Eco Beauty Boot Camp 101: What the Label Really Says


Thanks to the incredible beauty product innovators and makeup mavens throughout history, we've evolved from the days of kohl liners, rock minerals, and berries to an era of high tech cosmetics. As we increasingly pursue the products of our dreams, we give thanks knowing when we can trust labels with terms such as “waterproof,” “sheer,” "glossy," etc. The proof is in the pudding and we get instant feedback about how product performs based on what it says it’s going to do.  

It’s also great to see that that there is an effort to let us know if something is “natural”, “organic,” “vegan,” and so we can find the solutions that best suit our needs and preferences. On the other hand, the bittersweet consequence is that now we have a lot more to sort through. It's less appealing to have to think about who's mandating that label—and what it really means.

Terms like "natural," "earth-friendly," and "non-toxic," are also not regulated, and companies are able to use these terms loosely—it’s on us to to read the fine print.  Cardinal rule: make it a habit to always check the ingredient list.

To brush up on our labeling acumen, here’s  a quick go to resource to explain what’s what, so you can venture forth and feel comfy being in the know when it comes to decoding the label jargon. But before we dive in, here’s the regulation lowdown.

The United States Food & Drug administration only regulates organic food products. That means that plant-derived ingredients are not certified organic by the USDA and may have been grown with chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and other harsh chemicals. In fact, manufacturers are not required to register their cosmetic establishments, file data on ingredients, or report cosmetic-related injuries to FDA. However, companies are encouraged to register their establishments and file Cosmetic Product Ingredient Statements with FDA's Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP). Now, onto the list.

Labels you can trust:

Biodynamic / Demeter Certification

Biodynamic refers to a holistic approach to farming and agriculture, and means that no synthetic chemicals or pesticides are used in the soil and processing. This goes beyond organic to include processes that are self sustaining and in line with natural resources and cycles. The Demeter International Association and Certification is an international organization based in Berlin, Germany and growing in adoption. This is a very strict certification and requires annual renewal.

USDA Organic Certified

The Certified USDA Organic symbol is one of the most trusted labels, but it's important to know the USDA only oversees farm-raised ingredients and food products. Because beauty product ingredients contain many ingredients that do not fall under this category, it’s important to note that plant-derived ingredients and essential oils in cosmetic formulations are NOT regulated.

100% Organic

Contains only organically produced food ingredients, and the label will display the USDA Organic seal.


Contains 95% organically produced food ingredients, and the label will display the USDA Organic seal.

Made with Organic Ingredients

Contains at least 70% organically produced food ingredients. Individual ingredients will be identified as "organic."

Labels worth taking a second look:

  • Hypoallergenic/Dermatologist Tested/Allergy Tested/Non-Irritating
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-Free
  • Made with organic essential oils
  • Contains organic ingredients
  • Made with nontoxic ingredients
  • 100 percent natural
  • Earth-friendly