Several years ago, as consumers we were becoming more conscious of the ingredients in our cosmetics products. Our need for more awareness led to the growth of the “natural” and “organic” beauty market and ethical labels.

Initially, ethical labels were useful in increasing awareness, however today there are creditably concerns given the increased number of and fragmentation of their usage and meaning.

The London based firm Organic Monitor in a recent report revealed many consumers are confused and the industry has made little effort to align industry standards. While some brands voluntarily use standards to define ingredients there are no federal standards that exist solely for cosmetic products.

But what really do these labels mean? Can they be relied upon 100% or are they mere guidelines?  Here is a look at some of the most common labels we see on a regular basis.


  • What We Think It Means: All natural
  • What It Actually Means: Not so much
  • Regulatory Standards: There are no legal standards for the term “natural” and no regulatory agency that certifies what natural is or is not for cosmetics.
  • What To Look For: Look at the  ingredient lists as some companies and brands create their own internal standards for “natural” claims, which may or may not have real credibility.


  • What We Think It Means:  Completely without synthetic, artificial, or chemical substances
  • What It Actually Means: Depends on USDA Organic Labeling Categories. While the FDA doesn’t define or regulate the term “organic” as it applies to finished cosmetics producsts, body care or personal care formulas, the UDSA does regulate the term “organic” as it applies to ingredients that may be in the formulas.
  • Regulatory Standards: USDA-accredited organic certifying agents monitor the word “organic” without the USDA seal (or other qualifying context), which may not adhere to certified standards. There is no legal definition for “organic” for personal care products or cosmetics.
  • What To Look For: Again, look at the ingredient lists as some companies and brands create their own internal standards, which may or may not have real credibility


  • What We Think It Means:  No genetically altered ingredients
  • What It Actually Means:  Ingredients that have not been knowingly genetically modified. GMO-free labels are voluntary, as there are no federal regulations enforcing GMO-free claims, compliance or monitoring unless ingredients fall under UDSArules and regulations.  “Non-GMO Project Verified” is a third-party standard that verifies compliance for products with the best practices of GMO avoidance.
  • Regulatory Standards:  Since there is no regulatory oversight, some companies have internal GMO-free standards and “Non-GMO Project Verified” is a trustworthy mark for food that may be used in beauty products.
  • What To Look For: If a products claims to be GMO-free and does not  have a stamp that is linked to a verified source or organization, it may be best not to believe the claim.

No Animal Testing

  • What We Think It Means:  No ingredients have been tested on bunnies or other animals.
  • What It Actually Means: Ingredients that have been previously tested on animals that are now banned or frowned upon may be used. Thus, no new animal testing is used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or suppliers.
  • Regulatory Standards: There are no federal government agencies nor a legislative ban on animal testing. The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, which is made up of eight national animal protection groups, including the Humane Society and the American Humane Association, work to promote a single, comprehensive standard.
  • Keep a keen eye out for: The Leaping Bunny Program is the most thorough and monitored cruelty-free standard. Companies that are granted its seal of approval agree to strict standards not to test on animals and not to even buy ingredients from companies that do. If a you see a product that claims “no animal testing” or “cruelty-free” and it does not have the Leaping Bunny logo or does not appear on the Leaping Bunny list it is best to assume that the claim many be false.

What do you think about the increasing number of ethical claim labels on our products?

1938 is the online magazine blog for Well-Kept Beauty, formally entitled Primer.

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