What do the labels “Natural” and “Organic” really mean?

And the 100% sustainable solution that is often overlooked by these labels.

No matter where you shop or what you are shopping for, it’s hard to ignore the growing presence of products that carry a multitude of claims addressing their natural, all organic and ethically traded production qualities.  However, what do these labels really mean? And is there something more consumers can do to ensure their purchases are environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial?

According to the FDA, the label “natural” has no official meaning.  To the consumer, that means natural can be placed on any packaging label as a marketing tool and have no significance regarding their farming and agricultural processes.  Here is the statement from fda.gov in respect to the “natural” label:

FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.  

So what can you look to next?  Many people argue that looking for the green USDA Organic Certified sticker is the answer.  Some of the requirements for organic products are defined by the USDA as the following:

    • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
    • Only use approved materials
    • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
    • Receive annual onsite inspections

It’s hard to argue against the fundamental values of a product that is USDA Organic Certified, however there are a few key perspectives to consider before pledging yourself to an entire arsenal of organically certified cosmetic products.

One of the biggest difficulties in obtaining the revered seal exhibiting that a product is “organic,” is the 3-year transition period where producers must prove that no prohibited substances have been used on their field for that amount of time.  This can be a financial burden for many farmers due to the comparatively smaller yields that organic crops produce per acre.  In fact, this 3-year transition period is especially difficult for small agricultural producers; facing an increase for demand in organic products, yet not having the means to support 3 years of minimized, organic-sized yields without the premium that accompanies certified organic products.

Another important angle to consider is that one purely sustainable practice in cosmetic oil production often goes without the prestigious USDA organic label.  This practice is called wild harvesting and is used by all of the oil producers DLG Naturals buys from.

In Botswana, DLG Naturals BW produces Marula oil through wild harvest.  DLG Naturals works with women’s groups in villages throughout Botswana to help in the collection of Marula stones – referring to the pits of the Marula fruit produced by the indigenous, drought-resistant Marula tree.  In order to maintain this as a sustainable practice, Marula stones are only accepted when they have been collected from the ground, and its fruit has been completely dried.  At this point, the Marula cannot be consumed by animal life and is not causing harm to the trees.  Additionally, the women who collect these dried fruits are provided with a fair wage in return for their hard work.  In summation, this form of wild harvest = a perfectly sustainable process + a reliable wage for women in rural villages + a product that has been produced in nature, unaffected by pesticides or fertilizers.  That is a fantastic equation that all die-hard USDA organic devotees would have no problem getting behind.  However, due to the variety of villages these stones are collected from, there exists a plethora of complexities that must be overcome in order to create a resulting product that is officially USDA Organic.

Moral of the story?  Get to know the company you are buying from.  Just as humans differ from person to person, each cosmetic producer has their own, unique way of getting the oils that go into the products you apply to your skin.  Develop your personal definition of “natural” and “sustainable,” and find a company that aligns with those principles.  With the multitude of labels that exist for goods, it’s easy to pick out the product that boasts the most certifications and flaunts the leafiest tint of green, but it’s necessary to do some research if you really are serious about sustainable, responsible and ethical products.

For more information about DLG Naturals and their commitment to fairly traded, sustainable, reliable and ethically produced ingredients, visit http://dlgnaturals.com