Navigating Personal Care Labels

You probably have heard about all the chemicals found in products these days and may be concerned for your health and and the your family. So …you are trying to make safer product choices for you family and are walking the store aisles (or internet pages) and are bombarded with a long list of confusing marketing terms and phrases. Term like..Non-toxic? Yes please! Free of chemicals? Just what I am looking for! The perfect product right? Think again! You have to learn what these terms really mean in order to protect yourself from spending money on products that may be no safer or less toxic than the products you are trying to avoid! Read on….you may be surprised!

USDA Certified Organic – This is one of the few regulated terms. Look for the USDA ORGANIC seal. This requires at least 95% of the ingredients in the product are organic. The other 5% cannot be organic but there are fairly strict limitations about what can be added in that 5%. No pesticides, most chemicals,

100% Organic (along with the USDA seal)- This label means that 100% of the product is USDA certified organic with the qualifications mentioned above.

Organic/ Organics- No meaning in personal care without the USDA organic Seal. Misleading marketing. This is not regulated! Read the label for ingredients.

Eco-Cert Organic-This means the product is second-party verified by Ecocert auditor and meets detailed and rigorous standards. Requires that by weight, 95% of ingredients be of natural origin and at least 10% of ingredients in finished product be certified organic. Prohibits GMOs, parabens, phenoxyethanol, nanoparticles, silicon, PEG, synthetic perfumes and dyes, animal-derived ingredients (unless naturally produced by them: milk, honey, etc.); the use of natural ingredients from organic farming. Learn more here

“Made with organic ingredients”-This means the product will contain at least 70% organic ingredients. However, in personal products, as opposed to food, any water in the product “counts” toward that 70% so it can skew the results. Especially is water is one of the first three ingredients. Also, MANY of these products will contain the same chemicals that you are trying to avoid along with the organic ingredients. This is a red flag and typically is used to fool the consumer. However, there are some great products out there that don’t meet the USDA standard and contain organic ingredients and other safer ingredients. In personal products you will need to read the entire label to determine the safety of the product. While it may contain organic ingredients, it also may (and likely does) contain the typical parabens and other chemicals that traditional products contain. READ THE LABEL to determine safety!

Fragrance Free– No meaning as there is no regulation. Fragrances are sometimes used in these products to cover up the chemical smell of other ingredients.

Naturals, Natural, All-Natural-These terms means nothing. There is no regulation. It is a marketing tool, often to confuse and mislead consumers. These products will often contain the same harmful chemicals that are in traditional products. READ THE LABEL to check the individual ingredients!

XX% Natural-This really means nothing either. First, the “natural” ingredients may or may not be safe. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. Lead is natural. And there is no formal definition for what is considered natural in personal products. Second, the small percentage that is defined by the company as not being natural can be toxic. This also ignores the fact that there are chemicals that can mix together to create more toxic chemicals that are not listed on the product. I still don’t want to put 2% of toxic chemicals on my baby…or myself for that matter when there are 100% safe choices.

Hypoallergenic-There is no regulation for this term and it means nothing. It insinuates that it won’t cause an allergic reaction, but there is no verification of this claim. It does not indicate safer ingredients like the advertising tries to suggest.

Dermatologist Tested-This really means nothing other than a dermatologist may have tested the product. There is no regulation of this term or requirements for this term. This is a marketing tool to lead consumers to believe a product is somehow better or safer. Read the ingredients. Many of these have the same toxins that you may be trying to avoid. One of the most popular acne treatments on the market right now was developed by dermatologist and is loaded with chemicals like parabens. Not such a great selling point.

“Paraben” free (or other “free of something”)– This term is not regulated. Also, just because it is “free” of one chemical doesn’t’ mean it is “free” of all chemicals! It may be paraben free but contain phthalates (fragrance). Even “chemical free” doesn’t mean anything! Read the label!

Non-toxic-This term is not regulated and means nothing in personal care products. There are many products on the market labeled as non-toxic that studies show that the ingredients can damage the hormone system, reproductive systems, cause cancer and more. I’ve always said the philosophy when it comes to anything that is labeled non-toxic, that if it doesn’t kill you literally on the spot then it is considered non-toxic! Buyer beware…this is a big one! Read the label!

Free of Harmful Chemicals (or Similar)-This claim is not regulated by anyone and means nothing. Many companies will decide that this chemical is unsafe but this other one (happens to be the one they use) is not unsafe….so it is free from harmful chemicals as far as they are concerned. This is another marketing tool that commonly fools customers into believing a product is safe when it may contain harmful chemicals. Read the ingredients!

Safe for baby (mom, etc), Made for Mom, etc– Unregulated and mean nothing. There is no determination any agency that decides that a particular product is specifically safe for a certain population when it comes to personal care.  This is one of the most common marketing ploys for companies to sell their chemical-laden products to unassuming consumers and good-willed parents. Most will contain the same chemicals as the products that are not labeled in this manner.

No More Tears– While this seems like a great idea in theory, this term is not regulated and doesn’t mean any less toxic.

Meets or Exceeds government guidelines/ regulations– This is not a label but I wanted to include it since many readers may hear this when inquiring about products. This is a form letter term used to keep customers from getting real information about their products. The FDA says it is safe…so it is safe. Personal care regulations have not been updated in decades and there are thousands of chemicals in personal care products that have never been tested for safety by anyone! 2,000 new chemicals are created each year and added to your products and your body without safety testing. If there are guidelines on a specific ingredient then that amount is rarely zero. Even children’s toys have allowable levels of lead, etc.

The list goes on and on…made with herbal ingredients, botanical and more. The only true way to protect yourself is to turn the product over and read the ingredients. If the product does not disclose EVERY ingredient, then put it down and move on. Companies who are doing the right thing by our children and moms do disclose their ingredients because they are proud of them!

So do your research about your products AND the companies you are buying from and supporting! It can take some time but it is worth it. Your purchase is your vote!

If you want recommendations of products that we have already researched for safety AND effectiveness you can visit our product recommendations page here!

If you would like to research an individual ingredient you can go to the Skin Deep database. It ranks individual ingredients on a scale for safety. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are using the product on a child, try to stick to ingredients that rank a 0 or 1 only, never higher than a 2.

To learn about labels on our food CLICK HERE!

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