With an overwhelming variety of health and beauty products to choose from, it’s not always easy to tell which are the best for you and the environment. As good as they may seem, many terms such as “natural” and “hypoallergenic” aren’t subject to substantiation by the Food and Drug Administration. With no set standards, companies may define and use them freely. Deceptive marketing intended to make a product seem more environmentally friendly is known as greenwashing, which can make shopping both difficult and confusing. Here’s how FDA labeling defines some common terms:
Natural or Naturally Derived– There is no definition to use for “natural” and other similar terms. Both naturally occurring and synthetically derived chemicals can be harmful, so labeling as such says nothing of a product’s safeness to humans or the environment.
Hypoallergenic– There are no standards or requirements for a product to be labeled “hypoallergenic.” Free to define the term as they wish, companies may (and do) use the label even if the product contains known allergens.
Organic– The FDA has no legal definition of the term and does not enforce its use. However, any cosmetic or body care product that contains agricultural ingredients must be certified by the National Organic Program to use the term. Products that do not contain agricultural ingredients may use the term without regulation, though they may be certified under private standards.
Earth-Friendly or Eco-Safe– These terms are unregulated by the FDA and USDA, and have no legal basis. Beware of products making these claims without certification under known standards.
Fair Trade– Products that have been certified by Fair Trade USA ensure the producer has been compensated fairly, allowing them to invest in more sustainable practices or purchase higher quality inputs.
So, what should you look for on body product labels? Be wary of goods that make unsubstantiated claims. In fact, many with private certifications meet higher standards than those without. Cosmetics are also commonly tested on animals, so look for labels that state the product was not tested under such conditions, and, in general, avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce. Oil-based soaps are often gentler than those with glycerin, but beware of preservatives in both cases. Parabens, in particular, have been known to be carcinogenic. –Holly Young