Organic Lotions 101

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You may have heard the adage, "You are what you eat." But, if you're health-conscious, you may take it a step further: You are what you put on your body. Some of the ingredients in products you apply to your skin, such as lotions, cleansers and sunscreens, can be absorbed into your body. If you're concerned about what your body may be absorbing, you may be considering buying organic products.

These days, green is in. People are paying attention to the foods they eat and the products they use -- and how these things affect their health and the environment. As part of the "green" movement, the word "organic" is everywhere -- on product labels, in advertisements and in store displays. However, not all products that claim to be organic actually are. The word "organic" typically refers to food grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers -- but that's only part of it. For a product to be labeled organic, it must contain agricultural ingredients produced through farming, and it should help rather than harm the environment [source: Gold].


Facial and body lotions are just one component of the thousands of organic health and beauty products available today. In 2006, manufacturers produced 2,000 new personal care products that were marketed as organic or natural [source: Birnbaum]. However, just because a lotion is labeled as organic doesn't mean it meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic requirements. To be sure you're getting the real deal, look for the USDA label.

Because so many products are marketed as having organic or all-natural ingredients, it's difficult to know which ones really are good for you and which ones simply claim to be. Read on to learn how to become a label-reading expert when choosing an organic product.

Types of Organic Lotion

When choosing an organic lotion, be sure to pay close attention to the label. There are three levels of organic labeling, according to the USDA's National Organic Program regulations, and these levels refer to the percentage of organically grown ingredients in the product.

The first level is "100 percent organic." If a lotion says it's 100 percent organic and has the USDA's seal on the label, you can be certain the lotion is composed entirely of organically grown ingredients. This means the ingredients were grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or ionizing radiation. It also means the lotion doesn't contain artificial preservatives, which are commonly used in cosmetic and skin care products [source: USDA].


The second level is "organic." For a lotion to be labeled organic, at least 95 percent of its ingredients must have been grown organically. However, because the word "organic" can't be applied to nonagricultural substances, such as mineral oil or petroleum jelly, the other 5 percent of the lotion may simply be one of these ingredients [source: USDA].

The third level is a product that's made with organic ingredients. Lotions from this category must contain at least 70 percent organically produced components, and manufacturers can list up to three of the organic items on the front of the label. For example, if a lotion label reads "made with organic lavender oil, calendula and peppermint," the product probably falls into this category [sources: USDA, Beyond Pesticides].

Organic products often carry a heftier price tag than nonorganic products, but are you really getting what you pay for? Keep reading to learn about the benefits of using organic lotion.

Benefits of Organic Lotions

When you think of the benefits of a lotion, you may consider how it will moisturize or improve your skin. But when it comes to deciding whether to use an organic lotion, a common question is whether it's really better for you than a nonorganic one. Most people would agree that slathering on pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers isn't a good idea. But using a nonorganic lotion isn't necessarily bad for your skin -- lotions and other skin care products still have to meet certain U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations before they can be sold in the United States. However, using a USDA-certified "100 percent organic" or "organic" product ensures that when you apply lotion, you're not also applying chemical residues [source: USDA].

If you have sensitive skin -- or if you just want to avoid agricultural chemicals -- you may want to use an organic lotion. On the other hand, keep in mind that nonorganic ingredients and synthetic ingredients aren't necessarily bad for your skin. Not everything found in nature is healthy or safe, and some organic ingredients may even irritate sensitive skin [source: USDA].


To learn more about organic health and beauty products, see the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Beyond Pesticides. "What does the USDA Organic Seal mean for you? A National Organic Standards Factsheeet." (Accessed 9/14/2009)
  • Birnbaum, Cara. "Eco-Friendly Beauty Products." WebMD. (Accessed 9/22/09)
  • Gold, Mary. "Organic Production/Organic Food." USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. 6/07. (Accessed 9/22/09)
  • Organic Consumers Association. "Coming Clean." (Accessed 9/22/09)
  • USDA. "Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products." (Accessed 9/14/2009)
  • USDA. "Organic Labeling and Marketing Information." USDA Fact Sheet. (Accessed 9/14/2009)!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=ORGANIC_CERTIFICATIO&navtype=RT&parentnav=AGRICULTURE
  • WebMD. "Allergies and Cosmetics." (Accessed 10/5/09)