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Natural and Organic Cosmetics: Healthier Beauty Products or Hollow Hype?

Natural and Organic Cosmetics: Healthier Beauty Products or Hollow Hype?

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In the last twenty years, the market for organic foods has grown steadily as more and more American consumers become conscious of the additives, hormones, preservatives, stimulants, and genetic engineering used in much of the world's food supply.  However, many of these people are not aware that the cosmetics and other beauty products they use every day may contain far more toxic ingredients than anything they eat.  American women and girls use an average of twelve personal care products each day, none of which are required to be safety-tested, each potentially containing dozens of chemicals and compounds.  Common beauty ingredients currently raising consumer concerns include parabens (antibacterial preservatives which have been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers and infertility in rodents), phthalates (fixatives found in fragrances and nail polish which some believe can affect the development of reproductive organs in male fetuses), talc (linked to ovarian cancer), and even lead.

What Does "Organic" Mean, Anyway?

Some consumers attempting to avoid the application of such alarming additives to their skin instead choose to purchase cosmetics labeled as having been made with organic or all-natural ingredients, driving the market for organic cosmetics to over $350 million a year.  Unfortunately, while the FDA regulates cosmetics, it has never defined any standard meanings for "natural" and "organic," which in this context it considers merely marketing terms.  So while stringent standards apply to which foods can labeled and marketed as organic, there's no guarantee that beauty products calling themselves "organic" are any safer, healthier, or less synthetic than conventional products.   Worse, as cosmetic manufacturers rush to incorporate exotic plant derivatives into their "natural" products, many overlook the fact that these new, unproven plant extracts lack any track record of established safety data - so effectively, purchasing of one of these products may be like volunteering to be the company's lab rat!

Natural's Not In It

So what's the answer?  Well, as with many things in life, that all depends on how much time and effort you're willing to put in.  Until a consistent labeling standard is implemented, organic cosmetic aficionados wanting to ensure their beauty products are free of synthetic ingredients will have to resign themselves to studying the ingredient lists on any potential purchases.  While a variety of companies manufacture beauty products with an eye towards the organic/natural buyer, one person's standard of what is "natural" can differ greatly from another's. So do your homework - several online resources break down beauty products by ingredient to give consumers more information about what they're buying than manufacturers typically provide.  If you're looking to avoid a particular type of synthetic additive and you've done your research beforehand, it's quite easy to train yourself to look out for certain brands and to check the backs of packages before tossing them into your shopping cart. 

And remember, just because something's "natural" or "organic" doesn't necessarily mean it's remotely good for you: after all, hemlock, ricin, and curare are all 100 percent plant-based, completely natural, and thoroughly poisonous.  Then again, despite being one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances in the world and the single most toxic protein, botulinum toxin has taken its place in many people's regular beauty routines under the brand name BOTOX® Cosmetic - so your results may vary.

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