05/Here’s the thing about marketing—it’s a discipline dedicated to getting products sold. People get paid good money to coin clever language that will compel you to buy something, even if what they’re coining is not quite the truth.

Of late there’s been a clear shift in consumer consciousness and a growing public focus on wellness, as more research emerges confirming the ill health effects of certain chemical products. In this day and age, advertising something as natural or “organic” is a wise business decision—that’s why you’ll see a toaster pastry or a cookie labeled “natural,” even if the only natural thing init is a tiny amount of fruit extract. Marketing professionals find ways around the regulations, so sometimes the onus is on you as a consumer to sift through the slogans for the truth. Let’s talk about the term “organic,” for example. Rest assured: If you’re confused about the difference between organic, certified organic, and made with organic ingredients, you’re not alone.

The term organic refers to matter that is living—plants, animals, trees, soils.Organic ingredients are “biologically active” ingredients—in other words, they’re alive. They’re real, not synthetic. Today we understand “organic” to refer to something free of chemical pesticides,fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, and genetically modified organisms. It’sall well and good to seek out organic products. The problem is not all products labeled organic are actually organic. There’s more federal oversight of “organic” than “natural,” an unregulated categorization.No one really cares whether you label your food or beauty product natural, even if it’s not.

Organic, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. The National Organic Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows a California-based company to label a product “Made with Organic Ingredients” if 70% of its ingredients are organic. A large camp of people argue that this is false advertising—if a product contains 30% harmful chemicals, what’s the point of labeling it organic? A product can claim to be “organic” if it contains 95% organic ingredients, but to get a “Certified Organic” stamp from the USDA, 100% percent of its ingredients must be active.

Food products are regularly monitored to ensure they comply with standards. A food producer can get into expensive trouble if it’s caught; fines can exceed$11,000. But for beauty products, the situation is different. Personal care items are eligible for certification if they comply with organic production,processing, and handling standards. But they aren’t as regulated. Complicating the situation further is the fact that there’s been, as the USDA website puts it, a “lapse in federal funding” for monitoring and inspections.

Ultimately, organic skincare or organic ingredients don't necessarily make the product better for you or more effective. In many cases the organic ingredients can be less active because they are in their purests biological form making it more ironically more ineffective; versus, if the ingredient were all natural, but processed in a lab. The science is required to help the product work better.

All of this gets confusing, but the takeaway is to educate yourself. Check out the ingredients of your cosmetics and beauty products and research the companies you’re buying from. Bear in mind that some natural ingredients sound chemical but are actually safe—sodium chloride, for example,is just sea salt. It will get easier with practice. Just remember that slogans and advertisements are intended to sell you things, not to make you more aware—that’s up to you.

Written by Allyson Welch

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