and nutrients that will benefit your skin.
On the flip side, some organic products may not work as well as chemical-based products, and there's no published evidence that products made from plants are healthier or safer for your body [source: Singer]. Also, products with agricultural ingredients that aren't made with preservatives might not last as long, because they can have a higher risk of growing bacteria once opened. And, as with cleansers that contain chemicals, organic cleansers can also cause allergic reactions.
If you decide the cons outweigh the pros and you're no longer thinking organic, you may still be thinking about finding a chemical-free cleanser. If that's the case, look for the skin cleanser with the fewest ingredients, and avoid potentially harmful chemicals, fragrances and preservatives [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
But if you do decide that going green is right for you, make sure to look for a USDA certification seal. Other certifications exist, but not all certifying bodies use the same list of criteria; stick to the USDA seal to ensure your skin cleanser is truly organic [source: Rastogi]. If you can't find a skin cleanser with the USDA seal, but you still want to buy a product with plant-based ingredients, look for such ingredients on the product label along with waxes, herbs and other extracts.
Now that you're no longer green behind the ears when it comes to organic skin care products, the choice is yours whether to give them a try. Fortunately, there's a lot of information out there about organic choices. Use the links on the next page to learn even more.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Dermatologists Dispel Common Myths About Age-Fighting Topicals." June 17, 2009. (Accessed 8/24/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/age_fighting_myths.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Sensitive Skin Fact Sheet." 2009. (Accessed 8/24/09)http://www.aad.org/media/press/_doc/SensitiveSkinFactSheet.html
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