How to Read Natural and Organic Product Labels

Get out your loupe, because it's time to read some labels. This is by far the hardest thing to do when it comes to choosing personal care products, but it's also the most instructive, and the most important. Because of lax cosmetics laws, it can be very hard to know if a product you're using is as clean and safe as you want it to be. There are laws about ingredient disclosure, however, which means that the list of things listed in your product have to be true. To help you on your way, here are some tips:

1. Get in the habit of reading labels and deciphering ingredients. This isn't easy at first, because ingredients are listed according to their chemical name and many of us might not know off the top of our heads what DMDM hydantoin is. But it's a worthwhile undertaking, and there are some great resources to help you get started. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database allows you to search for a product, ingredient, or company. The section of the website dedicated to Whole Foods' Premium Body Care standard has lots of useful information and videos, and the Teen’s Turning Green’s Dirty Thirty is a great cheat sheet for ingredients to avoid and why.

2. Know that “natural” is ambiguous. "Natural" has no official definition when it comes to personal care products. In the absence of federal regulations for the term, it is necessary to read labels to decide if the product is truly natural or not. Note that “natural” is just one factor that constitutes a so-called “green” product. Sometimes products labeled as “natural” do not take efficacy or environmental impact into consideration in their manufacturing.

3. Learn the difference between "natural" and "organic." Natural and organic are not the same thing. While “natural” probably means that a product or ingredient is derived from a natural source, the term “organic” applies to plants grown and managed using earth-friendly agricultural methods without the use of toxic or persistent pesticides. It's worth noting that you may also see body-care manufacturers making claims for individual organic ingredients in the ingredient listing of their products, even though the product as a whole does not meet the USDA organic standard for food.

4. Look for third-party certifications and symbols. The USDA organic seal on a beauty product means the same thing as when you see the seal on foods, because there are currently no federal organics standards for personal products in the United States. To carry this seal requires 95 percent organic ingredients and places strict restrictions on the substances that can be used in the remaining 5 percent. Meanwhile, products with Whole Foods’s Premium Body Care Symbol meet the strictest standards for quality sourcing, environmental impact, results, and safety. And products with the NSF International/ANSI 305 certification must contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients while meeting strict requirements regarding organic ingredients, materials, processes, and production specifications.

5. Try to avoid the following ingredients, none of which are allowed in products that meet the above standards: Synthetic fragrance, which can be highly irritating and are also a potential source of questionable sub-ingredients such as phthalates; formaldehyde-donor preservatives—such as diazolidinyl urea, DMD hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate—which under certain circumstances of formulation and storage, these ingredients have the potential to release formaldehyde in very small amounts; and chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, have safety concerns since many have been shown to have endocrine-disruption activity.

Jody Villecco is responsible for researching, coordinating, and maintaining the Quality Standards at Whole Foods Market.

This is the eleventh installment in a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, a book by GOOD's features editor Siobhan O'Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt. It will run every Tuesday and Thursday.

Read more on their blog.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user Alternativemeans

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet