Green Beauty Terms Decoded

We're breaking down the meanings to all those buzzwords you keep hearing.

By: Dani

We think knowledge is power. Cliché, but so true. The more you know, the better choices you can potentially make. That’s why we’ve decided to compile everything we’ve learned in the last year into one concise post for you. This is everything you need to know about natural beauty. (If you want to know why we’re all about embracing natural beauty products, check this out first.)

Organic

According to the USDA, in order for a product to be labeled organic, 95% of the ingredients (excluding water) have to be organic, meaning derived from living matter. Saya Naturals (we recommend trying their Foaming Cleanser or Body Cream) and Kypris Beauty (their Midnight Catalyst Refine & Renew Serum is amazing) are two of our favorite organic brands.

(For a full look at why you should invest in a product or two from Kypris’s amazing line, go here.)

Paraben-free

Parabens are and, unfortunately, commonly found in most cosmetic and household products. Typically products that are paraben-free have a shorter shelf life due to the lack of artificial preservatives. Sometimes you’ll even find a little open jar symbol on a paraben-free product which will tell you the PAO (Period After Opening) – aka, the expiration date. Nuori is a great, innovate brand that values freshness above all else, saying a big, fat no to artificial preservatives and additives. All of their products come with a Start-Using-By Date (found stamped on the front of the outer packaging) and an Expiry Date (found stamped on the bottom of the bottles or on the top of the tubes). Full review right here!

Aluminum-free

You will usually see this on every natural deodorant. In traditional deodorants (drugstore and high-end), aluminum is the key ingredient that keeps your pits dry. It literally clogs up your pores under there to keep you from sweating. But guess what? You perspire for a reason: it’s your body’s way of detoxing itself of harmful toxins accumulated from (unhealthy) food, topical products and the environment. Natural deodorants aren’t designed to stop you from sweating, but instead work to neutralize the odor that forms once the bacteria from your sweat mixes with your skin. Some even have ingredients like baking soda or arrowroot power to help keep you feeling “dry” during the day. If you’re still using an antiperspirant, then it’s time to switch. Try Kaia Naturals “Takesume” Charcoal Deodorant. You won’t go back to your normal deodorant.

(Psst: check this out to see what happened when we tried natural deodorant for a week.)

Fluoride-free

The jury’s still out on whether fluoride has any detrimental long-term health effects, but fluoride raises a red flag in the natural community nonetheless. Just because it hasn’t been connected to cancer yet, doesn’t mean it’s gtg. We say if you don’t have any problems with cavities and have great dental hygiene, you can skip the fluoride (and may we suggest David’s Natural Toothpaste?). However, if you constantly struggle with cavities and the occasional root canal, please continue to use your fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. Just make sure it’s cruelty-free!

Gluten-free

This isn’t just a buzzword. In the skincare world, it can make a big difference for celiacs or those who have a gluten intolerance. If you ever see a symbol that looks like a little wheat stalk, you’re good in this department.

Non-toxic

Just because an ingredient is naturally-derived doesn’t necessarily mean it’s totally safe. Non-toxic ingredients, also referred to as clean, are ingredients or products that contain zero irritants. Common in the green beauty world is the use (or sometimes overuse) of essential oils, nut oils, limonene, and floral extracts, which are commonly known allergens. If you have particularly sensitive skin then you should look for brands that prioritize non-toxic ingredients. Honest Beauty (everything’s amazing…a few favorites from the range are here) and Peet Rivko (try her Balancing Face Oil) are both great brands that offer incredible products that are free of all toxins. (Our chat with Founder Johanna Peet about getting perfect skin with green skincare is here.) Another great toxin-free skincare brand is Abotaniq — you’ll seriously cut back on the amount of makeup you wear after trying this line.

Plant-based

Nothing tricky going on here. Many natural brands use this to describe their brand as an alternative to the ever popular, “natural.” Expect to see lots of edibles in the ingredients list. A plant-based brand we’re completely obsessed with is Royal Fern Skincare. These are some of the most luxurious anti-aging products you’ll ever try. Period.

Cruelty-free

What a lot of people don’t realize is that animal testing is still very prevalent around the world, even in America. It’s a completely unnecessary practice, yet companies continue to do it because big markets like China require it. More on that here and here. If a brand is cruelty-free that means they don’t cause harm to animals in a lab or out in the wild. (Go here for more details on WTF cruelty-free actually means.) Please support these brands, big and small! If you’re ever unsure, look for companies that are Leaping Bunny Certified, visit @Logicalharmony or @Crueltyfreekitty’s blog to ensure that a product is cruelty-free before you purchase. And if you want a direct answer, don’t hesitate to email the brand. We do this almost daily. SN: every product we recommend on this site is cruelty-free (and vegan unless stated otherwise!).

(If you’re interested in curating a fully cruelty-free top shelf, but have no idea where to start, go here for a step-by-step breakdown of the process.)

Vegan

This means no animal-derived ingredients or byproducts have been used. Yay! You won’t see ingredients like beeswax or honey in any vegan skincare, makeup, body care or haircare products. Osea Malibu is one of the best 100% vegan skincare ranges we’ve ever tried. Check out a few of our favorites from the line here.

Palm oil-free

This is a big one, and if you can, you should always try to only buy products that do not contain palm oil unless you can verify that it has been ethically sourced. The overproduction of palm oil is a major factor in the astronomical deforestation rates. While it doesn’t compare to the effects of animal agriculture, which causes 91% of rainforest destruction, it still has significant repercussions. The entire orangutan species native to Indonesia is almost extinct (less than 500 are left!) because the demand for palm oil is so high. So please, avoid palm oil as much as reasonably possible.

Non-GMO

Genetically modified organisms are rampant in the food-supply, and yes, they make their way into lots of plant-based beauty products too. Best way to avoid this is to buy from brands that source their ingredients locally from organic farms or outright confirm that they are GMO-free.

Synthetic fragrance-free

Non-synthetic fragrance usually comes in the form of essential oils. If you see an ingredient listed as “parfum” or simply “fragrance,” nine times out of ten it is synthetic. The major problem with this (and why you should look for products free from synthetic fragrance) is that under the FDA’s regulations, there are hundreds of harmful chemicals that can be filled under the title “fragrance”. No bueno.

Petroleum-free

Petroleum is one of those ingredients that makes its way into a ton of cosmetic products. Want to know why? It’s a super cheap ingredient to source – not because it has superpowers. Since it’s mineral oil (you knew that, right?), which is unable to penetrate your pores, it doesn’t actually moisturize, but rather it gives the appearance and immediate *feel* of hydrated skin. High-quality natural products will use things like shea butter, coconut oil, argan oil to add hydrating properties to their formulas.

(P.S. If you’ve been wondering what the best ways to use coconut oil are, we’ve got you covered.)

Fair Trade

This is a term more concerned with ethics, but you will often find this term circling around lots of natural beauty brands and that’s because “clean” beauty goes beyond recycled packaging and natural ingredients. It’s about transparency and social responsibility. When you buy products that are certified fair trade, you are helping to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, and empower communities and thriving businesses. Always buy fair trade.

Remember, you may not hit the mark of all of these for every single product, and that’s okay! First and foremost, everything you buy should be cruelty-free. After that, have fun trying to cross off as many boxes as you can.

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**FTC: this post is not sponsored and no compensation was received from any products mentioned.**

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